Report: Lucas di Grassi wins dramatic Mexico City E-Prix

After a thrilling *45 minutes of racing, Lucas di Grassi narrowly took the chequered flag ahead of Antonio Felix da Costa and Edoardo Mortara.

3 rookies made a great impression in qualifying with Oliver Rowland and Felipe Massa qualifying 4th and 3rd respectively with Pascal Wehrlein taking pole position ahead of Lucas di Grassi in only his 3rd Formula E race.

Wehrlein maintained his lead off the line and into turn one while Oliver Rowland broke much later than those around him putting himself into 2nd ahead of di Grassi.

It did not take long for the drama to begin, Nelson Piquet suffered a huge crash, launching over the Techeetah of Jean-Eric Vergne after the Brazilian was caught out by Vergne’s early braking. Piquet would be out of the race while Vergne and Alexander Sims who got tagged by the crashing Piquet would require repair.

The red flag would be brought out, putting a temporary stop to the race while debris and the stricken Jaguar were cleared up. As the race got under way, the majority of the filed opted to use their first Attack Mode.

Wehrlein would continue to lead Oliver Rowland at the front while the two Envision Virgin Racing cars would slowly make their way up the pack, Sam Bird failed to set a lap in qualifying due to a technical issue while Frijns had a picked up a grid drop for impeding Jerome D’Ambrosio.

Jean-Eric Vergne was once again having a nightmare, whilst able to continue after the Piquet incident, he would make contact with the other Jaguar of Mitch Evans and spin to near the back of the pack.

In the closing staged of the race the top 5 would start activating their Attack Mode, each taking it in turns to activate it. da Costa would be first to activate this in 5th place but failed to pass Sebastien Buemi before he activated his. di Grassi would then be next to use his Attack Mode before 2nd place Rowland would do the same but would lose 2nd place to di Grassi in doing so.

Wehrlein and di Grassi would pull away from the rest of the top 5 in the remaining laps with both Nissan E.DAMS cars running out of battery with 1 lap to go. Wehrlein was also marginal on battery and slowed his pace considerably on the final lap bringing da Costa and Mortara who had the most energy of all in on the fight for the lead.

Wehrlein and di Grassi would make contact forcing Wehrlein to cut the chicane, ultimately earning himself a 5-second time penalty, it wouldn’t matter as he would run out of battery on the final straight and di Grassi would pass him across the line.

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Mexico City E-Prix Preview

As we head into the fourth round of the FIA ABB Formula E championship we also head to Mexico for it’s fourth race in the series.

After a strong couple of races, Sam Bird leads the championship with Jerome D’Ambrosio and Antonio Felix da Costa close behind, Envision Virgin Racing also lead the teams championship.

The Track:

@NIO TRACK

Copyright: Nio Formula E team

A revised version of the Formula One track with 17 corners with 3 long right handers which will make things difficult for drivers off-line. Overtaking isn’t easy around here as proven by Jerome D’Ambrosio back in season 3 when he was able to hold off a faster pack of cars behind him for a considerable amount of time when he had less energy available.

The most spectacular part of the circuit is the stadium section where cars will race through the stadium surrounded by fans, we have seen incidents there before too so it is a must for spectators. This is also where the attack zone is this year, unlike other circuits due to the slow nature of the corners surrounding it, little lack time should be lost activating it.

PodiumsNot yet dominated:

In the 3 seasons that Formula E has been racing at Mexico, 8 drivers have taken to the podium with 7 of them being current drivers.

Sebastian Buemi is the only driver to step on the podium more than once in Mexico, Lucas Di Grassi has theoretically finished on the podium twice but was disqualified in season 3 so only has 1 classified podium finish.

 

Crunch time for Buemi and Di Grassi:

@Nissan Buemi.jpg

Copyright: Nissan NISMO

Season 2 and 3 champions Buemi and Di Grassi are both yet to stand on the podium this season. Both drivers have the package to deliver but have both struggled in the opening 3 rounds of the season. Mexico City is crucial for both drivers if they are serious about mounting a title challenge this year, both need to at least finish on the podium if they want to start building that title challenge.

Who to watch out for:

@Venturi Mortara 3

Copyright: Venturi Formula E Team

Felipe Massa and Edoardo Mortara have had a difficult start to the season, the Venturi hasn’t had the pace of it’s rivals but both drivers have put in strong performances so far. Massa has been unlucky with collisions and failures so far this season and without this misfortune he would have already scored points. Mortara enjoyed a solid result with 5th in Santiago and will look to emulate this in Mexico City.

Robin Frijns would probably be my outside bet for the title this season, he is quick and has found an equally as fast team with Envision Virgin Racing. Strong results in the past 2 races has him in 4th in the drivers standings, with a strong package behind him expect a challenge for victory in Mexico City.

Felipe Nasr will compete in his first E-Prix this weekend and it will be his first time racing in single-seaters since 2016. Don’t write him off though, he has proved to be a solid runner and has already tested with Dragon before, don’t be surprised if he challenges for a points finish.

Podium Prediction:

1st: Robin Frijns 2nd: Lucas di Grassi 3rd: Jean-Eric Vergne

Ways to watch:

UK TV Times

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Felipe Nasr set to replace Gunther at Dragon

Former Formula One driver and current sportscar driver Felipe Nasr is will replace Maximilian Gunther at GEOX Dragon.

The Brazilian will make his debut in Mexico and will fill the seat for the remainder of the season. Nasr does have a conflict with the Rome E-Prix so is set to miss this round of the championship.

Max Gunther looks set to step in for Rome but will sit out the rest of the season and fill stay with the team as their test driver. The first 3 rounds of the championship have been challenging with crashes in qualifying in the first two rounds and 0 points scored so far.

Copyright: GEOX Dragon

Gunther had limited running in the Gen2 car prior to Ad Diriyah and on track incidents since have reduced his track time further.

Gunther was running high in the points before his Dragon shut down and would have probably finished in the top 6 otherwise.

Gunther has said that he was aware he wouldn’t be racing for the whole season but expects to make another appearance.

“It was clear from the beginning that I would share the season at Geox Dragon with another driver.”

“I know that I will be racing for Geox Dragon again this season. Until then, I will continue to do the simulator work and be a test and replacement driver for the team.”

“I had a lot of fun in Santiago de Chile, where I had a great race after my super qualifying until my retirement and I am looking forward to returning to the Penske EV-3 soon.”

In his first year of Formula 2 last year he impressed with the BWT Arden team taking podiums and a win in Silverstone.

The Dragon isn’t the quickest on the grid and Gunther handled himself as well as he could in the circumstances.

“Felipe has demonstrated incredible talent, scoring 29 points in his two seasons in Formula 1, and winning the 2018 IMSA Prototype Championship,” said team owner Jay Penske.

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The dark horses for the 18/19 title

After the first few rounds of the 18/19 ABB Formula E season it would be easy to say that DS Techeetah should walk this championship, I even predicted that Jean-Eric Vergne would be the Season 5 champion. After 3 races it isn’t Vergne and Techeetah leading the drivers and teams championships but instead Sam Bird and Envision Virgin Racing.

The first round of season in Ad Diriyah was a disaster for Virgin with both cars failing to score after being sent to the back of the grid following a penalty for exceeding the 250kw limit. Neither Virgin or partners Audi put on a strong performance which led to concerns about the pace of the Audi powertrain.

Marrakesh however showed a huge turnaround in performance, despite a pit-lane crash for the Virgin duo of Sam Bird and Robin Frijns, Sam Bird took pole beating Vergne to the top spot.

The race would yield more success with the team taking their first double-podium in Formula E. Bird would struggle in the race to finish 3rd but teammate Frijns would challenge winner Jerome D’Ambrosio on the final lap, this showed that Virgin and Audi still have a competitive package.

@VIRGIN FRIJNS PODIUM.jpg

Copyright: Envision Virgin Racing

Santiago would confirm Virgin’s pace with Sam Bird harassing Sebastien Buemi for the lead until the Swiss driver crashed out of the lead. Bird would then control the remainder of the race to win and take the lead of the drivers championship while Frijns would finish 5th putting Envision Virgin Racing at the top of the teams championship.

Virgin perhaps have the strongest driver pairing on the grid with Bird being the only driver to have won a race in every season of Formula E while Frijns is a highly rated driver who made a great impression in his debut season with Andretti in Season 2.

Techeetah are still believed to have the fastest package but their season has been riddle with mistakes. Penalties in Ad Diriyah ruined a certain 1-2 for Vergne and Andre Lotterer while an optimistic lunge in Marrakesh saw Vergne spin out of 2nd place.

Santiago was the scene where Techeetah took the very first 1-2 in Formula E last season but had no luck repeating that this season after more mistakes would see neither driver score any points.

Sam Bird challenge Vergne to the title last season until the final weekend but Vergne’s consistency helped him seal his first championship title. This season Vergne’s biggest strengths have disappeared, Vergne is one of the series’ best qualifiers but has failed to take pole position while his consistency which won him the title last season appears to have been left behind with the Gen1 car.

Both Virgin drivers have shown they can be consistent and both definitely have the speed, it shouldn’t be too long before we see Frijns take his maiden victory.

The performance of Techeetah and Vergne reminds me a lot of Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari and how they threw away the chance of winning the title when they had the package to do so.

As the mistakes happened it allowed for the pressure to build and put more pressure on Vettel but you can’t make up for a bad race. It’s not like you can regain the points you threw away in the previous race so you need to start the following race fresh forgetting about what happened the weekend before.

Vergne is one of the best on the grid but needs to reset if he wants to be the first double-champion in Formula E. He has the right package behind him and has a healthy relationship with teammate Lotterer as do the Virgin drivers.

Vergne has a few challengers to his crown this season, da Costa and Sims have a strong package with BMW while Mahindra have shown they also have strong pace while not forgetting about former champions Buemi and Di Grassi. Bird and Frijns must also be considered as a threat if not perhaps the bigger threat this season, they have a strong package and with a strong couple of races behind them they have the confidence too and are perhaps the dark horses of the 18/19 season.

@Virgin Bird Quali 2.jpg

Copyright: Envision Virgin Racing

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Does Formula E’s qualifying format need changing?

The current qualifying format sparked controversy in Santiago causing reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne labelling it “a joke” and they may as well set the grid in “reverse [championship] order”. This is of course a sarcastic remark from Vergne as he vented his frustration at the current format.

“Well I think they should do no qualifying and [use] the reverse order in the championship because clearly it’s a joke here.” Vergne said after watching the times tumble in qualifying and seeing himself fall out of super pole contention.

“I did a clean lap but I mean [there is] no way I can be in super pole with those conditions.”

“I really hope they can do something about it because it’s not fair, we work as hard as the others, that is why we are leading the championship as a manufacturer and we [have] got the worst chance for the race so it’s not fair at all.”

Most of the time gained by the succeeding qualifying groups was in the first sector which is under trees and contains the fastest corners of the circuit.

“The track was so dirty, there was leaves out there in sector one and dust everywhere” was Vergne’s remarks when talking about track conditions.

@techeetah cars

Both Techeetah’s would go fastest in their qualifying session but neither would make it into super pole. Copyright: DS Techeetah Formula E Team

Currently qualifying is split into 4 groups based on championship order. The first group on track are the top 5 in the championship but this is deemed a disadvantage as the track is usually dusty and not rubbered in meaning lap times should be slower.

Techeetah drivers Vergne and Lotterer topped their session but neither would qualify in the top ten due to the track improving as the other groups completed their laps.

The rule is in place due to the nature of street circuits making it easy for drivers to hold each other up, with this rule it means drivers can complete laps cleanly and with less cars on track there is less chance of drivers ruining each others laps.

The current format was introduced this season following complaints about last seasons format. Once again there were 4 qualifying groups but rather than the groups being decided by championship order it was a literal lottery, names would randomly picked for each group which wasn’t exactly a great idea in a competitive sport.

I personally agree with Vergne on qualifying, it penalises the fastest drivers way too much and makes the result of qualifying far less pure. I do understand why this format is in place and it is an improvement on the previous system and it does mix up the grid promoting better racing but it is just not pure enough.

My suggestion would be the groups would be decided by practice times, the slowest group would go out first while the fastest would go out last. This way it isn’t decided by the previous race and encourages teams to attack in practice too making the practice session more exciting.

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Santiago E-Prix Review

Santiago, Chile was the destination for round 3 of the championship at a new circuit compared to last season but still with just as much drama.

Championship leader Jerome D’Ambrosio had a disaster in qualifying and would only managed 20th, many big names would find themselves in the bottom half of the grid such as Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa. Lucas di Grassi took provisional pole but would be sent to the back of the grid after failing to follow the new in-lap procedure introduced for this event.

Sebastien Buemi inherited pole position ahead of Pascal Wehrlein who had impressed all day in only his second race in Formula E.

As the race started everyone got away cleanly and there was no contact unlike in Marrakesh. Buemi and Wehrlein would hold 1st and 2nd while Sam Bird dispatched Daniel Abt for 3rd place.

There were many collisions on the final corner of the circuit, first Felipe Massa and Oliver Rowland tangled on the exit of the chicane leading to damage to Massa’s Venturi causing the frustrated Brazilian to retire.

Teammates Lotterer and Vergne would once again collide in Santiago just like last year, this time Lotterer used the BMW i Andretti of da Costa to spin Vergne around. Lucas di Grassi would also make contact on the final chicane with Jose Maria Lopez earning himself a time penalty at the end of the race.

Bird would move into second place after passing Wehrlein while in Attack Mode which would then become the race lead when Sebastien Buemi got it wrong at the exit of turn 7 crashing into the wall and ending his race.

Robin Frijns would again impress holding off Mitch Evans who was running his Attack Mode and would hold him off for the remainder of the race in a tight mid pack behind the race leader.

Santiago was a race of attrition with only 14 classified finishers, Jean-Eric Vergne’s title defence took a big hit when he retired after a messy race.

Sam Bird would cross the line victor but was initially investigated for being underweight but eventually cleared. Pascal Wehrlein took an impressive second while Daniel Abt saved Audi’s weekend in 3rd following a penalty for Alexander Sims for causing a collision with Edoardo Mortara’s Venturi. Here is how the top ten finished after penalties were applied:

  1. Sam Bird Envision Virgin Racing
  2. Pascal Wehrlein Mahindra Racing
  3. Daniel Abt Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler
  4. Edoardo Mortara Venturi Formula E Team
  5. Robin Frijns Envision Virgin Racing Team
  6. Mitch Evans Panasonic Jaguar Racing
  7. Alexander Sims BMW i Andretti Motorsport
  8. Jermome D’Ambrosio Mahindra Racing
  9. Oliver Turvey Nio Formula E Team
  10. Jose Maria Lopez Geox Dragon

Envision Virgin Racing looking strong:

@Virgin Shakedown Frijns.jpg
Envision Virgin Racing now lead the teams championship by 9 points. Copyright: Envision Virgin Racing

After a dismal first race in Ad Diriyah, Envision Virgin Racing are looking very strong. In both Marrakesh and Santiago they have fought for victory, and have claimed 3 podiums in these two races. If it wasn’t for a poor qualifying for Robin Frijns where he started 15th we might have seen the Dutchman on the podium once again. This also shows a lot of promise for the factory Audi team who trail Virgin in the teams standings.

Another missed opportunity for Techeetah:

@Techeetah Shakedown Lotterer.jpg

Copyright: DS Techeetah Formula E Team

In a season where Techeetah could have won the first two races of the season, Santiago should have been the race where Vergne and Lotterer capitalised on their car’s performance but once again it all went wrong.

Due to the nature of the qualifying format both cars would start outside of the top ten as track conditions improved and cars in following qualifying groups would set faster times.

The race itself was another disaster with Vergne spinning as a consequence of Lotterer colliding with da Costa and then another spin later on for Vergne resulted in him retiring the car. Lotterer was later penalised after the race for overtaking under full course yellow taking him out of the points and resulting in the first 0 points score for Techeetah since Paris in season 3.

Driver of the day:

@Mahindra Wehlein Podium.jpg

It’s 3 podiums in 3 races for Mahindra so far this season. Copyright: Mahindra Racing

Pascal Wehrlein was supreme in Santiago, he was fast throughout all practice sessions, he was aggressive in qualifying leaving no margin for error, using every inch of the track and would start 2nd as a result.

He kept a cool head in the race, not taking too much risk but keeping Sam Bird honest throughout the race. If it wasn’t for an overheating issue in the closing stages of the race then Wehrlein may have taken his first win but he shouldn’t be disappointed with 2nd place as this is a strong foundation to build from.

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Nissan energy management issues solved – Buemi

Nissan e.dams have had a difficult start to the 2018/19 season but are confident they can turn things around.

As Diriyah saw the Nissan duo of Buemi and Rowland finish 6th and 7th respectively but had a much more difficult race in Marrakesh. Buemi qualified 3rd but was a victim of the turn one incident and had to battle his way back to 8th. Teammate Rowland struggled and finished 15th in the race.

Energy management seemed to be the biggest issue for the team with qualifying pace competitive but the 45 minute race proving more of a challenge.

Despite this Buemi is confident on the Nissan e.dams’ potential.

“The pace was good [in Marrakesh], not like the deficit we had in Riyadh,”

“We changed a lot of things on the energy management [software changes] that we understood were wrong and then we were much more competitive.

Buemi did not win a single race in season 4 for the first time in his Formula E career. Renault left the sport at the end of the season and Nissan came in to take it’s place. Although Nissan are new to the sport e.dams are not so better results are expected.

“Everyone at Nissan e.dams, Nissan and NISMO has continued to work closely together after Marrakesh to examine the data from the weekend and work toward setting a baseline for Santiago,” said Jean-Paul Driot, Nissan e.dams team principal.

“This is another brand-new circuit for the championship, and Sebastien and Oliver have already completed many virtual miles in preparation for this weekend.”

Nissan e.dams currently sit 5th in the teams championship and will need a strong result in Santiago if they want to mount a title challenge.

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