Just Electric

Di Grassi claims victory despite last-lap chaos

“After all, if a driver whose team principal says he wants him to “complete not compete” to gain mileage in his first full race, imagine what he can do when the reigns are off.”

It seems appropriate to start off this long-form analysis piece using the last paragraph from the Santiago E-Prix analysis piece, which spoke of Pascal Wehrlein showing his class in Formula E.

Fresh from the scorching heat of Santiago, Formula E made its way to the high altitude Mexico City E-Prix. Things were hot 7,350 feet above sea level, although at around 28.5C at the hottest in the race (towards the start) it was still around 10 degrees cooler than Santiago.

The different challenges posed by Mexico City – on a permanent race track, albeit slightly modified from the full Grand Prix circuit used and at altitude – did not stop Mahindra Racing’s Wehrlein from starring again, despite eventually finishing sixth.

The young German made it into Super Pole for the second consecutive race before claiming pole position ahead of Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Lucas di Grassi.

Di Grassi’s lap time had looked like it would be enough to claim pole position and three bonus points to go with it.

But Wehrlein had other ideas: he was 0.020s behind after sector one but found just over a tenth in sector two to pull ahead of di Grassi by 0.086s. The final sector, which includes the sweeping 180-degree right hander of Peraltada broken up by a right chicane, would be crucial in the fight for pole position.

And it’s the final chicane of Turns 14, 15 and 16 where Wehrlein gained the majority of his time against di Grassi. He was closer to the wall going into Turn 14, a right-hander, which meant he was able to open up the tight left-hander of Turn 15 before accelerating through the double right-hander of Turns 16 and 17 (the exit of Peraltada).

The race start was clean for Wehrlein from pole position, able to cover di Grassi on the approach to Turn 1. Di Grassi, however, had to cover from the slow-starting, fast-charging Oliver Rowland.

Nissan e.dams’ Rowland, who started fourth braked later than anyone else into Turn 1, a fast right-hander and made up two places to run into second place. It was the only time Wehrlein had a gap of over a second behind him, because Rowland had to turn out of the corner to avoid hitting the barrier on the inside.

A stoppage of about half an hour after Nelson Piquet went flying over the DS Techeetah of Jean-Eric Vergne caused a red flag ensured the race was reset. And the restart was when the first elements of attack mode strategy would play out.

Nissan’s Sebastien Buemi (fourth), Venturi duo Felipe Massa and Edoardo Mortara (sixth and seventh) and Techeetah pair Andre Lotterer (eighth) and Jean-Eric Vergne (10th) plsu Mahindra’s Jerome d’Ambrosio (ninth) all activated their attack mode when the race resumed behind the safety car.

The issue for these four driver was the safety car did not come in straight away; over a minute of their attack mode was wasted behind the safety car. The other issue was arguably more important.

The top three of Wehrlein, Rowland, di Grassi plus BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Antonio Felix da Costa, running in fifth, all waited for the message from race control that the safety car would be in before activating attack mode.

It meant the top 10 would all be running at 225kW on the restart but the top three, plus da Costa, would have it for longer at race speed thus gaining more advantage.

While the top three stayed the same throughout, it would be the second attack mode activations that shook things up even more.

Rowland made a mistake on the inside of Turn 9, a tight left-hander in the Foro Sol stadium section, when leaving the attack mode activation.

This mistake allowed di Grassi through to take second place but, more importantly for the Nissan e.dams outfit, it led to a small bit of contact between Rowland and Buemi that took both out of contention for the win at the time.

Wehrlein was the last to activate his attack mode, hoping to use it to pull a gap to the ever-close di Grassi in the closing stages. While he was able to pull far enough clear he was unable to build a big enough gap to secure the win.

And then, as the last few laps approached, energy usage became crucial.

With a minute left in the race, the top seven had differing amounts of usable energy left:

  • Wehrlein: 5%
  • Di Grassi: 7%
  • Rowland: 5%
  • Buemi: 5%
  • Da Costa: 7%
  • Mortara: 8%

The new timed rule of 45 minutes + one lap for race distance effectively means the leader controls how long the race is. Wehrlein crossed the line with 19s left on the clock and four percent energy left.

He’d need to do two laps on the four per cent of usable energy while di Grassi, da Costa and Mortara all had six or seven per cent left.

It was worse for the Nissan pair of Rowland and Buemi, who crossed the line at this point with just three per cent usable energy left.

As they crossed the line for the final time, the remaining usable energy stood as:

  • Wehrlein: 2%
  • Di Grassi: 3%
  • Rowland: 1%
  • Buemi: 1%
  • Da Costa: 3%
  • Mortara: 5%

Wehrlein would need to lift and coast a lot on the final lap in order to make the finish while both Rowland and Buemi ran out of energy on the final lap. Two out of contention.

Di Grassi made a move on Wehrlein at the Turns 3-5 chicane. There was contact and Wehrlein cut the chicane without stopping – going against the race director’s notes. A five second time penalty was issued as Wehrlein coasted across the line.

Wehrlein used up all of his usable energy on the last lap, with just metres to go before the flag, and attempted to coast across the line. Di Grassi still had some left, dived to the gap between Wehrlein’s Mahindra and the pit wall.

He claimed victory despite crossing the line sideways. Although Wehrlein had five seconds to his race time, meaning he finished in sixth and 5.210s behind, the gap between the pair when they crossed the line was just 0.210s.

Da Costa finished in second, less than half a second behind di Grassi, while Mortara took his second Formula E podium very quietly. He had more energy remaining on the last lap out of the top six and used this to his advantage to claim third place.

Behind him, Mahindra’s d’Ambrosio had snuck up to fourth place despite starting in 18th and re-claimed the championship lead.

It was a race of energy management, or lack of, which had the strategic elements through attack mode that’s effectively replaced pit stop strategies.

It was a race decided on the line, because of strategy and energy management, that showed what Formula E is about.

‘Peak Formula E’ just reached new heights in the dizzying heights of Mexico City.

 

Jack Amey

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