This is a first for Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler, the team that celebrated its first Formula E victory this season on Saturday. Brazil’s Lucas Di Grassi clinched a miraculous triumph in the Mexico City E-Prix in an epic wheel-to-wheel photo finish that is only possible in electric street racing.
But this weekend’s race was close with leader Pascal Wehrlein hitting zero per cent energy just meters from the finish line. Di Grassi seized the opportunity and passed him just before the checkered flag. Suffering a five-second penalty, Wehrlein even lost his podium place, giving way to a second place finish for Da Costa and a third place for Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara.
“This was probably the best Formula E race of my career today,” said winner Di Grassi. “It was a mixture of having the patience to save energy in the beginning and then because here it is difficult to overtake, I had to make the moves in the correct moment. I knew he was running out of energy so I was putting pressure to overtake in the last five laps.”
Normally, a Formula E race lasts 45 minutes. On Saturday the race lasted half an hour longer than expected due to a chaotic crash in the opening minutes that took Nelson Piquet Jr out the running. The Mexico City E-Prix proved again that nothing is predictable in Formula E and like Dieter Gass said: “It’s always worth watching the race till the end.”
Recuperation is a decisive factor not only for regular electric cars but particularly in Formula E. The battery provides 200 KW of power while driving, by recuperation the drivers can recover 250KW during braking. Eurosport expert Jan Seyffarth explained: “You have to recuperate about 30% of the energy in the race. That means that you have about 30% too little energy on board for the start, which you have to put back in during the race to make it to the finish line in the end.”
In the previous race, the battery also played a crucial role in 49 degrees Celsius track temperature in Santiago de Chile. The maximum battery temperature in Formula E is 74 degrees Celsius, anything in excess and the power pack turns off. From 72 degrees the battery does not recuperate any more. With the spring-like conditions in Mexico City, the 29 degrees outside temperature was not as massive a factor as three weeks ago in Santiago.
40,000 Mexican fans at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez experienced chaos and lockups at the start phase. In lap number 3 Nelson Piquet Jr (Panasonic Jaguar Racing) collided with the rear of reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Techeetah), launching his car over JEV’s and into the barrier on the other side. The Brazilian could climb out of his damaged car shaken but unhurt.
With the red flag out, all the other cars returned to the pit lane while the wreckage was cleared from the track. After a 20-minute-break the race continued.
Several Formula E newbies made a few rookie mistakes during the race. After the re-start ex-Formula 1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne (HWA Racelab) activated his fan boost too early, that resulted in a costly drive-through-penalty. In the end, the Belgian finished P18, behind his team-mate Gary Paffett, the British DTM Champion, who ended up 16th.
“The weekend did not go as desired,” said HWA team principal Ulrich Fritz. “The result with two cars at the bottom of the field is pretty disappointing. The race was chaotic and there was not much in it for us. On the positive side, we were able to collect data on some more kilometres, as both cars finished the race.”
Also new to this season is Nissan, who replaced Renault. The two Nissan pilots Oliver Rowland and Sebastien Buemi ran in the lead pack on P2 and P4 for most of the race. Entering the last lap, the battery level of both Nissan electric cars was only 1%. Soon they ran out of power, missed the podium, and finished on P19 and P20.
“We thought we had a shot for the win, but we came up short,” said Nissan global motorsport director Michael Carcamo. “For Nissan we are thrilled with the event here in Mexico City. A sell-out crowd of passionate fans, a great activation for the brand in the E- Village and brilliant venue for our media guests. This is the perfect example for us of why Formula E is so attractive as a platform.”
Exuberant joy in the Audi garage after the third win in a row in Mexico. Lucas Di Grassi was victorious for the second time after 2017, Daniel Abt won last year. After all, this time the Kemptener scored one championship point by driving from P21 into the Top 10.
Beneficiaries of the madness in Mexico were BMW and the Venturi team, who are using a ZF powertrain. Antonio Felix da Costa (BMW) and Edoardo Mortara (Venturi) moved up from P5 and P6 and celebrated on the podium together with Di Grassi, benefiting from the missteps of their front-runners in the last three laps.
The championship leader remains Jerome d’Ambrosio (53 points), ahead of BMW driver Felix Da Costa (46 points). In three weeks, Formula E will stop by in Hong Kong. At the end of May, it is again time for the Berlin E-Prix at Tempelhof Airport. Those who are interested in tickets should hurry up: Already 80% of the tickets are sold for the race on Saturday.
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