The DTM received widespread backlash from fans on social media last weekend, as questionable driving standards and flagrant team orders played a key role in deciding the outcome of the championship.
First, Audi's Kelvin van der Linde left pre-race standings leader Liam Lawson with a severely damaged car with an overambitious move at Turn 2, even cutting the track when the Red Bull protege covered the inside line into the corner. Then, Mercedes asked both Lucas Auer and Philip Ellis to slow down in the closing laps to hand over the race lead to Maximilian Gotz, allowing the German driver to snatch the title by three points.
After watching the championship slip away from his driver's fingers, AF Corse team boss Ron Riechert labelled the final Norisring race a "disgrace" for the DTM, while Lawson himself made it clear that he doesn't want to return to the championship next year.
Speaking to the Bild, Berger admitted that he wasn't impressed by the events at the Norisring, acknowledging that the DTM failed to deliver a compelling title decider to its fans.
“Honestly, I slept really badly the last few nights," Berger said. "I’ve been a motorsport fan through and through for 40 years and my sportsman’s heart can’t cope with such artificial changes of position.
“Both topics, the Mercedes team order and van der Linde’s manoeuvre, have not only triggered discussions, but have done damage to the DTM.
"I am incredibly sorry for all those involved who have contributed to the attractiveness of the DTM this season and who have done everything to ensure that the DTM stands for hard, fair racing up to the last race, where the best wins.
"Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to do that in the finale and it is a huge blow for us in the eyes of the fans."
Gerhard Berger, ITR Chairman
Photo by: Gruppe C GmbH
Team orders had been a mainstay in the DTM since the series was revived in 2000, but they were banned at the start of the 2020 season with the support of both Audi and BMW – the only two manufacturers to contest the final campaign of the series’ Class One rules cycle.
However, the rule regarding team orders was dropped from this year's sporting regulations as it was felt that, with the DTM moving to a customer racing-focused formula, manufacturers wouldn't be manipulating the results like in yesteryears.
Branding team orders as "unacceptable", 10-time Formula 1 race winner Berger said he will evaluate his options to prevent an embarrassing repeat of the Norisring finale – but didn't explicitly say if team orders will be outlawed again in 2022.
"If a driver makes a decision on his own initiative in the interest of the team, that’s fine. But that is also the limit," he said. "What is absolutely unacceptable, however, is when teams or drivers are ordered to give up their position in order to shift the advantage somewhere else.
"Of course, the issue is not new in sport. In Formula 1 in particular, there are many examples that are unacceptable from a sporting point of view, both from the fans’ and the other teams’ point of view.
"I only have to remind you of the wave of outrage Ferrari was confronted with from the fans when Rubens Barrichello gave up victory for Michael Schumacher [in Austria in 2002]
"In our case, however, we are talking about a cross-team arrangement [between Winward and HRT]. That is a completely different quality again, which I cannot accept either sportingly or personally on our platform.
"That means the issue is still on the table and I will personally fight for a solution. We’ll take a close look at the facts and then hopefully draw the right conclusions based on what we find out.
“It’s up to the fans to decide whether they see anything positive in such a move. As a sportsman, I certainly can’t, because there has been a dilution of the drivers’ title.”
Van der Linde was handed only a five-second penalty for going off track at Turn 2 on the opening lap of the race, as the stewards felt the incident that followed between the South African and Lawson wasn't intentional.
The Abt driver was later involved in another collision with eventual champion Gotz, suffering a puncture and dropping outside the top 10 – leaving the path clear for Gotz to pass both Ellis and Auer with the aid of team orders.
Berger was critical of van der Linde's attempt at overtaking Lawson at the start, particularly as the Red Bull driver had been leading the championship going into the race.
“In my opinion, Kelvin van der Linde overshot the mark by far," he said.
"His behaviour in Turn 1 was unacceptable – neither from a sporting nor a safety point of view. The hard manoeuvres against Gotz can perhaps still be considered as hard racing.
"But the fact that he took the championship leader out of the race in the first corner is something we as a platform cannot support, but it is ultimately a matter for the sporting authorities.”
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