Mercedes started the 2005 season in fine style with a podium lock-out at Hockenheim, where race winner Jean Alesi led home Gary Paffett and Bernd Schneider. Audi couldn't really match the pace at a circuit where Mercedes traditionally goes well,...
Mercedes started the 2005 season in fine style with a podium lock-out at Hockenheim, where race winner Jean Alesi led home Gary Paffett and Bernd Schneider. Audi couldn't really match the pace at a circuit where Mercedes traditionally goes well, and pole-sitter Mattias Ekstr?m had to settle for fifth. He was bettered by Christian Abt, fourth, in a year-old Audi.
At the start Paffett got ahead of Ekstr?m to take the lead and Opel's Marcel F?ssler moved up one to third. The other three Opel drivers had a miserable time. Laurent Aiello spun at the first corner, possibly where the track was damp from earlier rain -- Audi's Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello got caught up in the confusion and all three crashed, along with the Opel of Manuel Reuter.
Aiello, Capello and Kristensen's cars were wrecked and although Reuter managed to get back to the pits, he too retired. The safety car was deployed and it took six laps to clear the debris. So two Opels were out already, half the team, and Martin Tomczyk made it three Audis when he retired to the pits with damage to his front suspension.
"It was a big mess," said Aiello. "I went to the outside but the kerbs were damp, forcing me to spin and I was collected by the two Audis. It was a big impact, but I'm OK. It's a big shame, because I made a great start and had passed two cars already."
Frentzen took the list of Opel retirees to three -- at the restart he hit the back of Alexandros Margaritis' Mercedes at the Spitzkehre. He went in for a patchy repair job to the front of his car but it didn't hold up and eventually he had to stop. That left F?ssler, still running third behind Paffett and Ekstr?m, the only Opel in the race. Margaritis also retired a few laps later.
At the front Ekstr?m took the lead off Paffett but the Mercedes fought back and reclaimed the position. The top three dived in for their first pit stops after the safety car went in but it was a decision that only paid off for Paffett later on. Schneider got a drive-through penalty for jumping the start, as did Mercedes teammate Mika H?kkinen for speeding in the pit lane. Paffett's driver-side door was open and flapping about and behind him Ekstr?m and F?ssler were trading positions.
In his second stop Paffett had his door taped up but it worked loose almost immediately when he returned to the track. However, it was not deemed bad enough for the stewards to call him back in. By now it was Alesi leading, after a very good first stop, while Ekstr?m and F?ssler had dropped back, although Paffett was still in contention.
F?ssler had lost out to Bruno Spengler, in the year old Mercedes, after his first stop and the two went side by side fighting for seventh. There was contact and F?ssler spun but he managed to keep going. Elsewhere, Schneider overtook Ekstr?m for third, Mercedes' Stefan M?cke had contact with the Audi of Pierre Kaffer, after which Kaffer retired and H?kkinen got past the Audi of Allan McNish for eighth.
Heading into the closing stages, there was more on-track fighting. Jamie Green's Mercedes was battling with Ekstr?m for fourth, with Abt holding station behind. Green went for Ekstr?m but overdid it and shot into the gravel, although he recovered, and Abt took advantage of the moment to dive through and take fourth from Ekstr?m. H?kkinen was closing on M?cke but it was too late to do anything about him.
Schneider was on Paffett's rear bumper but couldn't find a way past, while F?ssler had fallen back to ninth and the positions held in the last two laps. Alesi took victory over five seconds ahead of Paffett and Schneider made it a Mercedes one-two-three. It was a strong race for the manufacturer, with Green sixth, the year old car of M?cke seventh and H?kkinen took his first DTM point with eighth.
"To win the season's first race is a great experience particularly because I didn't win any race last year," said Alesi. "I'm really happy. This success has been made possible only by perfect team work. It was a difficult race due to the Safety Car period and the many incidents, however we made the best out of it."
Mercedes motorsport director Norbert Haug added: "The performance of our drivers and team today deserves a triple A. With the 1-2-3 victory and six cars within the points positions after a turbulent race, they achieved a great result. Congratulations to Jean Alesi and his team headed by Gerhard Ungar and Hans-J?rgen Mattheis; they had the right strategy and carried it out perfectly."
Christian Abt did very well after starting 12th, fourth place a nice reward, while Ekstr?m was not too happy to end up fifth. Frank Stippler and McNish were the other two Audi finishers in 10th and 11th. F?ssler's ninth was a disappointment after his earlier pace and Opel will probably be eager to forget this weekend. Spengler's Mercedes was the last to cross the line, 12th.
The young guns may have been to the fore in qualifying but it was the old timers who took advantage in the race. Alesi and Schneider played it right with their pit stops and kept out of trouble. Paffett at least held his second place but Ekstr?m's Audi struggled to keep up with the Mercedes. If not for the safety car period at the start it may have been a different picture, but for Hockenheim Mercedes was back with a vengeance.