The centre of Paris is often well known for the final stage of Le Tour de France as the competitors ride down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees to end the gruelling tour. Home riders like Bernard Hinault (five times) and Bernard Thevent (twice) have won by ending the race at Champs-Elysees and 21 other French cyclists have won the coveted Tour.
But at the resting place of Napoleon, just a few kilometres away from Champs-Elysees, it was another Frenchman who was taking victory – this time in a new series racing in an historical location.
At the Circuit des Invalides, Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne was claiming another win as he continued his charge towards the Formula E title and becoming the championship’s fourth champion in four seasons.
In picking up the win, and three bonus points for a home pole position, Vergne extended his championship lead over DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird to 31 points with four races, and 116 points, available (29 per weekend).
It was the perfect bounce back for Vergne after a ‘low’ Rome ePrix – where he still picked up 10 championship points. While he still gained on Mahindra’s Felix Rosenqvist after Rome, the Frenchman lost points to now-nearest challenger Bird.
It was another masterclass from Paris-born Vergne, who expertly controlled his home race from the start and led every lap save for the pit stop window after taking pole position by almost three-tenths of a second from Bird.
And while Bird managed to finish third with three wheels on his car, literally, it meant Vergne extended his championship lead by a further 10 points and taking himself further away from the chasing pack.
It was the way Vergne took the win that stood out, like his other wins in Season 4. When he first rocked up in Formula E after losing his Toro Rosso Formula 1 drive, Vergne put his Andretti car on pole position at the Punta del Este ePrix.
Energy management had been Vergne’s weakness in Formula E and he did not win a race until the Season 3 finale in Montreal, where he beat Mahindra’s Felix Rosenqvist by just under a second. It seemed to be the breakthrough the Frenchman needed as he now mounts a title challenge; the Formula E duck has gone for him.
And like a breakthrough in sport, it has led to further wins for Vergne. His win in Paris takes his total for the season to three and his overall number of wins to four. He’s fourth in the all-time Formula E winner list; behind Season 2 champion Sebastien Buemi, consistent performer Bird and Season 3 champion Lucas di Grassi.
He’s also joint second (with Felix Rosenqvist) on the all-time pole list for Formula E with six – just three behind Sebastien Buemi. It shows how Vergne has good pace in both qualifying and the race, something so important in Formula E.
Driving in the race is a completely different aspect from qualifying in Formula E. In qualifying it is all about going as fast as possible, but in the race it’s all about as going as fast as possible as efficiently as possible (while also dealing with 19 cars on the track).
It’s this second aspect of Formula E that Vergne has improved on since he first joined the series for the first Punta del Este ePrix.
There’s another consideration for Vergne too: he is driving for customer team Techeetah, alongside Andre Lotterer. Techeetah use Renault powertrains but have, generally speaking, faster than the factory outfit.
Taking each of the four Renault drivers’ fastest times from qualifying (as this ensures drivers did a 200kW lap), it’s possible to create a super time based on the four percentages. If a driver has a supertime of 100%, they were the fastest of the four that weekend.
The closer to 100% the average is, the faster the driver has been across the season.
As Nico Prost did not set a representative lap time in qualifying for the Punta del Este ePrix, this data has been excluded.
On three occasions Vergne has been the fastest Renault driver with Lotterer and Buemi being fastest on two occasions. Prost has struggled this season and has never been the fastest of the four Renault drivers.
The improvement in his own race pace to mount this title challenge is an impressive feat, but being faster than the works Renault outfit is even more impressive for Vergne and Techeetah.
Manufacturer teams are allowed 15 private testing days on top of the official pre-season test days – Techeetah, as a customer team, do not get private testing days. The improvement shown by both driver and team is what makes this title charge so impressive.