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Formula E Marrakesh ePrix talking points: Jerome D'Ambrosio claims first win of season, Pascal Wehrlein's woes and more

The 2019 Marrakesh ePrix marked the opening of the year-long calendar of international motorsport events. The nail-biting action on the streets of Marrakesh in Morocco hopefully sets the tone for the other series, but for Formula E, it was just another regular ePrix — full of action, drama, suspense, entertainment and unpredictability. Frankly, it is heartening to see Formula E consistently deliver on the superlatives.

The weekend of the Marrakesh ePrix started with the news that Formula 1 driver, Max Verstappen, would be attending the ePrix to fulfil one of his two days of community service as penalised by the FIA for his pitlane aggression towards Esteban Ocon at the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix held in November last year. Fairly cheeky (and well within their rights) of the FIA to use the law to force their Formula 1 star to attend Formula E ePrix — a win-win for the all-electric series.

Qualifying

Apart from putting together the starting grid and identifying the fastest driver over one lap, the qualifying session of the 2019 Marrakesh ePrix was much awaited as it would offer a direct comparison between the first and second generation of the Formula E racing car. Also, the wet weather conditions at the opening round in Saudi Arabia failed to give us an indication on qualifying competitiveness of the current grid of drivers.

The second generation car (that debuted this season) clocked 2.8 seconds faster than the time set by the first generation car at the 2018 Marrakesh ePrix. In fact, when compared to the 2016 Marrakesh ePrix lap times, the second generation car clocked a whopping 4 seconds faster — over a short 3-km lap. Thankfully, the increase in speed of the cars hasn't come at the cost of the battery performance or more importantly in the on-track action — a regular metric of evaluation for every Motorsport series.

Year / Version Pole Lap (m.s.ms)
Difference vs. Gen-2 (s.ms)
2019 / Gen-2 car 1.17.489 -
2018 / Gen-1 car 1.20.355 2.86
2016 / Gen-1 car 1.21.509 4.02

Sam Bird, who has raced all seasons of Formula E with Virgin Racing, claimed his sixth career and 1st pole of the season with a time that less than a tenth ahead of Nissan e.dams' Sebastian Buemi. Bird's time was special given that he had damaged his car in the previous session during the day. The super-fast BMW i Motorsport drivers, Alexander Sims and Antonio Felix da Costa, finished third and fourth respectively, ahead of reigning champion and DS Techeetah driver, Jean-Eric Vergne. In his debut Formula E ePrix with Mahindra Racing, former Formula 1 and Mercedes driver Pascal Wehrlein, claimed fourth place; out-qualifying his much-experienced teammate Jerome D'Ambrosio. Wehrlein missed a slot in the Super Pole by a narrow 0.02-second margin. Stoffel Vandoorne seemed to have brought his bad luck from Formula 1 to Formula E as he faced technical issues during the qualifying session — one that placed him dead last.

Race

If we could draw comparisons from the world of Formula 1 to summarise the race action, we would say that Jean-Eric Vergne had a Vettel-esque opening lap. He made an error from second place while trying to attack pole-sitter Bird into Turn 1. The clumsy move saw the Frenchman spin and drop down to the end of the pack. As for the two BMW cars, they had their Mercedes moment from the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix as Sims took out da Costa as they jostled for the lead. Although, unlike the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix where both Mercedes cars retired immediately, at Marrakesh, Sims continued to finish the race in fourth while da Costa was forced into retirement.

Vandoorne's bad luck continued in the race as his teammate, Gary Paffet, collided into him on the opening lap causing both the HWA Race Lab cars to retire. After starting 11th and while racing in the middle of the pack, Audi's Lucas di Grassi had a Maldonado-style braking error that saw him ram into the rear of Wehrlein's Mahindra Racing car while nudging two others. Wehrlein's race ended without completing a single lap — a disappointment for Mahindra Racing and Indian Motorsport fans after the German's superlative performance in qualifying.

The FIA announced before the race that the Attack Mode would be available twice for each driver and each activation resulting in four minutes of extra power for the driver. Several drivers used the Attack Mode to good effect, with D'Ambrosio using it well to defend against the charging Virgin Racing drivers. This was after he pulled of precise overtaking moves to bring himself into contention for a podium finish. The uncontrolled fracas between the BMW drivers and their eventual clash saw D'Ambrosio grab the race lead and do well to charge off a late attempt to clinch his third career ePrix win and the first of this season. But despite having two previous wins, this was the first time D'Ambrosio stood on the top step of the Formula E podium; his previous wins were awarded to him after the actual winner was disqualified.

Mahindra Racing

As with last year, Mahindra Racing has had a solid start to their season — at least with Jerome D'Ambrosio. The Belgian driver, who also starred in a Motorsport meet Bollywood video with Gul Panag between the first two ePrixs of the season, claimed third in Saudi Arabia and followed it up with a win in Marrakesh. D'Ambrosio finds himself leading the Drivers' Championship with 40 points, 12 points ahead of his nearest rival, da Costa. As for Mahindra, they are classified 2nd (but are actually joint 2nd with BMW) in the Teams' Championship with 40 points, 7 points behind Techeetah.

Mahindra would be pleased to find themselves in second place, especially since they have scored points with only one car in the opening two rounds. The instability with their second driver was down to contractual reasons, but if Wehrlein's qualifying pace is anything to go by, the talented German driver has taken little time to adapt to an electric racing car and a new team setup. It would be thrilling for a Wehrlein-D'Ambrosio rivalry to build up within the team. However, for Mahindra, they find themselves in the same spot as they did this time last year — championship leaders after the opening few rounds. The lack of a solid in-season development plan saw them slip down the order, so let's hope the team keeps it together this season because there is joy in seeing an Indian automobile manufacturer fight against and beat some of the more established global and historical brands. And of course, the added joy of hearing the Indian national anthem played at the podium ceremony of an international Motorsport event!

Off-Track

Last week, a news story broke out in Forbes about Jaguar's multi-million dollar investment in their Formula E team while working through layoffs and re-planning workforce deployment — a situation the car manufacturer has previously been in during their days of racing in Formula 1. Here's hoping that Jaguar, who are in their third season in Formula E, are able to sustain their racing operations despite having a sole podium finish to boast of at the 2017 Hong Kong ePrix. The British racing team finished 10th in the 2016-17 season and sixth in the 2017-18 season.

There are several opinions regarding a possible merger between Formula E and Formula 1, or even about Formula 1 going all-electric in the future. However, in the media sessions of the 2019 Marrakesh ePrix, di Grassi made an interesting statement. "If they go electric, do they merge with Formula E or do they stay separate, one racing in cities the other in tracks?" Di Grassi also remarked that combustion racing could be banned by countries altogether. "Some countries will not accept promotion of combustion racing any more, it will be the same as promoting tobacco today," he said.

An interesting question to ponder: could Jean-Eric Vergne build himself to be the Lewis Hamilton of Formula E? Apart from his charging drive this weekend that saw him start second, spin out to 19th on Lap 1 and drive a gutsy race to finish fifth, the Frenchman announced that he is to star in the next franchise of the Fast and Furious movie series. Now what are the bets that his ride in the movie would be an all-electric one too?

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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2019 13:07:47 IST