The Ben Evans Column – DTM’s lesson for F1

Mattias Ekstrom, Alexandre Premat, Zandvoort, DTM, 2007 | DTM MediaI was delighted to see on Sunday that the DTM bosses truly showed where their priorities lie, by depriving the fans in Barcelona together with a large TV audience of anything approaching a race.

Yes, withdrawing all your cars makes a statement. Unfortunately for Audi that statement is not ‘Vorsprung Durch Technich’ but rather ‘We are self-obsessed muppets’.

This is the latest and greatest in a long-line of ‘race manufacturing’ moments perpetrated by the DTM in the past two seasons, a series where team-orders (the two 10 car teams of Audi and Mercedes that is) override everything else. It is motorsport in its most farcical sense, and shows a shameful attitude to the fans.

Had I paid my hard earned for ticket to the Barcelona race on Sunday I think I would have been beating a path to the Audi bosses demanding a refund.

Part of the problem with manufacturer vs manufacturer racing is that someone has to come second – and, in F1′s case – third, fourth and several other places. This reality has all-but killed the BTCC, where the 9 manufacturer grids of the mid-1990s werebeen replaced by 1.5 manufacturer grids in the 2000′s.

The same will doubtless happen in the WTCC, where (even with ballasting rules ensuring previous winners can only race using only one arm and one leg and must wear lead lined race suits) Andy Priaulx and his BMW still look like winning a third straight title. Seat must be over the moon with their 25-car works effort yielding at best third in the Championship.

Following Sunday’s debacle the DTM must be on its last legs. It’s hard to see Audi coming back for another go next year, and the fans returning at all. What makes the whole episode even more disappointing is that this is the second time the DTM has managed to self implode in hail of big budgets and even bigger ego’s.

In fact the only way I can see the DTM continuing is if McLaren and Mercedes decide to send Fernando Alonso over as team-mate to Suzie Stoddard as punishment for his role in the spy scandal.

Large organisations in the motorsport world displaying immature temperaments is nothing new but it is rather embarrassing when one of the world’s largest car manufacturers behaves like an adolescent teenager. Had a driver taken it upon themselves to do something similar (as rallycross driver Martin Schanke did in 1992 when he stood in the middle of the track, stopping a race after he was punted off), they would have been staring down the thick end of a lengthy ban.

As it is Audi will go unpunished – though hopefully there were some awkward conversations with their sponsors on Monday morning.

To be honest the DTM imploding interests me as much as Ralf Schumacher’s pet dog, except for the worrying precedent it sets. In an era where 50% of the F1 grid are manufacturer cars, how long is it before Honda pull out of a race because of the actions of Renault or some such?

The likelihood of this happening increases exponentially when you look at the number of satellite teams cropping up – Honda essentially have two teams, as do Red Bull and so will McLaren when Prodrive pitch up next year. F1 has long been influenced by team tactics, with often the actions of two drivers ruining the race – imagine what will happen with four or more.

Touring car racing (admittedly the DTM is touring cars in its broadest sense) at its core has always been about the fans, who can associate with both the everyman drivers and the cars on the track looking similar to the ones they drive home.

With a proliferation of team orders and over-engineered race direction (the WTCC is as guilty as the DTM here) the fans will slowly but surely drift away to watch something else where they feel wanted and entertained. ‘Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday’ is the old formula, I just don’t see it working too well in Touring Cars at the moment.

Photo: DTM Media

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4 comments on The Ben Evans Column – DTM’s lesson for F1

  1. Robert McKay said on 28th September 2007, 11:51

    Good points raised. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that what happened to the BTCC (and DTM) will happen to F1 at some point. I reckon it is almost inevitable, honestly. Manufacturers are there to sell, and they sell by winning, and they can’t all win. Ford already had enough in F1. And having all these satellite teams doesn’t help. That’s why F1 should be working hard to preserve the independent type teams, like Williams, who only exist to go racing.

    BTCC has, to an extent, recovered from it’s crash. I remember the dying days of the Super Touring era, when there were three manufacturers with 3 cars each (only one or two of which ever actually won regularly). But they realised the budgets were no longer sustainable and redrew the regulations and eventually teams came back into it. The full works manufacturer teams never really did, but that’s probably a good thing. It’ll be cyclical: if there’s lots of teams, lots of good racing, then probably the money will flow back into the series, thus the manufacturers will spend more to win and the cycle goes on…

  2. To be honest, the BTCC is actually my favourite touring car category at the moment. Sure, the cars aren’t nearly powerful enough, and I’ve never much cared for reverse grids, but the racing is close, and there’s perhaps 10 or 12 cars which are there-or-thereabouts in terms of pace. Good private teams seem able to compete for race wins (if not for the title) with the SEAT and Vauxhall factory teams. If they only had another 100BHP and rear wheel drive…

  3. I thought Audi pulled their cars because the Mercedes team(s) were bashing them off the track and the authorities did nothing about it.

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th September 2007, 4:46

    Well it’s a debatable point – that was what Audi thought was going on, I think that was an over-reaction on their part in the heat of the moment.

    The authorities punished two of Mercedes’ drivers but, as is normal, that came after the race – after Audi had already pulled their cars out. Inexcusable behaviour by Audi in my book.

    http://www.maximummotorsport.co.uk/2007/09/23/audi-drags-dtm-into-fresh-controversy/

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