Unpredictability Is Formula E’s Only Predictable Aspect

Winning Team and Driver pose for a victory photograph after the 2019 Paris ePrix
The 2019 Paris ePrix showed us yet again why the only predictable aspect of Formula E is its sheer unpredictability.

The first seven ePrixs of the season had given up seven different winners – and bets were on whether we would see yet another new winner at Paris. Excitingly, the trend of “no repeat winners” continued as Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijn took top honours, winning his maiden race in Formula E. It is incredible to think that there have been eight different winners in the eight races this season! Second place in the Paris ePrix was clinched by Andre Lotterer for DS Techeetah while Audi’s Daniel Abt took third.

Despite being in the running for five seasons, the Paris ePrix was the first official wet race for the all-electric racing series. The unfamiliar weather conditions wreaked havoc as drivers struggled with low grip on a slippery track with the more-powerful Gen-2 racing cars. As Abt revealed after the race, “it was like driving on ice.” Unsurprisingly, it became a race of managing conditions to grab all the points one could, rather than racing outright.

Qualifying and Super Pole

Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein scored the second pole position of his Formula E career — closely followed by teammate Jerome d’Ambrosio in second. However, in what should’ve been a session of celebration for the Indian-owned team, a post-session penalty saw both drivers be disqualified and sent to the back of the grid for the race. Reason? Incorrect tyre pressure.

Vergne Trying To Be Formula E’s Lewis Hamilton?

Either way, Formula E was destined for this season’s first-ever repeat pole sitter. Nissan’s Oliver Rowland inherited pole position (his first pole was at the Sanya ePrix) and was followed by team-mate Sebastian Buemi and eventual race winner Frijns. The surprise inclusion in the Super Pole session was Venturi’s Felipe Massa.

Dragon Racing’s on-off driver, Maximilian Gunther, missed out on Super Pole by half a tenth. He started the race in 7th followed by the usual front-grid drivers — Lotterer, Abt and Lucas di Grassi. The disappointments from the qualifying session were Mitch Evans (20th), the winner of the last ePrix in Rome, and the two drivers of HWA Race Lab — Gary Paffett (19th) and Stoffel Vandoorne (21st, but only one second adrift from the fastest driver). The reigning Formula E champion and local Parisian, Jean-Eric Vergne, could only manage the 14th fastest time.

An Action Packed Race, Always

The Paris ePrix began with a rolling start under the Safety Car as the whimsical weather caused the right side of the track and starting grid to remain wet. While this gave Rowland an easy getaway, his lead was short-lived. Barely two minutes after the start, Rowland crashed out on Lap 2 to hand the lead over to teammate Buemi. As Rowland reflected after the race, “I need to learn — I’m a rookie — I need to stop making rookie mistakes.”

Nissan, the former series champions from 2015-16 (under the Renault badge), seem to be carrying similar ill-luck as their Renault counterparts in Formula 1. After showing grid-leading pace for several races this season, the team and its drivers are yet to convert any of that pace into eventual race wins. In Paris, the team would have believed that the probability of either one of their drivers winning was extremely high since they were starting 1-2. However, but after Rowland’s rookie error, Buemi suffered a mid-race puncture (during his battles with Frijns) that required him to pit and relinquish the lead to Frijns.

Formula E Cars Are Flying, Literally

The trying conditions saw the Full Course Yellow be brought out twice in the 45-minute race with several drivers being involved in collisions — either due to their fault or their competitor’s. In the end, five drivers were classified as ‘Did Not Finish’ while only 14 drivers finished on the same lap as the race winner. In the top 10, there were four finishers who started from outside the top-10. Wehrlein, who started 22nd and last, climbed his way up the order to finish 10th and clinch the final championship point. Vergne (started 12th), da Costa (started 14th) and Paffett (started 17th) were the other drivers who added to their championship tally.

Shared an elated Frijns after winning the race, “That was the most difficult race of my career. If you’re leading, the last thing you want is rain and everything was unpredictable. I’m just so happy to win this race.” To add the excitement of his maiden Formula E win, Frijns also became the first-ever Dutchman to win a Formula E race.

A standout performance in the Paris ePrix was that of Dragon Racing’s rookie Maximilian Gunther. Starting from 7th, he grabbed P5 to pick up his first-ever points in Formula E, and also gave the team their best result this season. But it was Massa, starting from 4th, who could only manage a 9th place finish.

Ever-Changing Championship Leader

Eight races into the season, the championships are tighter than ever. Frijns’ victory in Paris has propelled him to the top of the drivers standings, where he leads Lotterer by only one point — the lead in the championship table changing more than a handful number of times this season. The duo has 11 points of breathing space to Antonio Felix da Costa in third, but given how quickly fortunes change in Formula E, the championship leaders will be taking nothing for granted. Mahindra Racing’s Jerome d’Ambrosio, who was leading the Drivers’ Championship till the Paris ePrix, is now 5th — 16 points adrift of the leader.

The other Mahindra Racing driver, Wehrlein, has had a disappointing string of results in the last four races — scoring only eight points. After taking Formula E by storm in his opening few races, Wehrlein was expected to be a title contender and Indian motorsport fans would be disappointed to see him at a lowly 11th in the championship. The German driver is yet to win a race this season. However, only 20 points separate the top-6 drivers and consistency in results in the remaining five races will yield higher championship benefit.

In the team standings, Techeetah maintained their lead but Envision Virgin Racing are just seven points behind in second place followed by the reigning champions, Audi. Mahindra Racing, who were also early leaders in the Teams’ Championship, now find themselves in a comfortable 4th place with 103 points. They enjoy a 15 point lead over BMW in 5th place, but are almost an out-of-reach 39 points away from the leading team, Techeetah.

Next, the action shifts to the glamorous city of Monaco where the iconic street circuit returns to the Formula E calendar after one year. Will we see a ninth winner in the round nine of the championship? Again, apart from the two Nissan drivers, there’s Wehrlein and a few others who could challenge for victory. Let’s not forget that the history and prestige of Monaco means that a win here will be cherished and remembered for a long time.

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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