Our countdown of the 20 biggest stories of the year in motorsport continues with the Mercedes announcement that shook the DTM.
One of the things the 2017 season will be remembered for most is the shifting tectonic plates of the motorsport landscape, which claimed a couple of championships that were standing on shaky ground.
Formula V8 3.5, long since past its prime, finally withered faced with an alarming decline in entry numbers, while the WTCC’s TC1 formula collapsed and forced a merger with the thriving low-cost TCR International Series.
By contrast, the DTM was long regarded as one of motorsport’s more rock-solid institutions outside of F1, enjoying the apparently unwavering support of Germany’s ‘big three’ luxury car makers and a solid fanbase both at home and across Europe.
That was until late July, when Mercedes – the DTM’s most steadfast supporter of all – announced that the 2018 campaign is to be its last in the series, as it became the latest brand to confirm a Formula E project.
Not since the tail end of the 1980s had there been a DTM season with Mercedes not present, with Klaus Ludwig, Bernd Schneider, Gary Paffett, Paul di Resta and Pascal Wehrlein comprising an illustrious roll call of Silver Arrows champions over the course of the last three decades.
The departure of the Stuttgart brand raised plenty of questions of how the championship will look in 2019 and beyond, although recent weeks have provided some firm hints on that front.
Returning to a simple two-marque competition looks unlikely, even though the DTM survived with only Mercedes and Audi for six seasons prior to BMW joining the party in 2012.
Those were different times; Mercedes and Audi fielded as many as nine cars in that time period, something that's unpalatable for the future given that the three marques opted to slim down their line-ups from eight cars to six apiece for the 2017 season.
Mercedes’ sudden departure instead seems to have reinvigorated previously stalled efforts to create a common ruleset with Japan’s Super GT championship, potentially opening the door for Lexus, Honda and/or Nissan to join the DTM party in 2019.
Ties between the two series were strengthened when Lexus and Nissan took the opportunity to take part in a demo run during the DTM finale at Hockenheim, weeks before all three German brands made the trip to share the track with their Super GT brethren at Motegi.
And Mercedes quitting DTM looks to have cleared the path for the series to adopt the same turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant used in Super GT, eliminating what has always been one of the biggest obstacles to a full-blown alliance between the two championships.
ITR chairman Gerhard Berger said after the Motegi demo: “What I and [Super GT] chairman [Masaaki] Bandoh are trying now is not simply to deepen our friendship, but to create a common set of regulations.
“If manufacturers from Japan and Germany built racing cars based on unified regulations, then the car can compete in either series, which would enhance the brand of the cars as well as reduce costs.”
Some were quick to sound the DTM’s death knell after the news of Mercedes’ exit, but – as with Porsche’s decision to quit the LMP1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship – such shocks are often required for a series to take stock and make important long-term changes.
Manufacturers need a return on their investment, and opening up the possibility of BMW and Audi machinery racing on Japan’s biggest racing stage, as well as Super GT brands coming over to mix it in Europe, can only make the DTM a more attractive proposition for all concerned.
It remains to be seen whether other European manufacturers will be tempted to join the fray, but either way, the DTM’s future looks much more assured now than it did five months ago.