As the Formula E finale draws closer, the fight for the top intensifies. Current leader and defending champion Jean-Éric Vergne (DS Techeetah) secured his 3rd victory this season at the Swiss E-Prix, ahead of Mitch Evans (Panasonic Jaguar Racing) and local hero Sebastien Buemi (Nissan).
Formula E returned to Switzerland for the second consecutive season. At last year’s event in Zurich, hundreds of thousands attended the race. This year Pascal Derron, holder of rights, promoter and operator of the Swiss E-Prix, had to move the course and selected Berne. The city with its 134.000 inhabitants ranks consistently high on lists for quality of living.
Only the idyllic view of the old town with the iconic red roofs against the backdrop of the Bernese Alps was disturbed by some chaotic incidents prior to the race. On Thursday 1,000 protestors were rioting on the track, tearing down sponsor banners and campaigning to tell the “Formel E ade”, the Swiss expression for goodbye.
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The start of the race brought more chaos. Pascal Wehrlein (Mahindra) and Maximilian Günther (GEOX Dragon) collided and caused a jam in turn one. Like in Rome two months ago most of the cars got stuck in a chicane, which led to a red flag.
45 minutes later the race resumed behind the BMW i8 Safety Car. The remaining 44 minutes brought all the action and intensity that fans across the globe were waiting for. Pole sitter Jean-Éric Vergne battled for the lead with Evans and Buemi behind him.
Nissan with a dual-motor should go on and celebrate a second podium in a row. Sam Bird (Envision Virgin) gained some ground with a strong Audi powertrain after starting from P6, as well as André Lotterer (DS Techeetah) who improved with the additional 25 kW of Attack Mode from P8 to P4. Following the race, Lotterer was handed a Drive Through Penalty (which converted to a 22-second time penalty) by the FIA, for ignoring a pit exit light. The decision dropped the German to 14th, denying him the 12 points he earned for a fourth-place finish.
Hard times for the BMW Formula E team. During qualifying, Sims and Da Costa trailed 1 second behind Vergne’s fastest lap. In the end, they finished 12th and 14th and left Bern without any points. Mahindra’s Pascal Wehrlein was on an emotional rollercoaster. The best German in qualifying (P4) had to slow down in mid-race because of technical issues. Under full course yellow the rest of the pack regrouped for the remaining 22 minutes of the race.
The biggest surprise of Bern was Maximilian Günther (GEOX Dragon) who showed his talent without the backing of a big car manufacturer. Usually, the US-based Dragon team has a hard time to compete against superpowers like Audi, BMW or Jaguar. In qualifying, Günther showed his skills by driving into the Top 5. During the race, the 21-year-old rookie just had to let Sam Bird and André Lotterer pass and secured his second P5 finish this season.
In the final two rounds, heavy rain led to slippery conditions. With Evans continuously attacking Vergne from behind, the Frenchman was more than relieved when crossing the checkered flag first and extending his lead in the championship from 6 to 32 points.
The championship finale will be a doubleheader and take place on July 13 and 14 in Brooklyn, New York.
Season 6 is approaching fast. Besides Edoardo Mortara (Venturi) and Sebastien Buemi (Nissan) another Swiss driver will be joining the electric racing series. Neel Jane has been announced as one of the two drivers for the Porsche Formula E team.
The future of the Swiss E-Prix is still uncertain. Currently, Switzerland is missing from next year’s provisional Formula E calendar, due to Swiss bureaucracy that caused to miss the FIA deadline. Nonetheless, Swiss E-Prix CEO Pascal Derron plans to bring the race back to Zurich in 2020 and to Geneva in 2021: “By end of July we will know much more”.