Formula E: Monaco ePrix Is To Make A Statement

DS Techeetah driver Jean-Eric Vergne wins the 2019 Monaco ePrix
For a series that boasts of racing on the city streets, racing in Monaco should be as normal as racing elsewhere in the world. However, Formula E’s racing in Monaco is about pride and making a statement — that the all-electric series is aspirational yet attainable.

Aspirational, because it attracted celebrities, royalty and more. Attainable, because Formula E remains within the reach of a regular Motorsport fan who may eventually switch to driving an electric car. A fine balance for the series, one could say.

The Monaco ePrix is a biennial event on the Formula E calendar — the last two races being contested in 2015 and 2017. Both past races were won by Sebastian Buemi, the series champion of the 2015-16 season. The ePrix is held on a shorter road course than what the Formula 1 cars race on. While the track might not consist of the epic corners that the street circuit is famous for, attendance from figureheads around the world has never been lacking.

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The 2019 Monaco ePrix was won by the reigning Formula E champion and Techeetah driver, Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman became the first repeat winner of the 2018-19 Formula E season. The series could have been on course to crown its ninth different winner in nine races, but a penalty brought forward from the last race in Paris saw the pole-sitter and eventual second-place finisher Oliver Rowland get demoted to fourth place on the starting grid. It was delightful to see former Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa score the first podium of his Formula E career. Given that Massa now lives in Monaco, he will be delighted to have earned this milestone at his ‘home ePrix’.

Qualifying: Rowland on pole but penalised

Apart from a closely contested session, the suspense of the qualifying session was whether any of the drivers would break the 50-second lap time barrier around the 1.7km long circuit. After all, it was only a few hours before qualifying when three drivers (Rowland, Vergne and Andre Lotterer) managed a sub-50 second lap time. However, this feat wasn’t repeated in the qualifying or the Super Pole session — Rowland managing a 50.021, only two tenths away.

Unpredictability Is Formula E’s Biggest Asset

Vergne topped the group qualifying session — one that saw all the 22 cars be separated by less than one second. In comparison, the F1 qualifying (Q1 session) of the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix saw only the top-6 drivers within 1 second of the driver who was fastest. Apart from unpredictability, the competitive quotient of the entire grid is another USP of Formula E. Vergne’s team’mate, Lotterer, was at the other end of the spectrum. He made a mistake in his qualifying run, due to which he was classified last in 22nd place.

After struggling to get to grips with the series, it could be that Felipe Massa has found his ground in Formula E. The Venturi driver was third fastest in qualifying and secured his second successive entry into the Super Pole session where he managed the 5th fastest time — less than two tenths away from Rowland. However, post-session penalties saw the final starting grid look different from the eventual qualifying order.

Mitch Evans, the winner of the Rome ePrix, received a formal reprimand for powering his Jaguar Racing car too early to the designated 250kW output. The Kiwi, who had two prior reprimands from the season, saw the third reprimand result in the 10 place grid drop. After qualifying third, he was demoted to twelfth — and yes, the math doesn’t add up because the eventual pole-sitter, Rowland received his three-place grid penalty first — giving Evans a promotion to second place before the application of his penalty. More for Evans than Rowland, the penalty meant a fight back would be the only way of getting onto the podium.

Race: Vergne wins a close race

Jean-Eric Vergne scored a lights-to-flag victory but was under constant pressure from the following drivers — Pascal Wehrlein in the opening few laps followed by Rowland in the latter half of the race. A rare error under-braking at the first corner saw Wehrlein narrowly miss the barriers and lose positions to Rowland and Massa. Their positions remained unchanged till the chequered flag despite the strategic use of the Attack Mode to attack and defend positions — and they finished only 1.4 seconds apart. The last two laps of the race were a treat to watch with Rowland chasing Vergne for the lead and Wehrlein doing all he could to beat Massa to the final step of the podium.

To a typical motorsport fan, a race in Monaco could be synonymous to a race with little or almost no overtaking. However, the Formula E drivers did manage to pull off overtakes with a little bit of planning and a dollop of aggression. The stand out drivers were Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird and Audi’s Lucas di Grassi who almost operated like WWE-style tag-team while hunting down their rivals. It was only unfortunate that Bird and di Grassi failed to finish the race despite running in the points. Bird retired on the last lap while di Grassi was the unfortunate victim of a racing incident with BMW’s Alexander Sims — a blow for di Grassi’s championship hopes. The Attack Mode was well positioned on the circuit — parallel to the back straight. In the last few races, drivers have often lost places while activating this compulsory-to-use mode, but in Monaco, there was no such loss. At least in our view, a neutral positioning of the Attack Mode area would make the use of this mode less gimmicky. After all, what’s the point of a power boost if it is most certainly going to make a driver lose positions. Yes, one could argue that a position loss would affect every driver alike (since activation is compulsory for every driver twice in every race), but by placing the mode in a neutral zone, the series would be reducing the luck factor by a large margin.

In other news, Evans made his way into the top 10 to finish seventh, while Lotterer managed to finish ninth. A racing incident between Robin Frijns (Virgin Racing) and Sims saw the former retire from the race (while triggering a Full Course Yellow for a few minutes) while the latter sustained damage to limp across the finish line in 15th.

Formula E Championship: Vergne jumps into the lead

Vergne, who was only sixth in the Drivers’ Championship prior to the Monaco ePrix, jumped to the top of the standings in first place, five points ahead of this teammate Lotterer. Apart from his race win and the 25 points that came along with it, Vergne benefitted from the fact that the five drivers ahead of him did not score enough (or no!) points. As the series draws to a close — only four races remain — consistency will be key for any driver aiming for top honours. A good example is Lotterer, who is in second place despite not winning a single race this season. The championship is still closely contested with 20 points separating the top 6 drivers (Evans is sixth) and only three points separating the top three (Frijns is third). Tom Dillmann is the only driver to have failed to score a single championship point despite contesting in all the races this season.

In the Teams’ Championship, Techeetah have pulled a comfortable gap of 34 points to second place team, Virgin Racing. It must be noted that 27 of these 34 points were due to the result of the Monaco ePrix where neither of the Virgin Racing drivers scored. A further two points away from Virgin are Audi, who then have a 23-point gap to Mahindra Racing. Unfortunately for Mahindra Racing and their fans, the team hasn’t consistently delivered to their early-season pace and form. Jerome d’Ambrosio led the Drivers’ Championship for a few rounds but is now seventh after scoring only 12 points in the last 5 races.

Up next is the Berlin ePrix, in a fortnight’s time. This race in Germany has been on the Formula E calendar since inception and four different teams have won in the last 5 races. The only repeat winner has been Sebastian Buemi (2016 & 2017), the Nissan driver, who will be gunning to return to his winning ways and score his first win of the season.

This post was first published 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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