After two practice sessions on Friday to prepare, this morning it was time for qualifying. Mercedes showed strong pace, which resulted in locking out the top four positions with newcomer to the series Vincent Abril on pole position.
Mercedes already showed that they have everything under control on Friday. Because, in both practice sessions a Mercedes driver ended on top. DTM-returnee Maximilian Gotz ended FP1 in the first place, setting a 1:47.624. Alex Albon and Liam Lawson, both in the RedBull AF Corse surprised by ending the session in second and third.
However, in the second practice session Friday afternoon, it was Swiss Philip Ellis who set the fastest time, beating the lap time Gotz set earlier that day. A 1:47.617. Only a tiny margin between the two. ‘A good start of the weekend. It is difficult to assess the balance because not everybody was out with fresh tyres. I was very happy with my car, the balance is good’ Ellis commented.
This time it was last year’s runner up Nico Mueller who ended in second position, ahead of fellow Audi driver and DTM rookie Kelvin van der Linde. Arjun Maini, also new to the series ended fourth. Though, it wasn’t a problem free session for the Indian racer. He lost his right rear wheel of his Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the pitlane. For the first time ever, Esmee Hawkey sat in her Lamborghini Huracan GT3, as she did not take part in the official test days, only finding out late that she was going to race in DTM this year. ‘I am really being thrown in at the deep end, but I am delighted that I am allowed to race here.’
Moving on to qualifying then. Already in the first runs, times were significantly faster compared to Friday’s practice sessions. On his first run, Gotz went fastest with a 1:47.158. Moments later, that time got beaten. First by Audi’s Kelvin van der Linde, but then Lucas Auer went even faster, setting a 1:46.590. However, Vincent Abril, new to the DTM but an experienced GT driver, improved his time to a 1:46.488. Meaning the Frenchman was on provisional pole.
When the session resumed with five minutes left on the clock, other than expected there were not much improvements. Daniel Juncadella was the only driver to challenge the frontrunners, moving to second with a 1:46.560. As a result of this, Abril may start the first race of the new DTM era and 2021 season from pole position.
‘I am not going to lie about it, it feels f***ing good,’ Abril said afterwards. ‘It was always a dream to be a part of this championship and now to be on pole position for my first race… I don’t quite realise it yet. When you drive for AMG and for Hubert Haupt, you expect to be at the front. Today I delivered at a high level and I am happy for the whole team. I am thankful for the trust they put in me and this is the best way to repay them.’
Mercedes locks out the first four positions on the grid, with Juncadella second, Auer and Gotz third and fourth. Esteban Muth will start the race from fifth with a surprisingly fast last lap in his T3 Motorsport Lamborghini. Mercedes’ Ellis starts from sixth, ahead of Red Bull junior Liam Lawson. Top of the Audi’s, Nico Mueller will start this afternoon’s race from eighth on the grid, ahead of Abt Audi’s van der Linde. Rounding out the top ten is Maximilian Buhk, who replaces Gary Paffet as he is absent.
BMW Motorsport struggled, as Marco Wittmann is the fastest of the trio in 15th, ahead of Sheldon van der Linde and Timo Glock. Best of the two female drivers is Esmee Hawkey, starting from 12th on the grid. Sophia Floersch will start from 19th.
The first race of the weekend and of the 2021 season will start at 13.30 local time (12.30 UK time). It’s going to be interesting who manages their tyres the best in the Italian heat.