Formula E recap: Berlin race 1

Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Let’s get right to it, because we have a whole ‘nother race tomorrow.

UPDATE: Buemi was just DQ’d for illegal tire pressures, so, um, keep that in mind as you read this post. This is what I get for writing before scrutineering finishes. 😂

Best day (teams)

Mahindra — Really no question here. Mahindra pulled off its first win ever in Formula E thanks to a sharp race from Felix Rosenqvist, and Nick Heidfeld also nabbed a third place finish. The Indian outfit has been getting better and better with every race this season, so this was almost no surprise. But they were also the first team to outside of Renault and Audi to win this season, so then again it kind of was.

I think what I love most about Mahindra’s progress is that, for the first two seasons, they seemed happier to try to game the strategy because the cars weren’t quite up to speed. They were often the ones trying to squeeze an extra lap out of the first car so they could go harder in the second, but it was out of necessity more than anything. And it only sort of / kind of worked — they were often still stuck fighting for places somewhere between 4th and 12th. Seeing them compete outright with the Audis and Renaults of the series is much more exciting — and now they’re just 15 points back of Audi in the team trophy fight. This is basically their third “best day ever” in a row, but now the only way to beat that would be a 1–2 finish. Tomorrow, perhaps?

Renault — Despite an awful starting position for champ Sebastien Buemi, Renault extended its lead in the team championship. Prost looked strong despite a particularly dicey moment early in the race when he overshot one of the turns, and Buemi did Buemi things by passing half the field on the way to a 5th place finish. Renault’s nearing the point where it’s looking at the possibility of locking up the title early, which is crazy because we’re only just past halfway through the season. Add in the news that the team has retained both drivers until 2019, and this has been a pretty good weekend so far for the championship leaders.

DS Virgin — The Virgin team held on for a good result — José María López 4th, Sam Bird 8th — despite a sketchy start for López and trouble in the pits for Bird. I’d say they’re most likely the next team to take a win this year now that Mahindra’s won, but they’re going to have to make fewer mistakes in order to do that.

Worst day (teams)

BMW/Andretti — Honestly, what was that? The Andretti team has been moving backwards faster than Mahindra’s moving forwards these days, and today’s race was about as bad as it gets. Both drivers started in the absolute back of the pack and stayed there after the team decided to, for some reason, have them try to save energy so they could stay out an extra few laps in their first cars. Hey, Mike, that strategy only really works if you’re up in the middle or front of the pack. Running slower laps to save energy when you’re already in the back is essentially waving the white flag. Maybe they were hoping for a crash and a safety car, but that’s a pretty bad gamble. This team has incredibly talented drivers, but the team can’t stop moving backwards every race.

Jaguar — The British marque’s return to racing has been one hell of a mixed bag this season. But the few times they’ve been able to nab points don’t outweigh the bad days like today. The speed is mostly there and their drivers are competent, but technical problems still seem to be the biggest hurdle. It’s not easy to learn on the fly in any sport, but that’s doubly true in a completely new one like Formula E.

Best day (drivers)

Felix Rosenqvist — Felix has looked fast ever since coming over to Formula E at the start of this season, and seemed destined to take home a win at some point. But I figured that, if it happened, it was more likely to come in a different form — grabbing pole and running a great defensive race, or having both di Grassi and Buemi crash out. What I didn’t expect was him to pass di Grassi for a win, and do it with ease. Lucas spent his post-race interview talking about how he thinks the battery is giving his team troubles, but give all the credit to Rosenqvist for hunting di Grassi down early in the race and making the pass on the last lap before pit stops, a point where he knew di Grassi was trying to be careful with his remaining energy. Smart move by the kid from Sweden that illustrates how fast he’s caught on to the intricacies of Formula E.

Sebastien Buemi — Ho-hum, Seb just passed half the field again. Buemi started 14th, but I think you know as well as I did that, as long as he got through the bottleneck of the first few turns unscathed, he was going to wind up in the top 10. He nearly did get caught — he wound up with someone’s bodywork on his front wing in the first few laps. But after that he just started flying, out-braking everyone into the hairpin at turn 9. He’s like the Terminator, or the monster from It Follows. You cannot stop Seb. Seb will keep coming for you.

Lucas di Grassi — I hate calling out both Seb and Lucas when they’re the two best in the series, but I give di Grassi credit for two reasons. One, he qualified on pole, something he usually struggles to do. And two, whatever the issue with his car, he limited the damage to only losing one spot in the race. (That spot just happened to be 1st place.) All in all, he closed the gap to Buemi in the championship hunt by about a dozen points. Could he have closed it even further? Of course. But he has to walk away from today happy with what he got. Shout out to Nick Heidfeld for a quietly quick race and especially José María López, who botched the start but was able to gather himself back up for a 4th place finish.

Worst day (drivers)

Jean-Eric Vergne — It’s almost comical at this point how almost every one of Vergne’s good efforts gets spoiled, though I’m sure he’s not laughing — especially today, since the penalty he suffered wasn’t his fault. Vergne would’ve come home 5th or 6th if not for the 5-second penalty. But he and the Techeetah team seem to be victims of that “mistakes breed mistakes” adage. Maybe tomorrow they can put forth a clean effort that rights the ship for the rest of the season, but I’m guessing they’re more likely to sink themselves again.

Daniel Abt — Okay, Abt finished 7th. That’s pretty good! But, buddy, what are you doing just letting your teammate’s championship rival pass you on the front straightaway? Buemi is good (and bold) enough that he probably would’ve gotten around Abt anyway, but you’ve got to take that chance to slow him down for a few laps, or at least try to get him off his rhythm. Abt might as well have been asleep at the wheel.

Stray thoughts

  • The tire wear was something, huh? Formula E’s treaded tires usually stand up to anything, but the rough concrete at Tempelhof airport really chewed them up today, to the point that there were marbles in the turns! The cars were able to hold it all together today, but I’m curious to see what 2 more laps in tomorrow’s race does to these tires.
  • 2.5 seasons in and the broadcasters are still unclear about: when drivers can use FanBoost, whether or not their graphics are accurately showing when a driver uses FanBoost, etc etc etc. What’s more, it’s almost always the same drivers winning the vote. I think Formula E needs to really take a look at this part of the series going into season 4, I know I’d like to see some changes to the way it works. But at the very least, please straighten out the confusion with the broadcast. It’s never good when the guys in the booth don’t seem to have a handle of what’s what.
  • Loved the cable cam shots. Really cool addition to the broadcast. Let’s just hope it doesn’t snap like the one at that NASCAR race in 2013.