Audi were on the back-foot in the DTM this year, so they are looking to make changes to get ahead of arch-and-only rivals Mercedes. With the specs frozen solid there is little for them to do to their cars so it’s the drivers who are being chopped and changed. To make way for double Macau F3 winner Edoardo Mortara, Race of Champions’ shock winner Filipe Albuquerque and Swiss lady racer Rahel Frey Audi have ousted Markus Winkelhock, Katherine Legge and the unfortunate Alex Premat – who was booted while he was still nursing the headache from his massive Adria accident last year. I suspect those three former young guns will be phoning up BMW this morning to ask if they need somebody who knows what makes a decent DTM machine tick.
It’s a shame Katherine Legge has been put out to pasture, but hopefully she’ll find a way back to single-seaters where she showed real promise by winning in Atlantics and surviving mega-shunts in Champ Car. Kicking Premat when he was down seemed a touch harsh, but after Audi’s pathetic pull-out from the Spanish DTM round in 2007 it is hardly shocking to see them getting their knickers in a twist over some cracked carbon-fibre. But I feel most sorry for Markus Winkelhock, son of Manfred, nephew of Smokin’ Jo. Why? Because he had one of the craziest and coolest F1 careers possible – one race, two starts, 16 laps completed, six of them in the lead. If you are only going to do one race you may as well make it a good ‘un.
For many the name Markus Winkelhock conjures up only one image – his orange Spyker shining through the rain as he led his first and only grand prix. Although he’s never exhibited the flair of his Dad or uncle, his sole Grand Prix was quite an an adventure.
Making his debut in his home race after fellow DTM driver Christijan Albers got the boot, Markus started the race from 22nd and last on the Nurburgring grid. Piloting perhaps the slowest car of the day, he opted to start on intermediates while the rest of the grid set off sporting dry rubber. Cue a downpour and within no time he was watching as six cars spun into the same gravel trap and our intrepid rookie calmly carved his way through Ferraris and Mclarens to open up a lead of near-as-damn-it two whole minutes!
Inevitably the red flags waved so Markus then got a rather different view of the grid as he lined up on pole position for a rare sight in F1 – a full restart. This meant he became the only driver to have started both last and first in his debut race! He led more laps than eventual winner Alonso, before succumbing to mechanical woes and leaving the race after 16 laps. It was like watching a career in fast forward – start at the bottom, make it to the top, race in every weather except snow, then onto an ignominious retirement before touring cars beckon.
After his entertaining race at the ‘Ring Sakon Yamamoto showed up with a sack of cash and Markus was sent back to Germany to crash DTM cars. He certainly performed better than Ms Legge and his shunts were at least a little softer than Premat’s, but their fellow young gun Mike Rockenfeller outshone them all and has deservedly got a shot with a new machine for 2011.
Let’s hope that the DTM’s ambitious expansion plans for the next few years allow us to see a little more of Markus – the man who lived a life in a day.