The rain can ruin the best of days but nothing was going to ruin qualifying for HWA Racelab as both of the teams drivers made it in to Super Pole on Formula E’s 50th race but it was Vandoorne who came out on top.
After mother nature decided to play around with free practices, the rain continued to cause havoc during the four qualifying sessions. Starting with group 1 which saw Jerome D’Ambrosio, Antonio Felix Da Costa, Pascal Wehrlein, Sam Bird and Lucas Di Grassi head out on to track to set the bar for the rest of the pack. Even before the cars hit the track, you could see rain in the pit lane and the camera lenses covered in droplets but that did not stop the first five giving everything they had. Both Mahindra Racing drivers decided on a different group 1 approach, opting for heading out straight away instead of waiting but that did not work out in their favour. D’Ambrosio had a big slide on his warm-up lap which seemed to affect performance and Wehrlein seemed to be shooting up tons of spray from the track which was bad news for both of them as they finished 21st and 22nd overall. Da Costa seemed to be on track for a good spot with his lap being rather neat but he may have been a little too tentative and finished 3rd in his group but 20th overall, just ahead of the Mahindra drivers. Di Grassi set the bar with a 1.12:321, with Bird in 2nd.
Group 2 consisted of Robin Frijns, Mitch Evans, Jean Eric Vergne Andre Lotterer and Edouardo Mortara. We saw Evans out first with 4 minutes and 27 seconds remaining and despite trying his hardest to show what he could do, you could see him wrestling with the car in the wet conditions and overall finished 17th. Mortara was showing really good pace and kept it neat and tidy which awarded him 4th and a spot in Super Pole. Vergne started his qualifying lap looking favourable but things do not always go according to plan and it certainly did not for the previous champion who ended up hitting both the front and rear of his car after he crossed the line causing a red flag. It was later announced that due to the red flag incident, Vergne’s lap was cancelled and he finished qualifying in 18th place.
It was then time for group 3 to make their mark and we saw Oliver Turvey, Felipe Massa, Oliver Rowland, Sebastian Buemi, Alexander Sims and Daniel Abt take to the track. Massa headed out first but really struggled over the puddles that had congregated on the Hong Kong street circuit. Massa’s lap only went from bad to worse as he went straight on at turn 1 and continued to miss turns later on, meaning he missed out on Super Pole by 3 places. Rowland had been showing real fighting spirit today, trying to redeem himself from the disaster of Round 4, and despite going in aggressive which meant his lap was a little messy, he squashed D Grassi’s time by setting a 1.12:140 and taking the top spot as we move onto group 4.
Finishing up the qualifying sessions, we had Nelson Piquet Jr, Stoffel Vandoorne, Felipe Nasr, Jose Maria Lopez, Tom Dillmann and Gary Paffett. We saw Paffett out first and he seemed to be on fire today, creating very nice lines around the circuit and keeping it neat in places that many of the other drivers really struggled and lost control. Even after a slide in the final sector, Paffett went quickest with a 1.12:094 and landing himself a place in his first ever Super Pole. Dillmann and Piquet both almost lost it as they were coming over the line but kept it together, making it in the top 15 but it was Vandoorne who blew apart every one else’s time with a 1.11:592 and slotting both HWA Racelab drivers into Super Pole. You could see how happy the HWA team were but we had to get through Super Pole to see if their luck really was beginning to change.
The heavens had shown no signs of letting up and before Super Pole was allowed to go ahead, the Safety Car took to the track to see if the risk was too high. It did not take long for the decision to be made and Di Grassi was sent on track to see what he could do. Di Grassi tried hard to build heat in his breaking system but due to the amount of standing water still visible and the wheel spin he was experiencing, the best he could do was a 1.14:177. Lotterer managed to keep his racing line much tidier and had some lovely turns around the track, giving it full throttle in certain areas and pushed himself into provisional pole with a 1.12:868. We then saw Mortara fight his way over the puddles and even with a wiggle here and there, the track seemed to be improving marginally and he set a 1.12:310. Mortara had been under investigation for overspeeding under red flag in Group 2 and the decision was made to give him a 3 place grid penalty. Next was Rowland who seemed to be having a very dominating day and once again, he was being extremely assertive with his steering wheel and controlled the car in the right areas awarding him a 1.11:903 and provisional pole. Paffett then took to the track and all eyes were on the HWA driver and despite the amazing lines Paffett had been creating all morning, he locked up on his warm up lap which lost him a lot of time but still awarded him a well deserved 4th. Last but not least was Vandoorne who, at first, went very deep into turn 1 but recovered with great control of the car and kept it close to the wall, giving him the best time of 1.11:580 and his first Pole Position in Formula E.
It has been a morning of redemption for HWA Racelab and now that Vandoorne has been awarded his first 3 points of the season, the team can begin to smell more but we will have to see what both drivers can do during the E-Prix. Pit Lane Commentator, Nicki Shields, managed to speak to Vandoorne to find out how he felt after securing Pole Position, “A lot of adrenaline right now. You know, very tricky conditions this morning with the rain, but we’ve done a really good job preparing for this event, I think now we just need to try and stay out of trouble, we’re in the best position to start the race and hopefully we can keep this up”.
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Feature Image credit: HWA Racelab Twitter