The 4th round of the 2017/18 Formula E Championship was held in the city of Santiago in Chile. This was the first time in history that an official FIA sanctioned single-seater racing event was held in Santiago. For the history buffs, the 1950 Chilean Grand Prix was a non-championship race that was held at the permanent circuit facility, Circuito Pedro de Valdivia Norte, and was won by Juan Manuel Fangio (5 times Formula 1 World Champion) in a Ferrari.
The most exciting part about Formula E is its sheer unpredictability — and the fact that there are numerous drivers and teams who have it in them to win. As Felix Rosenqvist of Mahindra Racing had expressed in his recent interview with us on Firstpost, “It’s a beehive out there in Formula E, with everyone capable of winning.”
Qualifying & Super Pole
In front of a sell-out crowd, Techeetah driver Jean Eric Vergne clinched pole position, ahead of Sebastian Buemi (DAMS) and reigning Formula E Champion Lucas di Grassi. However, di Grassi’s 10-place grid penalty for changing an inverter pre-race saw Andre Lotterer (Techeetah) and Sam Bird (Virgin) be promoted to the second row of the start grid despite crashing on their individual timed laps in the pole position shoot-out.
The Mahindra Racing drivers Felix Rosenqvist (who arrived at the Santiago ePrix as the Drivers’ Championship leader) and Nick Heidfeld could manage a lowly 14th and 15th respectively after struggling to get their tyres in the performance window. Apart from the outliers (Luca Filippi and Mitch Evans), the entire Formula E starting grid was separated by a gap of 1.2 seconds.
Nelson Piquet Jr. added to the excitement of the start by jumping from 5th to 2nd — almost snatching 1st place from Vergne. However, the exciting start was soon reduced to a slow crawl behind the Safety Car after an opening lap crash saw Dragon Racing’s Jose Maria Lopez (who also made up good ground thanks to a good start) become the race’s first non-finisher.
The series is working actively to become faster and eliminate the downsides of being an all-electric series. In the racing context, one of the first things they should focus on is the speed of the cars behind the Safety Car. At the Santiago ePrix, the Formula E cars seemed really slow behind the Safety Car and this could be down to the energy saving that the current generation of cars need to undergo. Given how closely fought the race was, it was a shame that 10% of the total race distance was required to run under the Safety Car.
Once the race restarted, there were battles all across the order — Vergne fending off Piquet, while Piquet doing well to stay ahead of Lotterer, a three way battle for the lead. Shortly before the round of pit-stops, Lotterer overtook Piquet, a move that prompted Piquet to pit and trigger pit-stops for the rest of the field. Sam Bird and Antonio Felix da Costa decided to stay out a lap longer than the rest, a decision that cost them dearly.
After eliminating minimum pit-stop time at the previous race in Marrakech, the Santiago ePrix saw teams and drivers well prepared and trained to make the car switch seem natural. It was a sight to see the drivers arrive and park their cars in their garage, unbuckle, jump out and run to their second car, jump in and be buckled before driving off to rejoin the race. The biggest winner in the pit-stops was Felix Rosenqvist, who went from 10th to 5th.
In the closing stages of the race, there was a 6 way battle for the race win with Vergne in the lead followed by Piquet, Lotterer, Buemi, Rosenqvist and Bird. Piquet dropped out of the top order after a botched attempt to claim second from Lotterer, which then released the pressure from Lotterer to chase his team-mate Vergne for victory.
The battle for first between the Techeetah team-mates was fair and nail-biting with Lotterer using every trick in the book to snatch the lead of the race from Vergne. In fact, in the closing stages of the race, Lotterer ended up rear ending Vergne without causing any damage or loss in positions. The outcome of their fight was even more interesting after failed data and radio communications meant that Vergne wrongly assumed an extra lap in the race and started to save energy for it while Lotterer was going all out in his energy consumption to claim his first win in Formula E.
Video of the Lotterer-Vergne incident.
— ABB Formula E (@FIAFormulaE) February 3, 2018
In the end, Vergne took the chequered flag, his second race win in Formula E. Andre Lotterer, in only his fourth race in Formula E claimed his first podium finish. This was also only his second race finish in the series. Sebastian Buemi clinched his second podium finish in a row to finish 3rd. Techeetah’s 1-2 finish was the first one ever in the history of Formula E - highlighting how a single team is yet to dominate the series. "It just can't get any better...I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," said a joyful Jean-Eric Vergne.” His teammate was equally ecstatic, saying, “A one-two win, buddies, and podiums – life is good! It’s racing in the end and I had a lot of pace in the car.” Techeetah’s 1-2 finish ahead of Renault’s Sebastian Buemi in third place meant that the Renault works team was beaten in the race by their customer team; much like the fortunes in Formula 1 with Red Bull Racing!
As for the disappointments, Mahindra Racing’s Nick Heidfeld suffered from opening lap damage that compromised his entire race and ended up retiring. The Audi Formula E team suffered their first double retirement in Formula E with di Grassi and Daniel Abt retiring due to car issues. Lucas di Grassi’s championship defence seems almost over with the Brazilian failing to score points at all the four races contested this season.
Felix Rosenqvist was overtaken by the Santiago ePrix race winner Jean Eric Vergne in the Drivers’ Championship. Vergne (71 points) leads Rosenqvist by 5 points, while Bird (61 points) trails Rosenqvist by 4 points. The Drivers’ Championship was expected to be a tough fight and it is proving to be one. In the Teams’ Championship, Mahindra Racing (87 points) lost the lead to Techeetan (89 points) and trail by 2 points. However, Renault are less than half of their customer team (Techeetah) at 44 points.
While the Santiago ePrix was a big success on and off-track (it was a sell-out!), the organisers and the series should assess if the circuit layout and design was conducive for good racing. Although in a street setting where many changes may not be possible, the layout did seem wide on the straights followed by narrow corners, often limiting the opportunities for drivers to have a fair fight.
The Business of Formula E
The Montreal ePrix was called off late last year and after scouting for suitable replacements, the series organisers announced that the 2017/18 Formula E Season would end at the New York ePrix and would be reduced to 12 races.
However, the news of losing Montreal was followed by the news of Doha (Qatar) being a potential future host of a Formula E ePrix. This could be tied in with Qatar Airways’ existing relationship with the series - the official airline partner and the title sponsor of the ePrixs in Paris and New York.
And finally, we’ve saved the best news for the last. In the week before the Santiago ePrix, Formula E unveiled the next-gen racing car - one that will be used from the 2018/19 Formula E Season. The futuristic car design was applauded by fans and pundits alike and has done well to incorporate the halo. Rosenqvist exclaimed, “As Formula E is a championship which hasn’t follow any rules or habits of other categories, they did well in just picking their own way of design - and it looks awesome. Even the Halo which I am not a fan of looks well integrated and fitting with that design. Well done!”
Apart from design, the gen-2 car will feature a new battery pack (supplied by McLaren Applied Technologies) that will enable the car to last an entire ePrix distance at race pace. While Formula E insists that isn’t in competition with Formula 1 and Formula 1 probably couldn’t care less about what Formula E is up to, the time may not be too far when both series could go head to head with each other for the share of wallet and attention from car manufacturers, sponsors, fans, media and drivers alike.
Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 11:34 AM