Having a DTM driver as possibly my favourite driver in all of motorsport is a strange choice, I’ll give you that. So I thought I would give you all an insight as to why I support Mercedes DTM driver and McLaren test driver, Gary Paffett.
I am finishing this post just a hours after the final race of the DTM season, and just two days after it was announced that Gary Paffett is to stay on with the Mercedes DTM team for 2015, after Euronics have extended their partnership with the manufacturer that has just won the Formula One Constructor’s Championship. This makes Paffett the first Mercedes driver to be confirmed for the 2015 season, which I originally had fears for as McLaren will no longer be using Mercedes engines from that year onwards, nostalgically switching to Honda. I couldn’t be more happy for Gary and the Mercedes team, and I hope that 2015 will be a better season for the both of them after an extremely difficult 2014 season that has seen Mercedes rooted at the bottom of the manufacturers championship in DTM, behind BMW and Audi.
My love for F1 came back to me in the second half of 2011, not because of the season itself – Sebastian Vettel pretty much dominated proceedings and left everyone in his wake. I no longer was working on Sunday’s, so in the spare time my eyes were drawn back to the world of F1, and back to supporting Lewis Hamilton and McLaren. After signing up to receive their email newsletters and becoming a Team Member (which I still am to this day), I started reading more about what happens behind the scenes at McLaren, and the people that contribute to the ongoing development of the team. McLaren’s two test drivers at that time were Oliver Turvey and Gary Paffett, both of whom fascinated me as these were professional drivers that drove McLaren F1 cars for a living, but are for the most part hidden away from public view, with arguably little recognition.
So, it started there, admittedly as a by-product of my support of Hamilton. I attended the European Formula 3 event at Brands Hatch in May 2013 to watch Josh Hill, son of the 1996 Formula One World Champion, Damon Hill. The day proved to be a frustrating affair for Josh as the Indy layout of the Brands Hatch circuit is not the easiest to overtake on, Hill was stuck in the lower positions of the top ten, while Raffielle Marciello stormed to victory before being disqualified for a technical infringement, giving the win to team mate Lucas Auer. Formula 3 was support race to another series that day, the DTM. The pit walk was earlier that day, which I attended, and for the most part I didn’t know any of the drivers on the grid. The only two I knew of was Timo Glock, a driver who is legendary in the eyes of Lewis Hamilton fans after Brazil 2008, he left Marussia after 2012, and was now racing for BMW. The other was Paffett. I stood trackside of the starting grid as the DTM field roared into action, I remember wincing at the sheer noise of the cars, very different type of noise from what I was used to at the 2012 F1 British GP! Rockenfeller took a well deserved win that day, a win that would help him win the championship that year. My camera found it’s way towards Paffett’s car, who was receiving great support from the Brands Hatch crowd, but he race didn’t go too well, having being penalised with a drive-through, if I remember correctly many drivers including those from F3 and BRDC F4 received similar fates that day, many being pulled up for not slowing down for yellow flags on the Indy circuit.
The first time I met Gary was through sheer luck and coincidence. I returned to the Formula One British Grand Prix for the second year in succession in 2013, for the Friday I was mainly by myself, apart from bumping into @beth_f1 a couple of times who was keeping a close eye on the McLaren garage. Again for the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to win a paddock tour with McLaren with a group of around 15 others, I remember having to run around from the International Straight to Chapel just to make it in time. A delay in obtaining the passes meant that we entered the paddock area around 15 minutes later than planned, we were lead through the back of the paddock to the McLaren garages where I took some pictures of the cars being maintained and with the accommodating McLaren personnel. On the way back to the paddock gates is where the action happened. The drivers must have just finished all of their interviews in the media den, and before we knew it, Alonso and Massa we rushing past us. There was no point trying to stop them, they were practically past us by the time we had noticed, then we saw Paul di Resta walking along with Gary Paffett at a slower pace, at that time I thought “sod it, I’ll never get another opportunity like this again in the paddock!” I asked them both if they wouldn’t mind me having a picture with them, I’m pretty sure I made they sound like they didn’t have a choice anyway, and that was that. Poor Jenson Button must have been confused when I asked “Can I have a picture?”, he seemed to have thought that I meant just one of himself, but anyway a very enjoyable paddock tour was topped off with a stampede of drivers at the end.
Not long after the GP was the Young Driver’s Test at Silverstone, an event that meant a lot to me in many ways, that day I met some like minded enthusiasts that I am delighted to say are good friends of mine now, you can find them on Twitter as @KarlaGeorge and @liamthenry, the three of us along with @heidi_masters all ended up camping at the British Grand Prix this year in its entirety. The Young Driver’s Test also meant that I would get to see some drivers that I would not normally have the opportunity to see, such as Nicolas Prost, Susie Wolff, Davide Rigon and Gary Paffett as well. Nicolas Prost provided a little excitement for the photographers by kicking up some dust on the entry to Copse, while Geido van der Garde had a trip into the gravel in the early part of the day. Paffett’s McLaren was stuck in the garage for most of the morning with an electrical fault, leading to exclamations of “Where’s Gary?!” from me on more than one occasion. By the afternoon the fault was fixed and started it’s runs out on track, with me spending most of the time trying to get the perfect shot of the McLaren with the pit board in the same shot, a bit harder when at the time I only had a small digital camera!
I returned to Autosport International in January 2014, although unfortunately I was not able to attend the show for the whole weekend due to work commitments. Autosport is a show that I have always enjoyed, there’s so much to see and so many stars to meet in such a short space of time if you only attend for the one day, and on the Saturday that I attended the end of the day was already booked for the Live Action Area, I deliberately booked the latest time possible as I remember that in 2013 I booked it in the middle of the afternoon, which clashed with an autograph signing with Sir Jackie Stewart. This left the rest of the day free. Now I don’t know about most other people, but as soon as I arrived I checked three things straightaway. The itinerary for both the Autosport and the F1 Racing stands, to see who would be taking and with which stars, and the autograph session times. First thing in the morning was Marussia’s Graeme Lowdon at the F1 Racing stand, who used the media opportunity to announce that Max Chilton (who was also present with him) would be staying in with the team for a second season. After a Q&A with David Croft, Graeme and Max then posed for pictures for the waiting media, at which point a few of us (@KarlaGeorge, @SilverArrowsHAM, @Silent_F1_Fan and @beth_f1 included) made our way around to the stage exit. After exiting the stage Graeme, Max and Max’s girlfriend, Chloe Roberts, were more than happy to spend a few minutes with the fans for some autographs and pictures, it’s times like those where teams like Marussia spend time with fans that make them one of the most popular teams on the grid.
The autograph sessions in the morning included stars such as John Surtees, Allan McNish and Martin Brundle, the queue for Surtees in particular was huge, as this was a very rare opportunity for motorsport fans to get an autograph or a picture with the only man to win World Championships on both two and four wheels. Gary had two autograph sessions in the afternoon, one by himself, then with Tom Chilton later on. Naturally we attended both, Gary was in good spirits and was more than happy to sign anything we had with us, eventually both he and Tom Chilton started doodling for Beth. It was a pleasure to meet a driver that was so relaxed, down to earth, and to have a joke with. I hope the same opportunity comes up against for Autosport International 2015.
Gary Paffett has won the DTM Championship on one occasion, in 2005, and has been a runner up on four other occasions in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2012. He remains the most successful driver in the current DTM field with 20 wins, third on the all time list, and the most successful British driver ever in the series.