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Formula E: Mahindra Racing go from hero to zero in Mexico City ePrix; Audi's Daniel Abt emerges as winner

The 2018 Mexico City ePrix should have been a dream weekend for Mahindra Racing. They had the fastest car on the grid, had clinched pole position courtesy Felix Rosenqvist’s sublime lap in the Super Pole group and were comfortably leading the race till disaster struck Rosenqvist’s car on lap 15 of the 47-lap race. The victory that seemed almost certain and unchallenged was snatched away from the Indian racing team after repeated system errors, which eventually saw the team score their first-ever double DNF (Did Not Finish) in Formula E history.

At Mexico City, Mahindra Racing could have scored victory with Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld could have scored points by finishing in the top-10. A double-points finish would have propelled them to the top of the Team’s Championship. But to finish first, you need to first finish — an old adage in the world of Motorsport that Mahindra Racing learned the hard way this weekend.

Fortunately, the damage to Mahindra Racing and Rosenqvist’s championship challenge was limited as their immediate rivals were not in positions to capitalise fully, such is the level of competitiveness of the series. Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne, Rosenqvist’s title rival and current Drivers’ Championship leader, could only manage a fifth place while DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird (currently third in the Championship) finished 17th with no points being added to his tally.

Explained Rosenqvist after his unexpected retirement, “All I know is that it seems very strange for us to have this problem and it got worse and worse as I went on. It seems like some parts somewhere are broken. I think we were unlucky but lucky at the same time that it was only JEV (Vergne) and (Sebastian) Buemi in the mix that really scored points. We just have to forget it!"

The rumour in the paddock of the Mexico City ePrix was that Rosenqvist is currently Formula E’s highest-paid driver. While the driver was quick to laugh off the rumours, statistically speaking, Rosenqvist’s short career and success in Formula E has already turned heads. The Swedish driver has clinched pole position in five out of the 17 races he’s contested in, winning three races and finishing third in his debut Formula E season last year. This year, Rosenqvist has made it clear that it is the Drivers’ Championship he is aiming for.

NIO Formula E Team’s Oliver Turvey and Audi Sport’s Daniel Abt inherited the fight for the race lead after Rosenqvist’s failure and it was at the first round of pit stops when Abt and his pit crew performed a faster pit stop that allowed him to come out of the pit lane and take the lead in the race. Abt’s total pit time was 40 seconds, five seconds faster than what Turvey and his crew could manage.

 Formula E: Mahindra Racing go from hero to zero in Mexico City ePrix; Audis Daniel Abt emerges as winner

Daniel Abt, centre, celebrates on the podium after his victory in the Mexico City ePrix. Image courtesy: Twitter @FIAFormulaE

"The mechanics were very, very fast today — I don't know how they were able to do that but it was key for the victory and I'm very thankful for them," exclaimed Abt. After being robbed of his first Formula E victory in Race 2 of the Hong Kong ePrix held in December last year, this win in Mexico City was Abt’s second first win in Formula E. This win ended Audi’s winless streak of the season, and was in fact the German car manufacturer’s first win as a works team in Formula E. For those interested in statistics, Abt became the first German to win a Formula E ePrix.

Elsewhere, Turvey scored his and NIO Formula E Team’s first-ever Formula E podium. The competitive quotient of the entire Formula E grid is high and it is interesting to see new teams and drivers finish on the podium every other race — unpredictability at its best!

Formula E introduced timed pit stops a couple of races ago — a decision that was criticised by many on grounds of safety. The Mexico City ePrix saw the first of such instances when Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer scrapped his mechanic’s leg while exiting the pits during his scheduled stop. While the driver was slapped with a drive-through penalty for unsafe release, the mechanic needed some attention to mend his bruise.

The decision to time the pit stops is understandable, but maybe like other Motorsport series, Formula E should work on conducting pit stops in the pit lane rather than the garage. Formula E is probably the only top-tier series in the world where racing pit stops are conducted in the narrow confines of the team’s garages.

Vergne was another driver that made good use of a shorter pit-stop time. In fact, during his stop, he jumped from one car to the other without either feet touching the ground! Vergne’s battles with Sebastien Buemi were noteworthy, as were Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans’ overtaking moves and Eduardo Mortara’s drive from 18th to eighth.

Nelson Piquet Jr, the series’ inaugural champion, drove well to conserve energy for the last few laps of the race and his push to overtake cars and get onto the podium added to the excitement. Eventually, the top five finishers were — Abt, Turvey, Buemi, Piquet and Vergne.

Formula E’s reigning champion and Audi Sport’s Lucas di Grassi had multiple penalties (10-place grid penalty + five-second pit penalty), started last but drove well to climb up the order and finish ninth scoring three points en route — his first points of the season. The Brazilian driver’s botched title defence (if we can still call it that) means that the series will most certainly get a new champion this season, but with half of the season yet to be competed, it is difficult to place a bet on who the champion could be.

In the Team’s Championship, Mahindra Racing are second with 90 points, nine points behind Techeetah, whereas in the Drivers’ Championship, Rosenqvist is also in second place with 69 points — 12 points behind Techeetah’s Verge. Rosenqvist’s second place needs to be applauded after two low-scoring rounds (zero in Race 1 of the Hong Kong ePrix and three points in the Mexico City ePrix). However, would Formula 1 veteran Heidfeld’s lack of pace and results bother Mahindra Racing and would they be contemplating a replacement for the next season?

The Business of Formula E

Sustainability is central to theme of Formula E and at the Mexico City ePrix, the organisers, Formula E and the FIA announced that the revenue from the ePrix would go towards rehabilitating those affected by the earthquake that occured in Mexico in September 2017.

After weeks of buzz and chatter around their next-generation racing car, Formula E will finally unveil the actual car on 6 March at the Geneva Motor Show. The sleek looking racing car’s futuristic design and engineering that will eliminate the need for car swaps is expected to further turn up the fortunes and interest in Formula E.

At the Geneva Motor Show, Nissan will also unveil the concept livery for their Formula E entry from next season (Season 5). Nissan’s entry would be at the cost of Renault — a decision taken by the Renault-Nissan alliance on balancing their global Motorsport programmes. This would mean that the current season would be Renault’s, Formula E’s most successful manufacturer, last season in the series.

The 2018 Mexico City ePrix was also the first-ever Formula E (and even Motorsport?) race to be streamed live on Twitter. This was made possible due to a partnership between Twitter in Japan and the organisers of Formula E. Hopefully this move will help build a following in the Motorsport-crazy world of Japan leading to an eventual hosting of a race.

Finally, Formula E also announced that come Season 5, the series will have access to use the full length of the Monaco circuit. Until now, a shorter version of the narrow street circuit was being used by the all-electric series, but from next season, it will have access to the entire Grand Prix length used by Formula 1. This is great news for Formula E as it slowly and steadily builds itself as a parallel racing series to Formula 1. Maybe Bernie Ecclestone’s suggestion to Formula 1 to go all-electric might be his wisest ever.

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Updated Date: Mar 05, 2018 15:43:07 IST

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