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2020 Santiago ePrix – Heat & Battery Management, Last Lap Passes

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The 2020 Santiago ePrix was a typical Formula E race – hot temperatures, battery management, a last-lap overtake and a new race winner!

The first Formula E race of 2020 saw a new star rise to the top step of the podium — BMW’s Maximilian Gunther. The German driver clinched victory in typical Formula E fashion — battery management coupled with a last-lap overtake to become the series’ youngest race winner at the age of 22. Techeetah’s Antonio Felix da Costa finished second ahead of pole-sitter and Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans as track temperature soared over 40 degrees.

“I am incredibly happy to take the first win of my Formula E career here in Santiago. Second place in qualifying was superb. Having not made a great start on the dirty side of the track, which cost me a position, we used Attack Mode very cleverly to allow me to take the lead,” exclaimed a jubilant Gunther.

Qualifying and Super Pole 

The group qualifying session of the 2020 Santiago ePrix saw 16 drivers separated by only one second — a standard expectation from Formula E. The biggest losers in this session were Nissan’s Oliver Rowland (who topped the practice that preceded qualifying) and former Formula E champion and Audi driver, Lucas di Grassi — both drivers failing to register a competitive time after errors on their qualifying lap. NIO’s Ma Qinghua failed to participate in the session after suffering damage from the earlier practice session. Jaguar’s Evans topped this session followed by Gunther and Nissan’s Sebastian Buemi.

Drivers from six different teams made it through to the Super Pole (a qualifying battle between the top-6 drivers from the group session). The surprise inclusions in this session were NIO’s Oliver Turvey and Venturi’s Felipe Massa. Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein was the 6th and final driver to join Super Pole. Alexander Sims, the BMW driver who has been on pole in the last four races, could only manage a lowly 15th. The usual Formula E front-runners – Vergne, da Costa, Abt, Lotterer, Sims and others qualified in the mid-field; an indication that the race to follow would be a nail-biter.

Race

“Starting from P1, I wanted to walk away with a win, but we still have work to do. From the start, we had software problems that we had to deal with – I’d never experienced them before. I over-consumed energy because I wasn’t getting any information. It left me blind and getting no guidance…it was extremely difficult to manage the race today,” summarised pole-sitter Evans, who eventually finished 3rd despite starting from the most-sought-after grid position on the track. After starting from pole, the Kiwi racer led the race until the halfway mark after which he was overtaken by Gunther. But it wasn’t Evans alone who suffered from technical issues.

Techeetah’s da Costa confirmed that it was battery-related information that cost him the race win despite being in the lead in the closing stages of the race. Despite starting only 10th, the Portuguese racer climbed up the order to overtake Gunther for the lead only to be informed of his battery issues on the radio. “I think I was being fed either not complete or slightly wrong information because I was being told I was good on temperatures, even though I was saying, ‘I don’t think I am’. And yet, the moment I got the lead, they tell me, ‘OK, you have to slow down’. It all came down to the last lap, but these guys (BMW) just managed it better,” confessed da Costa, who also blamed his two-time Formula E champion team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne for costing him the race win. Vergne’s front tyre was rubbing against his car’s bodywork — a fault that was slowing him down while generating a bit of smoke on track. The Frenchman battled against his team-mate (and others) before pulling into the pits into retirement.

In the end, it was Gunther and BMW who delivered the perfect race. The German team-driver combo did well to capitalise on their pace advantage while benefiting from the issues faced by their rivals. Starting from second place, Gunther lost position at the start (to Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein) and used the Attack Mode to his advantage against Wehrlein and Evans. Eventually, it was his last lap overtake on da Costa that earned him his first-ever Formula E victory. “In the heat, it was also important to keep an eye on the temperature of the batteries. We did that really well. On the final lap, Antonio (da Costa) had to coast a little earlier than me on the straight. I thought to myself, ‘Now or never’ and went for the overtake. Fortunately, it came off,” explained Gunther of his race-winning overtake.

The Mercedes duo of Nyck De Vries and Stoffel Vandoorne finished 5th and 6th ahead of Audi’s di Grassi who drove well to recover from a 22nd place on the start grid to a 7th place at the finish. Incidentally, di Grassi finished ahead of his team-mate Daniel Abt who started 13th. Starting 18th on the grid, Jaguar’s James Calado (in his debut Formula E season) finished 8th and was followed by Venturi’s Felipe Massa and Virgin’s Sam Bird in 9th and 10th places respectively. As with most Formula E races, the 2020 Santiago ePrix had its share of on-track incidents too. Despite running as high as 4th and 5th in the race, Massa and his team-mate Edoardo Mortara raced a bit too hard, costing the Brazilian track position. While Mortara failed to finish, Massa lost positions before eventually finishing 9th. Nissan’s Buemi, who featured in the Super Pole session along with Massa, finished 7th but was demoted to 13th after a post-race penalty of 30 seconds for using too much regenerative braking.

The biggest disappointment of the 2020 Santiago ePrix has to be Porsche, the high-profile debutants of the season. Their drivers Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani were involved in on-track tangles which damaged their prospects early in the race. Lotterer, who had to pit for extensive repairs, finished 12 laps down on the leader while also being awarded a post-race penalty for using more than the regulated 200kW of power when not in Attack Mode. As for Jani, a 12th place grid position resulted in a DNF after a first-lap collision. “We certainly had the potential to score some points. However, at the end of the first lap I was hit by another car as I turned in, which pushed me into the car next to me. That broke the front suspension on my car. Now we are looking ahead. If we continue to work hard until the next race we have a good chance of being competitive again. I remain positive despite the result. I only missed out on Super Pole by 0.15 seconds. We want to build on that in Mexico,” said Jani of his race result. The Indo-Swiss driver is yet to score his first points in Formula E.

Mahindra Racing

It was in the 2019 Santiago ePrix when Pascal Wehrlein almost scored his first Formula E win. In 2020 too, Wehrlein battled with the front-runners for a majority of the race before eventually finishing 4th and less than two seconds away from the podium. In fact, Wehrlein’s jump into 2nd place at the start raised one’s hopes for a race-long battle for the lead. The other Mahindra Racing driver Jerome d’Ambrosio suffered from car related issues for the second race in succession. The Belgian racer qualified in 20th place after car troubles appeared as he neared the end of his flying lap. In the race too, d’Ambrosio pulled into the pits after a suspected gearbox issue and was further awarded a post-race penalty. For the first time in many seasons, neither Mahindra Racing driver is classified in the top-10 in the Drivers’ standings while the team is classified 10th (out of 12) with only 14 points.

In contrast, BMW lead the Teams’ standings with 60 points closely followed by their German rivals Mercedes on 56. In the Drivers’ standings, Mercedes racer Vandoorne leads the table with 38 points with early-season leader Alexander Sims (BMW) down in 2nd — three points adrift. Sims’ no-score in the 2020 Santiago ePrix cost him his championship lead. The battle for 3rd place in the championship sees eight drivers separated by only 10 points. Currently, it is Sam Bird who holds the advantage over the others with 28 points to his name.

Up next is the 2020 Mexico City ePrix in mid-February. With the Formula E regulars like Vergne, di Grassi, Ambrosio and others yet to fire this season, it’s easy to conclude that competition is only going to get tighter from here.

This post was first published on Firstpost.

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