Formula E: Two Horse Race Between Vergne-di Grassi?

Audi Formula E driver Lucas di Grassi back in the title fight with Jean-Eric Vergne after winning the Berlin ePrix
After a season full of surprises and unpredictable results, could the 2018-19 Formula E season be reduced to a two-horse race in the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championship? 

At this weekend’s Berlin ePrix, the 2018-19 Formula E Season seemed on course to have its 9th different winner in 10 races this season. After all, five of the top-six qualifiers were yet to score their first win of the season. However, Audi’s Lucas di Grassi, who started 3rd, denied the all-electric series these bragging rights. The Brazilian drove a measured race to win his second race of the season, his first being the 2019 Mexico City ePrix.

Nissan’s Sebastian Buemi and reigning Formula E Champion Jean-Eric (Techeetah) claimed the other two spots on the podium — a rare occasion where three of the series’ most-experienced drivers shared the podium. The other drivers in the top five were BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa and HWA Racelab’s Stoffel Vandoorne. Basically, drivers from five different teams claimed the top five scoring positions — a continued testament to the competitiveness of the Formula E grid.

Qualifying & Super Pole: Buemi on pole

Buemi clocked the fastest lap of the weekend (1:07:295) to claim pole position in Super Pole, also his second of the season. In fact, he comprehensively outpaced the other five drivers in this session with his nearest rival’s (Vandoorne, 2nd) lap time being about four tenths off. The Super Pole session was dominated by the home (German) teams — both HWA drivers (the other driver being Gary Paffett, 4th) joined Audi’s di Grassi (3rd) and BMW’s Alexander Sims (6th). Narrowly missing out on Super Pole was Audi’s Daniel Abt — also the winner of the 2018 Berlin ePrix. The two Mahindra Racing drivers managed the 10th (d’Ambrosio) and 11th (Wehrlein) positions in a field where the top-21 drivers were separated by only 1.3 seconds. Felipe Massa, who finished on the podium in the last race in Monaco, nudged the barriers on two separate occasions on his qualifying lap to eventually end up in 19th place — seven tenths down.

Finally, Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer narrowly missed out on registering a qualifying lap after both Techeetah drivers were held up by di Grassi — a situation that reminded one of the qualifying from the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton’s slow out-lap cost four other drivers their final qualifying lap. A back-of-the grid start would be damaging to Lotterer’s Drivers’ Championship challenge; he arrived at his home race being placed 2nd in the title battle, just 1 point away from his team-mate and championship leader, Vergne.

Race: di Grassi triumphs, Vergne fights to the podium

There’s one record that’s yet to be set for this season — the pole sitter winning a race. At the 2019 Berlin ePrix, Buemi finished 2nd, after being overtaken by di Grassi for the lead of the race. But the battle for 2nd wasn’t easy either — between Buemi and da Costa, with the former putting his Fan Boost to good use to secure his position on the podium. Strangely, this was Buemi’s first podium appearance of the season. But much has been lacking in Nissan’s current season campaign with both their drivers suffering from the team’s inconsistent performances — ones that have cost them victory at least twice this season.

Lucas di Grassi’s second season win was methodical. After making a decent start, he made inroads into the gaps built by Vandoorne and Buemi before pulling off textbook overtaking moves to claim the lead of the race. After securing the lead, di Grassi built a comfortable gap to the rest of the field to finish and took the chequered flag with the point for the fastest lap of the race. For Audi, di Grassi’s win meant back-to-back victories at their home race in Berlin — ahead of the other German teams, HWA Racelab and BMW.

In fact, a win at the Berlin ePrix will only be more hotly contested after other German teams Porsche and Mercedes join the series next season. Jean-Eric Vergne, who started 8th, pulled off a series of aggressive overtakes to claim the final step of the podium and the 15 points that come with it. BMW’s da Costa gained three positions from his starting place to finish 4th, while Vandoorne, who started 2nd, went backwards through the race to finish 5th. In fact, this was the story of the race for both the HWA drivers.

Formula E Races In Monaco To Make A Statement

Paffett was probably the most overtaken driver on the grid, losing three positions in two corners while battling with Jaguar’s Alex Lynn (who started 5th). Eventually, Paffett ended the race in 16th while Lynn suffered a mid-race retirement. Lotterer suffered from battery issues to also be classified as ‘Did Not Finish’ — a no points score meant that the German driver lost second position to di Grassi in the Drivers’ Championship. Mahindra’s Pascal Wehrlein finished 10th and secured the final championship point. Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird was the lowest placed driver on the start grid (13th) to finish in the points (9th). Finally, the Attack Mode location was spot on, at the outside of the hairpin — one that allowed drivers to active and use the power boost to slingshot pass their rivals into the left hander that followed.

Two Horse Race For The Championship?

The 2018-19 Formula E Championship has been hotly contested and there are still 87 points and 141 points are up for grabs in the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championship respectively. However, there is all likelihood that the storyline could seem like a repeat from last season after Vergne (102 points) and di Grassi (96 points) lead the way in the Drivers’ Championship, while Techeetah and Audi do so in the Teams’ Championship. However, this season has shown that all it takes for a driver to get back into contention is a race win and with the field this open, there’s a chance that we could see a late season twist in the tale. After all, both Nissan drivers are yet to score any win this season. Unfortunately for the series and its fans, Buemi is 10th and more than 40 points away from Vergne while Rowland is 9th with an almost similar deficit.

Lotterer, who was the biggest loser of the Berlin ePrix, could also spring a surprise in the remaining three rounds. The German driver is 3rd with 86 points and is yet to win a race in Formula E — the current being his second season in the series. For Mahindra Racing’s fans, d’Ambrosio dropped to 8th place in the championship with 65 points — the Belgian driver has failed to score points in the last three races. The other Mahindra driver, Pascal Wehrlein, is 13th with 52 points.

In the Teams’ Championship, Audi jumped to second place after Virgin Racing managed to score just 2 points in the last 2 races. The gap between Audi and Techeetah (in 1st place) is 25 points and unlike last season, one hopes that Techeetah are able to hold ground and claim their first Teams’ Championship in Formula E. The 3rd to 5th positions (Virgin, Nissan and Mahindra) are separated by 20 points with BMW down in 6th (by a further 9 points) — expect the mid-field battle of Formula E to be hotly contested too.

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Formula E, a series that thrives on racing on the streets, has shown time and again that street circuits are fun and can lead to unpredictable results — whether it is the tight and narrow roads of Monaco or the wider temporary track built at the Templehof Airport in Berlin. Let’s hope Formula 1 is able to entertain us at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix too.

This post was first publised on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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