Audi: Never a chance that Mattias Ekstrom would leave
|By Gary Watkins||Thursday, December 20th 2012, 09:45 GMT|
Two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom was never set to leave Audi, according to marque motorsport boss Wolfgang Ullrich.
Ekstrom, who finished sixth in this year's DTM with the Abt team, had been linked to moves to both DTM newcomer BMW and Mercedes, but the Swede was confirmed as part of Audi's line-up for 2013 on Wednesday.
Fellow Abt driver Timo Scheider, who has also won two DTM titles for Audi, was also confirmed after speculation that he could leave.
Ullrich said: "Mattias and Timo will be with us next year. There has been a lot of speculation about that, but they both had long-term contracts, so the door was never open for discussion."
Spaniard Miguel Molina, who raced for the Phoenix squad this season, has parted company with Audi.
Ullrich said: "Miguel will leave the team. I am sure there will be other opportunities for him to make a career in motorsport and we give him whatever help we can."
Rahel Frey will also not race in the DTM but is expected to be given a programme racing an Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3 car.
One place in Audi's eight-car DTM line-up, which has been bolstered for 2013 by the arrival of Jamie Green, is still up for grabs.
Sportscar driver James Rossiter and Formula Renault 3.5 driver Nico Muller are understood to be in the frame after testing for Audi earlier this winter.
Jamie O'Leary, DTM correspondent
Mattias Ekstrom looked finished at times this year. The smiles looked ever more forced and the quips became increasingly sarcastic, albeit with that typical Scandinavian humour of his.
OK, so it never got to Spielberg 2011 levels, where he turned off his car's engine during his first pitstop, climbed out and later declared: "I'm saving the environment. What's the point in wasting fuel over 16th place?" But the frustration was still evident.
Throw into the equation that both BMW and Mercedes had made firm offers to the two-time champion for 2013, and the fact that his Abt Sportsline A5 was "only a 10 out of 10" at one of the year's 10 races, and you could have been forgiven for thinking that an exit was the only option, despite a year remaining on his Audi contract.
But, like his team-mate Timo Scheider - another man to endure a rubbish season - he could see the bigger picture. Yes Audi seemed to struggle more often than Mercedes or BMW for the most part of 2012, but in actual fact these apparent struggles looked bigger than they actually were.
There were weekends when the A5 was the strongest package. Edoardo Mortara's Spielberg and Zandvoort wins were proof of that, while only an inspired drive from Augusto Farfus at Valencia denied the Ingolstadt marque a third victory.
However, as much as Ekstrom's decision is good news for Audi, it's yet another nail in the coffin for Mercedes, which had made a serious effort to sign him once it got wind that BMW had made an offer.
Gary Paffett is known to have favoured a top-line team-mate at HWA next year over a less-experienced driver, but he now has to face the fact that he is likely to start 2013 as the only one of the marque's drivers to have won a DTM race.