This year’s Formula E title race is increasingly approaching the familiar ‘wide open’ status of the championship battles from the past. A Jaguar 1-2-3 in an unconventional inaugural Sao Paulo E-Prix was a further step towards points parity out front.
But the long-time championship leader retains a buffer – aided by a significant number of various incidents and misfortunes up and down the grid.
TCS Jaguar Racing, through a combination of unforeseen circumstance (Sam Bird at Cape Town) and a dash of inadvertent self-sabotage (Bird-triggered melee at Hyderabad), had been the great underachievers of 2023 so far.
That all stopped at Sao Paulo with a headline 1-3 result for the team and only the second ever clean sweep of the podium (after the Mercedes-infused Berlin 2022 lock-out) thanks to Nick Cassidy’s Envision Jaguar-powered second place.
It was always all going to come together for the Big Cat. It just seemingly took forever through the happenstance and incident of the first quarter of the season.
So, it needed a tonic but in Brazil it got a full-bore gin to go with that as finally the Jaguar I-Type5 delivered the result it had threatened since the start of the campaign.
For Sam Bird it was a major boost, and even though he went into the last few laps understandably conservative after the Hyderabad disaster, his second third place of the season from 10th on the grid was a strong showing.
Mitch Evans talked of “vaults and springboards” after the race and so he might. This inevitably had the feeling of Rome last year when he jettisoned himself into the early title stakes. He’s a bit away from that right now but if Jaguar can lick their Berlin jinx next month he can reprise the previous spectacular ascent.
His boss James Barclay knew the team had boxes ready to tick in Brazil and there was more than just an air of relief upon his face when he appraised the performance.
“For us the challenging thing was, it has been a frustrating first few races because we have such a fast car, the single-lap quail pace is there, the efficiency is there in the races, and it’s just been one thing or the other that’s meant we’ve had massive non-results,” Barclay told The Race.
“We had Hyderabad, potentially two cars in the podium, Cape Town was just really unlucky, so it’s these tiny things that have hurt us.
“It’s just all about putting the ingredients and executing the weekend really clearly. That’s what we said straight after Cape Town; it’s here [Sao Paulo] that we have to put all the pieces in place and just approach the weekend really methodically and, sure enough, that’s what played out today.
“We knew strategy-wise it was going to be a massive race, but also dealing with all the factors: fast, bumpy track, high ambient temperature. So, to come away with two cars on the podium, that’s a massive result because it was a really challenging race for today.”
From a consistency point of view Nick Cassidy is the only show in town right now.
That’s something he’s never really showcased in Formula E in his two and a bit seasons with Envision Racing.
Is he doing a Vandoorne 2022 spec and becoming Mr. Stealth? Quite possibly.
|1||Pascal Wehrlein||TAG Heuer Porsche||134||18||25||25||12||0||6||8||6||1||25||8||0||0||0||0||0|
|2||Jake Dennis||Avalanche Andretti||133||26||18||18||0||0||0||0||18||16||18||19||0||0||0||0||0|
|3||Nick Cassidy||Envision Racing||128||2||8||0||18||15||18||10||25||25||7||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|4||Mitch Evans||Jaguar TCS Racing||109||4||1||6||3||0||25||25||12||18||0||15||0||0||0||0||0|
|5||Jean-Eric Vergne||DS Penske||97||0||6||0||25||19||10||6||15||6||10||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|6||António Félix da Costa||TAG Heuer Porsche||78||6||0||0||15||25||12||0||10||0||4||6||0||0||0||0||0|
|7||Maximilian Günther||Maserati MSG Racing||70||0||0||0||0||0||0||15||9||0||18||28||0||0||0||0||0|
|8||Sam Bird||Jaguar TCS Racing||62||0||15||13||0||0||16||18||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|9||Sébastien Buemi||Envision Racing||62||8||15||8||0||10||1||15||0||4||0||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|10||Jake Hughes||NEOM McLaren||46||10||4||13||0||1||4||0||0||13||1||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|11||Stoffel Vandoorne||DS Penske||42||1||0||0||4||6||11||0||4||2||12||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|12||René Rast||NEOM McLaren||40||0||11||15||0||12||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|14||André Lotterer||Avalanche Andretti||23||12||2||0||2||2||0||5||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|16||Lucas Di Grassi||Mahindra Racing||18||18||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|17||Daniel Ticktum||NIO 333 Racing||18||0||0||1||0||8||0||0||1||8||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|18||Edoardo Mortara||Maserati MSG Racing||17||0||0||2||1||0||0||2||0||0||8||4||0||0||0||0||0|
|19||Sérgio Sette Câmara||NIO 333 Racing||10||0||0||0||10||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|20||Oliver Rowland||Mahindra Racing||9||0||0||0||8||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|21||Robin Frijns||ABT CUPRA||5||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3||0||2||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|22||Nico Müller||ABT CUPRA||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|23||Kelvin van der Linde||ABT Cupra Formula E Team||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|23||David Beckmann||Avalanche Andretti||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|23||Roberto Merhi||Mahindra Racing||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Again, Cassidy was excellent in Sao Paulo, just as he was with his second at Hyderabad and his tenacious third in Cape Town.
This time his race was described as “probably my most enjoyable I’ve ever had in Formula E”.
“When you’re trying to make a gap, you are really putting these cars on the limit, trying to maximise everything you have whilst being as efficient as possible and that’s not easy to do.
“I think there was a stage, throughout probably that second phase, where Mitch and I did that really well and we could break away.
“Of course, that’s expensive [in terms of energy] and put me in a position with six, seven laps to go. I had to think, ‘well if I was just racing Mitch we could probably hang onto the lead and we can fight this to the end’. But Sam had a bundle of energy and he was coming really quick so it was like, ‘alright, let’s go to be P2, I know I’m safe there, we’re locking that in and I know we’ll have another chance to fight for the win’.
“It didn’t come off but I’m happy with that decision-making because I think we didn’t throw everything at the win and lose out, we played it quite well.”
After a self-inflicted nil points in Cape Town, points leader Pascal Wehrlein needed to get back on the title horse in Brazil.
It didn’t start well with a fitful qualifying performance that saw him rooted to 18th on the grid. A careful start and an ascent into the top 10 followed. For a brief moment this looked like Riyadh all over again.
But a curious leaving-it-late attack mode strategy appeared to backfire a little and his progress was halted when he seemed to get stuck behind teammate Antonio Felix da Costa.
Still, an impressive 11 places gained, and six points accrued, was a reasonable day at the office.
Just as Nissan looked to be finding performance and consistency, it suffered the equivalent of Brazil’s 7-1 shocker to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final.
Their race was a complete write-off by lap six. That was when Sacha Fenestraz was forced to park his car after what he described as “a racing incident in front of me at Turn 4/5 and there was a pile-up in the front, so I hit the brakes, but I locked up completely the rear, had a half-spin and touched a wall. So the wishbone and radiator were broken and that was the end of my race”.
Team-mate Norman Nato only made it to the third corner when he careered into the back of Rene Rast’s Nissan-powered NEOM McLaren.
In two stinging incidents that hard-earned momentum from Hyderabad and Cape Town was undone as the opportunities of more points, which were much needed, fell away like the Sakura blossom that bedecks their cars.
Another miserable race for Avalanche Andretti, whose cars have now taken just four points from the last three races.
Again, Jake Dennis was the innocent victim of someone else’s fit of pique. But at some stage he might reflect on the fact that he really shouldn’t have been in the thrust of the midfield anyway after a poor qualifying session anchored him down to 14th on the grid.
The frustration was clear for Dennis, who painted his fellow Brit Dan Ticktum in an unflattering light as he tried to process a further points haemorrhage.
Team-mate Andre Lotterer played to 2023 type somewhat as his disappointing season continued with a qualifying shunt that banished him to the back row of the grid. From there he was racing mainly for pride and did make some good moves on his way to 12th, albeit with little sense of consolation from another tough weekend.
Promise but no points for Maserati MSG again in Sao Paulo. When do difficulties become a crisis? Perhaps we are about to find out because three points from the first six races simply isn’t good enough.
What must be especially galling for James Rossiter and co. is that they know the potential for at least podium positions is right there staring back at them.
Again, Edoardo Mortara was involved in a shunt, this time with Nico Mueller’s Abt Cupra Mahindra. When a clean race and some points, any points were needed, this seemed unfortunate at the very least.
Maximillian Guenther fought a technical issue in the early laps that triggered a brief off and then penalty for not being able to stop his car before rejoining the track.
The subsequent shunt with Sebastien Buemi was unfortunate – and painful for the Envision Racing driver – while for Guenther it was just another incident that sullied the abundant promise he and Maserati MSG show in almost every session apart from the races themselves.
What Mortara told The Race
I think it was a little bit unfortunate that in Turn 1 I was side-by-side with Nick, I tried to leave some room for him and also tried to leave some room with the car in front. Unfortunately I think he was racing with Mitch, he just got passed by Antonio, had to brake a little bit and I get surprised by that. It was barely a small hit but it was enough to break the front wing and then from there it was pretty much game over.
I was taken out by Nico. Also there, unfortunate situation when you’re at the back and you’re coming back, racing with the others, these things happen.
In terms of the championship I don’t think we can talk about championship. We are trying to score points and do well. It’s been incredibly tough. At the moment things are not really going our way. This one is another example.
During the race it seems that it’s quite difficult actually for us; we don’t seem to have the efficiency of the best so it’s a reason to work on it and try to be better.
When we try to improve our car, we’ve done that in the last weekends [tried to build efficiency]. We’ve done some steps forward, definitely, but we still need to continue doing it.
After the brilliance of Cape Town came a more erratic affair as Ticktum counted wrecking Dennis’ race and taking a disappointing 14th position as his headlines from a weekend that should have produced much more.
The one-lap pace of the NIO 333 machine was not harnessed in qualifying. The race saw some progress but no real realistic sniff of a point as the inherent poor overall race-long efficiency of his car took hold.
There were numerous war wounds from the Dennis altercation, which unfathomably didn’t see Ticktum receive a grid drop for Berlin.