For the first Formula E race of the year, Alexander Sims manages to place his BMWi Andretti perfectly and start P1 for the E-Prix. Mercedes EQ start P2 and P3 for maiden season.
Season 6 for Formula E has finally begun and all 12 teams are raring to go. We find ourselves in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia for an opening double header to kick start the 2019/2020 season, with Round 3 in Chile not starting until Saturday 18th January 2020. With tantalising timings and tetchy tantrums during Qualifying, we see a very mixed up grid for Round 1.
Due to this being the first E-Prix, we see a clean slate and Qualifying groups chosen on Championship placement from the previous season. We also see 6 new drivers for the 2019/2020 Championship meaning Qualifying group 4 were all rookies for the season. The Qualifying format was still slated by many drivers during the session with Group 1 complaining about track evolution.
In Group 1, we had Jean-Eric Vergne (2018/2019 Champion) alongside Robin Frijns, Lucas DiGrassi, Antonio Felix Da Costa, Mitch Evans and Sebastian Buemi. First out on track was Evans but, unfortunately, being first out is not always best due to the state of the track. Evans realised this and decided to drop back within the field to find a better starting position. As cars were finding grip and trying to keep themselves going, timing looked questionable as to whether everyone would make it across the line in but luck was on their side and they all began their flying laps with 0:01 to spare! As everyone looked as if things were going well, we saw Da Costa slowing on track as he miss-timed his lap. The rest of the pack seemed to form a snaking train which saw them cross the line one after the other but it was Vergne who managed to top the board with a 1:16.129.
For Group 2, we saw Sam Bird, Oliver Rowland, Andre Lotterer, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Daniel Abt and Pascal Wehrlein take their turn to fight for Superpole. Rowland made his way to the circuit first with 3 minutes left of the session. As Rowland continued to make his way around, he started putting in a very good time but, things took a turn as he hit the wall in sector 1. Both Lotterer and D’Ambrosio were looking very strong as they flung their cars round the track to see what they could do. As the cars crossed the line, the top 6 changed numerous times with Bird topping the chart with a 1:14.946, over a second quicker than Vergne. We saw four cars from Group 2 make it into Superpole contention, pushing Vergne and Frijns into the firing line, down to 5th and 6th.
Moving on to Group 3, we found Oliver Turvey, Stoffel Vandoorne, Felipe Massa, Maximilian Gunther, Edoardo Mortara and Sims take their shot at Superpole. Sims took to the circuit first and we saw him have a slight lock up but managed to keep a good line throughout his sectors. Different to the previous groups, we saw a quite spread out pack , with everyone trying to find the pace. Vandoorne managed to show some speed and put in decent sectors on his lap whereas Gunther struggled, slotting further down the pack. Towards the end of the session, we heard over his radio that Felipe Massa had hit the wall at turn 4, ending his Superpole chances. The potential Superpole grip had changed massively again with Vandoorne putting his car in 2nd, Mortara slotting into 3rd and Sims in 4th, pushing Vergne and DiGrassi out.
The Group 1 drivers began to voice their opinions again about how the Qualifyinf format does not benefit them after nobody in the group made it to Superpole and began to fall further and further down the grid to start the race at the rear. DiGrassi explained how unhappy he was about being let out near the front of the group, which cost him on his lap, along with last seasons Champion, Vergne, telling Formula E reporter, Nicki Sheilds, how much he dislikes the way Qualifying is run, “Doesn’t matter how much of a good job you do, you’ll always start at the back”.
Last but not least, we saw our rookies take to the track in Group 4, to show us what they can do. We had Brendon Hartley, Nico Muller, Nyck De Vries, Neel Jani, Ma Qinghua and James Calado. De Vries was sent out on track very early in the group and questions were raised if this was a good decision as he may have found traffic later on, but De Vries was flying round the circuit and matched Bird in his first sector. A little lock up did not cost him much at all as he managed to go 2nd in the timings and his first possible Superpole shootout. Ma seemed to struggle in his car and we then saw both Calado and Muller off around turn 16. After seeing the replays, it showed they had both hit the wall and locked up, ending their laps. De Vries was the only member of Group 4 to make it into Superpole.
The 6 drivers who made it into Superpole (Bird, De Vries, Vandoorne, Mortara, Sims and D’Ambrosio) would go out in reverse order to see which one of them could take pole position and the first 3 Championship points of the season. First up, D’Ambrosio took to the circuit and seemed to be sliding slightly as he battled for grip. We saw a snap of oversteer but still managed a good middle sector and you could see how comfortable he seemed in the car, putting in a good time of 1:15.539. Next up, Sims took his turn to show us where he would place. Sims seemed completely in control, putting in very good sectors all around and you could hear minimal wheel spin on the car, giving him a good time to beat of 1:14.563. Mortara then came out and looked great on the straights but slightly offline throughout the corners. Mortara kept it super close to the wall and put in some decent sectors to go 2nd, +0.548 behind Sims. We then saw Vandoorne on track and the car looked very choppy underneath him as he struggled for grip, but like Mortara, Vandoorne put in fairly good sector times to push him out of 2nd and steal that spot. Next, we had Vandoorne’s teammate, De Vries out and he put in a extremely good first sector but as he found it tricky to control the grip, he lost a lot of time in sector 3 and placed 3rd. Finally, we had Bird, who looked strong, but unfortunately, he went wide and almost hit the wall between turns 3 and 4 which cost him dearly, managing on 5th.
For the 2nd time in his Formula E career, Sims takes pole position and for the first time, leads the Championship by those 3 points he gains. Speaking to Nicki Sheilds, Sims voiced his pleasure at gaining this spot, saying he “couldn’t have asked for much more!”. The BMWi Andretti team looks quite strong and hope to continue this into this afternoons race.
With this being their Formula E debut, Mercedes EQ are starting 2nd and 3rd, gaining smiles and cheers from both bosses, Team Principal, Ian James and head of Mercedes Motorsport, Toto Wolff. Vandoorne and De Vries both spoke to Sheilds and expressed their delight from the session. Speaking to Vandoorne first, he said it was a “fantastic job by the team – it’s nice to be up there” with De Vries echoing his teammates comments, saying “to start our new adventure like this is encouraging”.
Don’t forget to check back for more Formula E news including the results of the Round 1 E-Prix this afternoon.
Feature Image: ABB Formula E Website