The fourth stage of Formula E, which took place last Saturday in Mexico, was as if specially directed for those who find these races boring and predictable. That was the start, that was the final! Overtaking for victory in the last meters of the distance, in fact under the finishing flag, will go down not only in the history of Formula E, but also in the history of the entire world motorsport. And, I must say, no one expected such a turn of events!
In fact, the fourth stage, which took place at the Rodriguez brothers' circuit in Mexico City, showed what electric racing can be on stationary circuits, and not in the conditions of urban tracks, where racers are trapped on all sides by concrete barriers without the opportunity to demonstrate their ambitions.
The surprises began during qualifying, when the superpole races were won by the newcomer of the series Pascal Wehrlein, who plays for the Mahindra Racing team. After the second place at the previous stage in Santiago de Chile, it became clear that half German, half Mauritian Pascal Wehrlein, who played first in the DTM, and then in Formula 1, not only wants, but has all the prerequisites to compete for the main place on the podium. He started his performances this season from the second stage, that is, from the first race of 2019, since Mercedes did not release him earlier from the reserve team of pilots under the pretext of an unfinished contract. But the second stage for him ended in the "DNF" mode, when five minutes after the start Wehrlein was forced to leave for technical reasons. And now the third stage - it is already rising to second place, and now everyone is waiting for the result,which he will show in Mexico City. But fate laughed cruelly at him.
According to the results of the qualification, in addition to the traditional regulars of this final segment of qualification like Lucas di Grassi, Sebastian Buemi and Antonio Da Costa, two newcomers of the series, Felipe Massa and Pascal Wehrlein, also got into the races of the superpole. At the same time, Wehrlein, who was the penultimate on the track (and in superpole races, the pilots enter the track one at a time), managed not only to show a fast lap, but also to get ahead of Lucas di Grassi, who was in the lead before, by three tenths of a second, which led the Brazilian to a state of amazement. "He didn't look fast at all," commented di Grassi on Wehrlein's result.
Lucas di Grassi walks through the max mode activation zone
Nissan E-dams became the only team in which both pilots - Oliver Rowland and Sebastian Buemi - made it to superpole, but neither of them was able to fully use their chance: both were on the second row of the starting field.
Sam Byrd failed in qualifying - due to technical problems, he was unable to complete a single lap, but the judges allowed him to start from the last, 22nd position. However, this did not really bother him: the Briton is known for his breakthroughs, so in the end he finished in the top ten race, receiving two points for ninth place.
Thanks to the first and only stationary track on the calendar at the Rodriguez Autodrom (but in a configuration different from Formula 1) and a wide start line, the first lap of the race was just a bang. A powerful start with an active struggle for positions in all parts of the peloton, overtaking, a couple of small contacts, U-turns, departures outside the asphalt all this turned out to be a bright, albeit quiet in sounding spectacle. The stands in Mexico City, especially in the part of the stadium, are huge - they were almost completely packed with spectators who were actively rooting for their favorites. Wehrlein managed to maintain his position at the start, although di Grassi attacked him from the first meters, but Oliver Rowland comes in second, Byrd breaks up, and Stoffel Vandorn, on the contrary, continues his series of dull performances and rolls back to last place. Felipe Massa also failed.The reigning champion of the series, Jean Eric Vergne, actively broke through, attacked Nelson Piquet - but everyone tried to save the cars and not show excessive aggression.
However, literally a few minutes after the start, a serious accident occurs: Vergne slows down a little on the trajectory (apparently, he was looking for another "gate"), and this is not expected at all by Piquet, pursuing him. The bright blue Jaguar Nelsinho clings to Verne's car, uses it as a springboard, flies up in the air, flies several meters and crashes into safety barriers, while simultaneously hitting the car of Alexander Sims. The momentarily activated FCY mode is replaced first by a safety car, and then red flags are hung over the track at all: a huge amount of debris simply litters the track at the accident site.
The pilot is alive and well, but his car is completely disabled. Serious damage was also inflicted on Vergne's formula, however, he gets to the pitlane and boxes on his own, and the team's mechanics manage to restore the car to the state that it is ready to enter the track again during the red flag regime. An interesting point under the Formula E regulations, mechanics have the right to repair a car during the red flag period - unlike other series.
Cleaning the track takes almost 20 minutes, and this time after restart is added to the race time. Driving under the safety car resumes, and as soon as it returns to the pitlane, all pilots, except for the very tail of the peloton, activate the maximum attack mode. As a result, it does not benefit anyone, but on the other hand, no one loses their position. Pascal Wehrlein again manages to maintain the lead and continues to skillfully maintain it, completely unresponsive to pressure from the second Oliver Rowland and flawlessly driving the car.
In general, the middle of the race, despite the high pace and numerous overtaking attempts, cannot be called spectacular. And this is strange, because it is in the second half of the race that the five pilots who received the most spectator votes in the FanBoost vote can use the five-second increase in energy, and the rest can resort to the maximum attack mode, which, by the way, in Mexico, was again reduced to two four-minute intervals, which caused a flurry of discontent among fans and pilots (before the start of the season, there were three options for the attack mode: eight episodes for a minute, four episodes for two minutes and two episodes for four minutes). In addition, it is in these maximum modes that pilots begin to make mistakes, exceeding the permissible power consumption, and receive penalties.
The main loser of the day in this regard was Jose Maria Lopez, who first received a penalty for passing through the pitlane for excessive energy consumption, and then another ten seconds of a penalty for speeding on the pitlane while serving his sentence. This did not end there: when leaving the pitlane, he also crossed the white line, and received a third penalty, this time - five seconds. After this it was clear that the race was lost for him.
But the closer the race finale was, the more interesting it became. 7.5 minutes before the finish line, Oliver Rowland, hanging tightly on Wehrlein's tail and diligently holding back Di Grassi, makes a tactical mistake: he decides to drive through the zone of activation of the maximum attack mode in order to take advantage of the increase in power to overtake the German pilot. However, for this he has to deviate slightly from the correct trajectory, which opens the way for di Grassi. The Brazilian immediately uses this chance and breaks into second place. Behind him, Sebastian Buemi is also trying to break through, but Rowland is already closing the "gate". Lucas di Grassi begins an active siege of Wehrlein, but he desperately and beautifully defends the position. And everything would have ended well for the pilot of the Mahindra Racing team, if not for the main specifics of Formula E,Namely, the battery charge level: at di Grassi it is literally one percent higher, but this is what becomes the decisive moment in the battle. Until the last meters of the distance, Wehrlein defends himself like a lion, and the head of Mahindra Racing, Dilbach Gill, is already starting to grab his heart, looking at the monitors. And now, under the checkered flag, a real drama unfolds: the last 1% of the battery charge for Pascal Wehrlein is still running out, the car loses its pace, and Lucas di Grassi manages to take advantage of this. Under the roar of the stands, significantly overlapping the hum of the engines, the Brazilian is literally on the brink, finding himself behind the white line with three wheels, still pulls out the victory! This race finale was incredibly reminiscent of another event almost two years ago,when, during the Formula 2 stage in Belgium at the Spa track, Artem Markelov in an unrealistic duel overtakes the same Oliver Rowland under the finishing flags.
However, Wehrlein's misfortunes don't end there. The judges award him in addition a five-second penalty for cutting off the track in the fight for a position a few turns before the finish line and gaining an advantage. As a result, the German rolls back to sixth place and instead of a beautiful victory after leading in all laps of the race, he earns only 12 points. Nevertheless, in just two stages, Wehrlein gains 30 points and is already on the fifth line of the individual classification. Di Grassi, thanks to the victory, becomes fourth, just four points behind Wehrlein. Jerome D'Ambrosio heads the standings after four stages.
The race was even worse for the two Nissan Oliver Rowland and Sebastian Buemi. They were so carried away by the fight for the podium that in the end they used up all their energy to the finish line and stopped before reaching the checkered flag. Two superpoles and zero points in the end.
It is difficult to describe the joyous frenzy that went on in the Audi pits after Di Grassi's incredible victory. Even the team leader, always calm, famous for his victories in Le Mans, Alan McNish jumped for joy along with everyone: for Audi this is the third victory at the stage in Mexico City, which, if not at the moment raised the team in the overall standings, then significantly closer to the cherished Top 3, which this year is unconditionally headed by Mahindra Racing.
The next stage will take place in Hong Kong in three weeks, on March 10. Watching on Eurosport!
The best moments of the 4th stage: