Formula E teams and drivers are considering complex orchestration strategies to try to maximise their championship prospects at this weekend’s Berlin E-Prix decider.
With 18 drivers still in mathematical title contention and the scenario of the leading drivers in the championship being likely to get the worst track conditions in qualifying under the group system, it’s unsurprising that teams have been looking into how to make sure they’re best-placed for the Sunday qualifying session on the reversed configuration of the Tempelhof track that could be decisive.
But such tactical gambles could backfire according, to some of those deliberating the plans.
Such a move has already been seen in Formula E this season when Oliver Rowland allowed Nissan e.dams team-mate Sebastien Buemi to take sixth position on the final lap of the first New York City E-Prix last month.
On that occasion Rowland’s deliberate handing of the position to Buemi and the two points he lost ensured he would not be promoted into the disadvantaged first qualifying group for the following day’s race.
Ironically Rowland was compromised in the subsequent Sunday qualifying session when a brief rain shower hit and he ended up 16th on the grid.
With the top 12 in the points table currently covered by 27 points, just three short of the maximum possible score per race, some teams are formulating possible scenarios whereby they could score points on Saturday but still maintain an advantageous position in the second qualifying group for the Sunday event.
The successful execution of such plans plainly depends on several factors, namely who else is scoring points relative to the position of title challengers during the first race.
BMW Andretti’s Roger Griffiths is one team boss who could be in a position to try some choreography, but is reluctant to “get too cute with what you’re doing in terms of strategy”.
He will preside over Jake Dennis and Maximilian Guenther’s title challenges this weekend and with Dennis in fourth having a 19-point advantage over his 15th-placed team-mate there could be the temptation to manage the drivers’ races more than usual.
Dennis’s commanding second win of the season in the London opener thrust him into the first qualifying group for the first time, and he was only able to secure 17th on the grid for race two. But making it up to ninth in the race and scoring two points means he’s still in group one for the first Berlin qualifying session.
Conversely Guenther is well-placed in group three going into the weekend.
“We’ll look at it but it’s not the priority as far as I’m concerned, the priority is making sure that we have the best cars available for both drivers for both races,” said Griffiths.
“Should we give up a position so we slip back into the second group of qualifying rather than hold those extra points and finish in the top six for the following day?
“I think there’s potentially more to trip yourself up over by trying to go down that route.”
Robin Frijns is also wary of the dangers of getting too clever during races, telling The Race that he “wouldn’t say we will do it because if you lose a championship by two points, it’s painful”.
The Envision Virgin driver goes into the decider second in the championship, six points from leader Nyck de Vries. Frijns hasn’t won a race this season, but has been remarkably consistent considering he’s been in group one qualifying since the opening weekend.
“There’s always a disadvantage and advantage behind that. But at the end of the day, it’s always an advantage to be in group two,” said Frijns.
Mercedes driver de Vries personally believes he is counter-intuitively in a disadvantageous situation as points leader, but Jaguar’s Mitch Evans reckons de Vries could ultimately break free if he manages to get into or near the superpole positions on Saturday.
Evans is eighth in the championship, so starts off in group two, and is 20 points behind de Vries but only three points from the top six and therefore very much at risk of moving into group one with a strong Saturday.
“I think a lot of it’s going to depend on how the likes of Nyck get on on the first day,” Evans told The Race.
“If he scrapes into superpole, trying to drop back into group two will be meaningless because he’s going to be the one that’s going to maybe run away with it.
“I have to go all in on day one and put myself in a position to go into that last day fighting and that’s probably going to be in group one if I do have a good first day.”
Emphasising the against-instinct logic of giving away points on Saturday, Evans said that it would be “very hard to just sacrifice points” because they are “so valuable” this season especially.
But he confessed that if Jaguar got “a live reading of the championship after every lap, it will be something we had to consider”.
The Kiwi also summarised the 2021 title chase neatly, saying that whoever wins “is going to need a bit of luck”.
The points have been congested throughout, thanks to a combination of the qualifying system disadvantaging championship leaders and the fact that the majority of the teams on the grid are competitive enough to win races this year.
Huge swings in the points across recent events have underlined that.
Edoardo Mortara of Mercedes’ customer team Venturi jumped from 11th in the points to first across the Puebla weekend, Evans’s Jaguar team-mate Sam Bird went from 13th to first in a single race with his New York win and then de Vries came back from 10th in the championship to first over the London double-header.
So far the championship lead has changed hands at every race meeting.
“It sucks to have to say that but it’s just so crazy tight,” said Evans.
“You can be one of the fastest cars but you have to have a bit of momentum on both days for it to go your way.
“And I think that’s going to come down to a bit of luck.”