George Russell isn’t the one Mercedes driver to have enhanced his popularity this 12 months.
The newest member of its junior scheme, 16-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli, ran away with the Italian and ADAC System 4 sequence earlier than contributing to Italy’s victory in final week’s FIA Motorsport Video games by steamrolling the F4 division at Paul Ricard. And whereas anyone who has been being attentive to GT3 racing in recent times has been left in little doubt about Raffaele Marciello’s skills, he solely additional underlined his credentials as the most effective sportscar racers exterior the prototype lessons by following his sweep of the Spa 24 Hours, GT World Problem Europe and total titles with the ADAC GT Masters crown.
Merely ending second within the DTM subsequently could not make for such an clearly standout marketing campaign. However and not using a puncture at Spa that robbed him of 18 factors and a probable second place end, Lucas Auer would have been topped champion in a season the place the DTM’s stage of competitors took an enormous step ahead from its 2021 GT3 reboot.
The sequence at occasions resembled a GT model of System E (previous to the introduction of its duels qualifying format) as unpredictability reigned supreme. Even a primary Paul the Octopus could be laborious pressed to select a polesitter – it took till the tenth spherical of the season for an on-merit repeat – which made consistency preciously troublesome to realize.
However in opposition to this backdrop Auer shone, and regardless of the Mercedes contingent being the largest of the sphere the Austrian was its greatest qualifier on seven events. The following most profitable Mercedes drivers by that metric have been Maro Engel (GruppeM) and his Winward team-mate Maxi Gotz on three apiece.
Victorious within the Portimao opener and Hockenheim’s disrupted Saturday race, Auer was one in every of simply 4 drivers to win greater than as soon as and regardless of his Spa disappointment had closed a 20-point deficit to Sheldon van der Linde on the midway level of the season to simply two heading into the ultimate race. Sadly for Auer, he was one in every of a number of drivers adversely affected by the choice to not restart qualifying following a late crimson flag and needed to line up seven grid spots behind his rival in eleventh. That was rendered considerably moot within the race as, along with his 25kg in success ballast, Auer lacked the tempo of van der Linde’s Schubert BMW M4 within the race – however he nonetheless has each cause to be “fairly proud of the way it went”.
Auer starred within the DTM this 12 months and will depend himself unfortunate at not taking the title
Photograph by: Alexander Trienitz
“Particularly in Hockenheim when actually the stress was on, I’ve to say the entire crew delivered to an extremely excessive stage,” he tells Autosport. “Spa was painful however I feel everyone, all of us had some painful expertise. However total it was a constant season with some highlights.”
That Auer’s wins tally matched his 2021 complete – he would have taken a 3rd win within the now-infamous Norisring finale with out the imposition of crew orders to favour eventual champion Gotz – underplays the step ahead the 28-year-old made in 2022. As Gotz left HRT and joined Auer at Winward, he was solely on the rostrum as soon as – with a second place at Spa he inherited after Auer’s left-front tyre gave up – and completed eleventh within the standings.
Auer acknowledges that continuity has been an vital think about his robust marketing campaign, having benefitted from working with the identical crew for the primary time since 2018. That 12 months was the final of Mercedes’ involvement within the DTM and prompted Auer to separate from the model he’d represented since his arrival to the sequence in 2015.
“If we keep collectively, we have now an opportunity for the title. In a championship like this, it’s not tenths, it’s hundredths which make the distinction so it’s good to construct up some expertise that you recognize your engineer, you’re working collectively a few seasons” Lucas Auer
“Principally it was the tip of an period,” he says. “Everyone needed to search for one thing else.”
He pursued a return to single-seaters for 2019 in Japan’s Tremendous System sequence, funded by Crimson Bull, that peaked with a 3rd place at Sugo. Then got here a return to the DTM for 2020 with BMW.
On the Lausitzring, Auer claimed one in every of simply two non-Audi wins that season (van der Linde by the way took the opposite at Assen). However Audi’s withdrawal forged the way forward for the DTM into uncertainty and meant factory-run groups turned a factor of the previous. BMW couldn’t decide to a programme for Auer in 2021, the final 12 months for the venerable M6 GT3, and so a parting of the methods was agreed that led him again into the Mercedes fold as soon as extra.
“Final 12 months it took me a while to get conversant in the GT3, to seek out the final two tenths mainly,” Auer says. “However as soon as I discovered it, I used to be very assured, and staying with the identical model with the identical crew in the identical championship actually helped me. This I didn’t have for a very long time, I used to be altering quite a bit the final years, so this gave me a large increase in confidence.”
After a quick stint at BMW in 2020, Auer has discovered consistency and luxury to actually ship within the DTM
Photograph by: Alexander Trienitz
Whereas Auer will admit that he couldn’t have deliberate his turbulent journey of current years – BMW was by no means meant to be a one-year cease, “it was an extended plan, however that is the way it labored out on the finish” – he acknowledges that his expertise has made him a extra rounded driver.
“Though not by way of velocity – I don’t consider that,” he says. “Perhaps the technical half I perceive higher, however the expertise helps me a lot. Additionally my expertise with Japan.
“Really, typically I look again to 2017 after I had shot on the [DTM] championship. With this expertise now, it could have been so significantly better!”
Auer is aware of he’s in place now to make good on that “large expertise” in 2023. Ought to he stay with Winward – and there’s no cause to anticipate that received’t materialise, given Auer says “we have now a really wholesome relationship” and Auer’s new cope with AMG was introduced over the weekend – then he’ll routinely be considered one of many favourites subsequent 12 months.
“Undoubtedly if we keep collectively, we have now an opportunity for the title,” he says. “In a championship like this, it’s not tenths, it’s hundredths which make the distinction so it’s good to construct up some expertise that you recognize your engineer, you’re working collectively a few seasons. It helps massively as a result of the weekend is so brief, it’s a must to be spot on immediately and if not it’s a must to actually know what to do with the intention to get it proper.”
As for his future, Auer admits that he’s interested in a return to prototype racing amid the present increase of producer curiosity in Hypercar/GTP, having dipped a toe within the water racing for Colin Kolles within the World Endurance Championship virtually a decade in the past.
He made an LMP2 one-off within the 2013 Bahrain finale earlier than three additional outings in 2014 aboard Kolles’ non-hybrid LMP1. Poor reliability plagued the venture, however Auer refutes the notion that it was a distraction throughout his race-winning 2014 FIA System 3 European championship marketing campaign as he ended up fourth behind Esteban Ocon, Tom Blomqvist and one Max Verstappen.
Auer picked up important expertise throughout his F3 days competing in opposition to the likes of Verstappen and Ocon
Photograph by: Sutton Photographs
Quite the opposite, he believes it was a bonus to have his eyes opened by working with extra skilled drivers, and it actually appeared to have a optimistic influence at Macau later that 12 months. Auer was second to Felix Rosenqvist in a Mucke Motorsport 1-2, forward of future F1 racers Roberto Merhi, Nicholas Latifi, Verstappen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Ocon and 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou.
“What is occurring in Le Mans is certainly on my radar and I feel for in all probability each driver,” he acknowledges. “Everyone who says not is mendacity! It is going to be actually attention-grabbing, I feel it’s actually cool what is occurring there.
“However, I’ve to say DTM is simply mega.”
If Auer continues his upward development in 2023, then that ongoing course of to rising from his uncle’s shadow can be one other step nearer to completion
Wherever Auer leads to the long run, he’s doing sufficient to be recognised as his personal man. He’s not routinely known as the nephew of Gerhard Berger, who heads up the ITR organisation which promotes and organises the DTM, though Auer graciously recognises why that distinction was so generally made.
“I bear in mind after I went to DTM it was all the time ‘the nephew of’ and I used to be like ‘bloody hell!’” he chuckles. “However Gerhard is such a legend, he’s doing an unbelievable job and he’s such an enormous title in motorsport, so I can perceive this. However I really feel yearly – by way of the press or how individuals see me – it’s extra Lucas Auer and I feel it’s a pure course of.”
And if Auer continues his upward development in 2023, then that ongoing course of to emerge from his uncle’s shadow can be one other step nearer to completion. Ought to he realise his long-held aim of profitable the DTM, then within the public consciousness his household connection could lastly grow to be an afterthought.
Auer is beginning to step exterior of his uncle Berger’s shadow
Photograph by: Alexander Trienitz