Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Formula E recap: Monaco

The second Formula E race ever in Monaco was, thankfully, not nearly as messy as the first. It was such a disappointment to see the series lose so many cars in the 2nd turn of that first race two years ago, so I know I was excited to see them safely make it through on the first lap this time around. The field wound up putting on a pretty good show, considering how tight the confines are in Monaco. Here’s my take on the day’s winners and losers:

Best day (teams):

Audi/Abt — If you’re not going to win, it’s hard to beat a day like this for Audi. Lucas di Grassi nearly pulled it off in the final 10 laps or so, edging close enough to an apparently fading Sebastien Buemi that I’m pretty sure they tapped bumpers. Whether Buemi’s second car was worse than his first (which was dominant) or he was just using every bit of his lead to save energy is hard to tell from afar, but he won regardless. Add in a good race from Daniel Abt and a bad one for Nico Prost and Audi is now within reasonable shouting distance from Renault in the team championship. It’s Audi’s to lose, but the Mexico and Monaco races have tightened things up.

Mahindra — After an abysmal race in Mexico City where Mahindra’s cars ended in pieces, the team rebounded for a podium finish from Nick Heidfeld and a 6th place finish from Felix Rosenqvist. Those two are also now 6th and 7th in the drivers’ standings, respectively. And while Renault and Audi have a huge lead in the race for the team trophy, Mahindra now sits third. For a competitive team that’s still without a win in Formula E, I think Mahindra would gladly take P3 at the end of the season. But they’re also looking fast enough to take a checkered sometime this year.

Techeetah, sort of — Formula E newcomer Esteban Gutiérrez nabbed an 8th place finish with a calm and collected race, and Techeetah was on its way to its best race ever — until Jean-Eric Vergne got greedy, slammed into Nelson Piquet Jr., and then into the wall. He went from fighting for 4th to a DNF in the span of a lap. It was a closer call than some of the scraps he’s been involved in in the past, and you could almost argue he was in the right. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t really matter. Piquet skittered away to save 4th, while Vergne had to walk back to the pits.

Worst day (teams)

DS Virgin — It’s hard to find a team that looks as good as Virgin does while also turning in god awful days like this one. Trouble with the cars, trouble in the pits, trouble with the walls — Sam Bird and José María López saw it all in Monaco, and walked away finishing outside the top 15. When they’re on, they’re on — Bird has 2 podiums, after all. But when they’re off, boy do they miss.

BMW/Andretti — Too often, both Andretti drivers get caught in the middle of the pack. That same story played out in Monaco again. Antonio Felix da Costa and Robin Frijns are some of the most exciting drivers when they’re fighting for position. It’s just a shame that, lately, those positions have been toward the back.

Faraday Future Dragon Racing — Faraday has shown some life in Formula E — the teammates battling at the end of the Buenos Aires race was a highlight of the season for sure. But the team has been struggling mightily since then. Loic Duval and Jerome D’Ambrosio have the skill to finish strong, but Faraday’s racing efforts are looking as sketchy as their real world electric car venture lately.

Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Best day (drivers)

Nelson Piquet, Jr. — The season one champion flatlined in season two, but he stuck with NextEV on the hopes that, this year, the car and team would be better. And while he got off to a rough start, with an 11th place finish in Hong Kong and a 16th place finish in Marrakech, he’s quietly put together a string of three consecutive top 10 finishes — two of them top 5. I actually talked to Nelson in Mexico City and he sounded pretty dejected, but he’s certainly fast enough to get back on the podium and maybe even snatch a win. He’s just gotta shake some bad luck.

Maro Engel — The German racer survived the tight Monaco course on way to his best Formula E finish ever. And he did it in his team’s hometown. And, despite the fact that Venturi was one of the founding Formula E teams, Engel’s 5th place was only its 8th top 5.

Esteban Gutiérrez Sure, Sebastien Buemi or Lucas di Grassi would be an easy pick, but what fun would that be? Gutiérrez followed up a 10th in his first ever Formula E race with an 8th place in Monaco. At this rate, he’ll be hunting down Buemi in a matter of races. (Okay, maybe not. But Techeetah does the same car as Renault, even if they’re tweaked differently.)

Worst day (drivers)

Jean-Eric Vergne — Vergne almost ruined his race in Mexico City when he repeatedly tried to muscle past Jerome d’Ambrosio (who, repeatedly, shut the door). But I give him credit — he somehow restrained himself just enough that, when the opportunity presented itself and d’Ambrosio ran it too deep into turn one, he was ready to make a (relatively) clean pass. Formula E even rewarded his patience with an entire video on its YouTube channel! But things weren’t the same in Monaco, where he let one lap’s worth of frustration turn into a race-ending move.

Stephane Sarrazin — Sarrazin isn’t ever expected to be up front, but he’s had some races where he looked very competitive. This was one of them. He was strong in early practice, and looked good early in the race. He was even one of the few drivers to run a race lap under 55 seconds! But he stumbled to a 15th place finish.

José María López — Lopez was .110 away from making it into the final qualifying session, or Super Pole, but had to settle for 7th. Starting a bit further back in the pack led to him picking up some damage going into turn 1 on the first lap, as the inside lane was much slower than the outside. He wound up with a DNF.

Stray thoughts:

  • Buemi and di Grassi spent some of their time after the race stumping for Formula E to run the full F1 course if and when they come back to Monaco, and I totally agree. This race was fine — great, even at some points — but the longer course would open up more chances for passing. It’d also look better on the broadcast; I desperately miss the tunnel section, and would love to hear the cars whine their way through it. Here’s hoping FE was listening.