Formula E’s second incarnation roared into life on Saturday, with Ad Diriyah hosting a fast, frenetic and electrifying showdown. The second iteration of the world’s fastest growing motorsport didn’t fail to disappoint, with battles brewing up and down the grid.
Antonio Felix Da Costa wrote his name in the history books as not only the first winner of the ‘Gen2’ era, but also the man who piloted BMW to victory in their debut in the all electric series. Harry Slade dissects the driver’s individual performances in Formula E’s new era.
Antonio Felix Da Costa
While looking at the timesheets the race may look like it was a calm, controlled cruise for Antonio Felix Da Costa. However while there are elements of that in his utterly sublime performance, he was made to work for it by the reigning champion no less. The BMW i Andretti driver, dealt with the pressure from Jean-Eric Vergne in the closing laps to ultimately seal the second win of his Formula E career – almost 4 years on from his first. Da Costa has successfully managed to lay down the gauntlet in Riyadh, amassing 28 out of the 29 points available – although unsuccessful in his quest for the fastest lap, which was claimed by Techeetah rival, Andre Lotterer.
Jean Eric Vergne
Formula E’s current leading light may not have been able to follow up his Season 4 championship with a victory in Al Diriyah, however he may have left the with the biggest warning shot fired in this opening exchange. The mercurial Frenchman put in a quintessential champions drive following a lacklustre qualifying to race from 5th on the grid to the lead, passing Da Costa, Buemi, Lopez, and Vandoorne in the process. However luck was not on his side – a power surge in his DS electric motor causing the Techeetah star to take a drive through penalty for the infraction. However, “JEV” proved tenacious, battling back and almost snatching the win from Da Costa.
Making his debut for Mahindra, the Belgian star proved to be competitive on Formula E’s inaugural visit to Saudi Arabia. D’Ambrosio waited patiently in the wings for much of the races early exchanges while his rivals proceeded to fall by the wayside, allowing the ex-Dragon incumbent to kick off his Mahindra career in fine fettle – albeit not with the victory challenge he perhaps desired.
It was a quiet yet impressive drive for Mitch Evans in the season opener. The Kiwi, like much of the upper midfield, spent most of the races early exchanges stuck behind HWA Rookie, Stoffel Vandoorne. However once the New Zealander cleared his Belgian counterpart he found himself running in a state of inconspicuous nature. Alas, this all changed following the safety car to rescue the stricken car of Jose Maria Lopez. This gifted Evans the chance to have a go at Sebastian Buemi, he duly delivered, capping off a weekend in which he comfortably dealt with inaugural Formula E champion, Nelson Piquet.
The German, beginning his second campaign in the ABB Formula E World Championship had a race of “what could have been”. The Former World Endurance champion followed his highly regarded teammate through the field, leaving the German to reside second before a penalty (of the same nature of the one that afflicted his teammate) struck. This not only robbed Lotterer a chance to go for the victory but the podium as well. However that did not effect the 37 year olds demeanour behind the wheel. Once again delivering a sterling drive, not giving an inch, before passing Season 2 champion Sebastian Buemi for 5th, setting the fastest lap in the process.
The Swiss star, tasked with leading the charge for the Nissan e.Dams team, produced another high standard drive to put his machine in the top 6. Buemi successfully dragged the car into third in qualifying and from there put on a first lap clinic; culminating in a mesmerising manoeuvre around the outside of “Pechito’s” Dragon car being the highlight. However eventually, he slipped down the field to 6th, one place ahead of his Rookie teammate – taking the gloss off of his otherwise shining display to an extent, however arguably this only occurred due to the teams decision to utilise his “Attack mode” under the Safety Car unlike his rivals such as Evans and Lotterer.
Oliver Rowland put in a battling display, following an ultimately dismal qualifying session to finish 7th on his return to Formula E, almost 3 years following his Punte Del Este debut for Mahindra. The GP2 race winner shone over the 45 minute + one lap format, gaining a mammoth seven places to underlie his superb display. However this consequently doesn’t undo his qualifying trials and tribulations. Leaving the weekend with a solid but unspectacular holistic performance.
The Young German, fresh off of the back of the greatest season of his blossoming career had been tipped as a title contender by many. Albeit this isn’t how it played out in Riyadh. Abt by his own admissions struggled to hook up a lap in the treacherous conditions in qualifying. This left him out of position, so he thought. However little progression was made in the race that followed, ultimately highlighting Audi’s early season frailties, but also Abt’s own personal poor showing.
Lucas Di Grassi
The Brazilian, drawing parallels to legendary Alain Prost with his status as the “Professor” of the electric racing paddock, delivered a calculated drive to battle back for his teams software issue, ailing his grid slot, leaving the Season 3 champion a subdued 18th. Di Grassi’s brilliant display is illustrated by the fact that he followed his teammate home in 9th, collecting what could prove to be a critical 2 points in regards to the championship.
Nelson Piquet JR
The Brazilian star, will leave the season opener with a point, albeit with little more. His performance juxtaposed up against the superb display of his teammate leaving Piquet on the ropes in the intra team battle, even at his early stage. However the inaugural series champion showed that none of his ferocity behind the wheel has dimmed with a wheel to wheel dogfight with fellow countryman Di Grassi.
A weekend blighted by a technical irregularity is the story for Formula E’s perennial bridesmaid, Sam Bird. The brit produced a scintillating lap in qualifying to get his Envision Virgin into the top 5, only for him and teammate Robin Frijns to be thrown out of qualifying for a spike in power from their customer Audi powertrain. Bird however, lost none of his guts and vigor battled to 11th, missing the pointed by the slightest of margins.
The Dutchman, making his debut for the Envision Virgin team suffered the same fate as the other Audi powered machinery, being sent to the back. However from there, Frijns deliver a drive of the highest caliber, seamlessly going through the field following his teammate, arguably one of the strongest drivers to grace the Formula E grid. Frijns now needs to build on this and open his tally in Marrakesh.
The Brit, one of many to be thrown out of qualifying in Ad Diriyah, lined up on the eleventh and final row alongside his NIO teammate, however a race where the Brit stayed out of trouble and to use the cliché “ran his own race”, he gained eight positions, finishing a solid 13th, leading his teammate and names such as Massa, Vandoorne and Sims. In many ways the race personifying the driver, quiet, underrated, but effective.
Making his long awaited all-electric series debut, the eleven time Grand Prix winner showed he had lost none of his class on a race day following an ultimately disappointing qualifying as his lap was dashed by Felix Rosenqvist’s crash. Massa unlike his peers, had vast amounts of success producing overtakes into the final corner – notably his spectacular early double overtake and his slick, decisive move on Stoffel Vandoorne. However a brace of post-race penalties for Fanboost infractions dampened his race which ultimately ran out a damp squib regardless due to a drive through penalty for a similar error to the Techeetah duo.
The Frenchman, who initially believed his NIO team had produced a strategic masterclass, one which would’ve left him residing on the front row was penalised due to the misinterpretation of the Qualifying procedure following the shock washout in Saudi Arabia, started 22nd and last. This left him with a mountain to climb from the outset, however, this was one Dillman ultimately failed to climb failing to impact the race to the extent of his teammate.
The young German, making his debut with the Geox Dragon racing team had a testing opening weekend on the Formula E grid. Gunther brought out the red flag during qualifying for his crash as he glanced the wall in the damp conditions. Therefore Gunther started the race well down on teammate Jose Maria Lopez. Gunther did little to rectify this come the race, while Lopez shone Gunther just couldn’t break the lower midfield.
The Belgian, arguably the star of qualifying, locking in his second row starting position. Failed go capitalise this come the race. Vandoorne, clearly devoid of race pace held the field up considerably so much so that Jean-Eric Vergne came out of his drive through penalty in 5th. However Vandoorne should still take solace from ending his demoralisng streak without qualifying teammate stretching back to the 2017 Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix.
With one driver winning and the other in 18th, on paper the British rookie looks like he had an utterly dismal Formula E debut. However, dissecting his display it becomes immediately apparent that Alexander Sims did indeed make a solid start to his FE career. The BMW Andretti new boy managed to spend most of the race running in the points, running around with Nissan’s Oliver Rowland. Yet more technical gremlins curtailed his chance for debut points. However come Marrakesh, he may be expected to improve his qualifying displays, comfortably bested by Da Costa.
Former F3 champion, Edoardo Mortara had a race to forget in his sophomore season in the all-electric series. A brake failure saw him slide head on into the barriers in qualifying, before an erringly similar moment saw him career in under his own control on the opening lap. From there Mortara had a quiet race, a lap down for the vast majority. With his fastest lap six tenths away from his teammate to compound his day of disappointment.
Jose Maria Lopez
The Argentine, tasked with filling the void as team leader, left by former incumbent, Jerome D’ambrosio did just that in Riyadh. A stunning qualifying lap let him on the front row, alongside eventual winner Da Costa, This was followed up by some brilliant racing running 4th, promoted to second following the Techeetah drive throughs. A minor error in which he misjudged the “Attack mode” activation point allowed D’Ambrosio passed, however it was looking likely that the three time World Touring Car Champion was going to snap Dragon’s podium-less streak, alas, his hopes dashed in the blink of an eye by a broken rear axle, putting pay to a great drive.
Reigning DTM champion Gary Paffett had a testing Formula E debut to say the least, a rigid dichotomy, between himself and HWA teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne was apparent following qualifying. This was capped off by a minor, yet significant error, the Rookie tapping the Armco, leaving his HWA unable to continue.
The highly anticipated send off for the brilliant Swede’s Formula E run, with many tipping the Chip-Ganassi bound star for a podium prior to the on-track action. However these hopes were dashed within 5 minutes of his on track running in qualifying, leaving Team Principal, Dilbagh Gil, visibly displeased. The Formula E race winner, glancing the wall. Sending him straight into the barrier without any steering available. This was followed by an early race reliability failure which plagued him. Leaving romanticisms of a champagne filled send off firmly in the past, his Formula E tenure ending with a whimper.
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