Robert Wickens started the fourth race of his season fourth on the grid and finished in exactly the same spot, but how he got there should make Canadian fans wonder what's going on at Mercedes.
For the second consecutive race, the Guelph, Ont., native's Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) team opted for a strange tire strategy, which compromised his race and cost him a shot at a podium finish.
On Sunday at the Lausitz EuroSpeedway in Germany, Wickens' team opted to have him start the race on standard tires, which are slower but more durable than the "option" rubber. He was the only one in the Top-5 not to have options on his car for the green flag.
Like Formula One and IndyCar, DTM brought in a second tire compound this year to spice things up. The prime, or standard, tire is a harder compound that lasts longer but is not as quick as the softer option tire which degrades faster but offers better lap times when new.
The chosen strategy might make sense had Wickens needed to try something radical because mucked up his qualifying session and started well down the grid, but he was fourth overall. Another reason to change things up would be trying to use strategy to make up for a lack of speed in the car. But again, he was fourth on the grid.
When he started the 52-lap race on the standards, the speed difference compared to the drivers on option was clearly evident. Wickens quickly lost a place to the BMW of fellow Canadian and reigning DTM champion Bruno Spengler at the the first corner and could not fight back.
While he wasn't lapping as quickly as the front four, Wickens held his own until the team brought him in to change to the options at the end of Lap 3. He dropped to 11th and began to make up ground, climbing to third in the late stages. But because he made his second stop on Lap 26, Wickens was a sitting duck on his worn tires when teammate and pole sitter Christian Vietoris drove up to his rear bumper late in the race. The German had stopped for new tires a few laps earlier and easily passed Wickens with two to go.
"That was quite a difficult race for me today – I was forced to push very hard on the option tires, which meant that they degraded faster than we had expected," Wickens said "I didn't have a spare set of new tires available for the final stint, so consequently Christian was able to get past me. That's regrettable, but the main thing is that we scored some vital championship points today. As far as I am concerned, I'll keep giving it all I've got in every race."
After four races, Wickens in seventh overall with 27 points. St-Hippolyte, Que's., Spengler is tied for first with Audi driver Mike Rockenfeller with 59. Paffett is third with 47. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
Interestingly, there were no orders for Vietoris to hold station behind Wickens at the Lausitzring, even though it seemed obvious that Mercedes told the Canadian to hold back in the second race at Brands Hatch, near London, U.K.
In that race in May, Wickens easily reeled Paffett in by almost a second per lap in the final stages but then didn't even make an attempt to overtake. Instead, he dropped back and protected his teammate's tail from two approaching BMWs until the chequered flag.
Odd strategy also played a huge role in Wickens' race at Austria's Red Bull Ring in Spielberg two weeks ago, where he was the best Mercedes driver in qualifying. After putting his car seventh on the grid, Wickens was running a strong sixth and looking like a podium contender when the team suddenly brought him in on Lap 15 of 47 to change to the slower standard rubber.
At the start he was on the option tire that most thought the frontrunners would use. Rather than keep fighting to move up to a podium scoring position, Wickens dropped to 14th and never recovered after his car proved to be about one second per lap slower on the standard tires than the cars still using the options.
Meanwhile, Mercedes left Paffett out on the option until Lap 29 after he kept pace with the leaders long after Wickens pitted. In fact, Wickens pitted again only three laps after Paffett to go back on the options, but it was too little too late. He finished out of the points in 12th.
The good news for Wickens is that the Lausitzring seemed to signal the end of the qualifying troubles that dogged Mercedes for the first three races of the year after. In qualifying on Saturday, Mercedes took three of the top four spots on the grid.
And while Wickens may have been the victim of dubious strategies so far this year, his teammates have taken note of his performance.
"He's very competitive – he's certainly the one I feel who is me the most out of the rest [of the Mercedes drivers]," said 2005 DTM champion Paffett.
"I singled him out at the end of last year as the person closest to me in the team and I think so far this year he probably is. He's doing a good job, I think he's really enjoying DTM and I think he'll be pretty successful."
Track worker fund established
A fund has been set up in the name of Mark Robinson, the track worker who died following an accident during the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on June 8. Robinson, 38, was killed after falling under the wheels of a crane late in the Formula One race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
He was treated on the scene and then airlifted to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries a few hours after the race.
To donate in his memory, click the link to visit the Automobile Club de l'Ile Notre Dame's Go Fund Me website. The proceeds from the Go Fund Me page will go to Robinson's family. Donations will be accepted until June 21.
The Automobile Club de l'Ile Notre Dame also suggested that donations may also be made in his memory to Montreal's Sacre-Coeur Hospital, where Robinson received care following his injuries.
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone