It was anybody's game in Marrakesh during the 2nd Race of the 2019 ABB FIA Formula E Series last night.
Attack Activation Zone in the forefront of this image of the Marrakesh Street Track. Drivers need to turn on attack mode and activate it by taking the corner wide passing over the red and blue lines. Attack mode at Marrakesh lasts 4 minutes and gives an extra 25kW power.
New Zealander, Mitch Evans, got off to a great start, winning a practice race and breaking the track record with a time of 1.17.22. While he didn’t get the extra series point that he would have if he’d won fastest lap during the main race, it was enough for him to comfortably make it into the top six for the qualifying races. In these he just managed to retain a spot in the top six and was therefore eligible to compete in the Julius Baer Super Pole shoot out.
From that point on nothing went right for the Panasonic Jaguar team. In the Super Pole race, Evans overshot the braking-point unable to make the corner at turn six and driving off track into the skate way. By the time he got back on track, he trailed a miserable 17+ seconds behind the pole position. Having already qualified in the top six, Evans still retained his third-row starting post alongside BMW i Andretti Motorsport's Alex Sims who made good time but placed 5th in the Super Pole.
Evan's teammate, Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jn was starting in ninth position followed by Mahindra Racing's Jerome d'Ambrosio.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Elizabeth Hurley and Justin Theroux spotted in the crowd
An unusual crash in the exit lane during qualifying trials saw teammates Sam Bird and Robin Frijns of Envision Virgin Racing, and Tom Dillman of Nio, in a three-car pile-up. While waiting for the weighbridge, Bird's already hot brakes apparently failed in the desert heat causing him to rear-end Frijns. Coming in behind, Dillman rear-ended Bird. Significant damage to the diffuser on Envisage Virgin team's number one car, driven by Bird was ineligible to be replaced because they were already in parc ferme. The diffuser, it was explained, helps give the car downward thrust on the track, and for those that know what it is, you will see it damaged in the image below. Dillman, in turn suffered slight damage to his nose cone in the incident.
It wasn't looking good for the purple cars of Envision Virgin yet, despite finding the damaged vehicle difficult to control, Bird won pole position, outperforming the factory teams and gaining those all important extra 3 series points.
Behind Bird at the start line was DS Techeetah Racing's Jean-Eric Vergne in second and BMW i Andretti Motorsport's Antonio Felix da Costa in third. Sebastien Buemi, a former Marrakesh track winner, but now racing for Nissan E.dams started the race in fourth.
In dusty, hot conditions, the main race started at 4 am NZT and was televised live on TVNZ Duke.
The gold-paint job of TS-Decheeta's Vergne stood out and looked likely to be the one to watch. But on the first corner, seeming to be on attack, he ran out of room and found himself facing backward, taking several cars off the track with him. Unfortunately, this included both Jaguar team cars and Nissan E.Dam's Sebastien Buemi.
Although all involved quickly managed to re-enter the track, neither Jaguar was ever in the running again. This, despite some strong jostling and tactical driving from Evans seeing him see-saw through the middle pack and end in 9th place. On the other hand, from the back of the pack, Vergne clawed his way back to 5th by race-end, proving that if he can only stop making mistakes, he will be a real series contender.
After the initial mishap, the race was held by Bird, Sims and Da Costa in that order, with a tight pack of six in front including Frijns, Di Grassi, and D'Ambriose.
Another early contact occurred between Nelson Piquet, and HWA teammates: Pascal Wehrlein and Lucas di Grassi. German Pascal Wehrlein lost a tyre, potentially costing him the series. Barely able to contain his anger, we last saw him slamming the door behind him as he disappeared behind the pit wall.
In other incidents, Stoffel Vandoorne and Gary Paffett collided in the early laps – with both retiring a little later due to the damage they sustained.
Fanboost (announced at the 15 minute-mark) was therefore wasted on some drivers, the five Fanboost winners being: Wehrlein, Massa, Buemi, Da Costa, and Vandoorne.
With 30 minutes to go, Da Costa successfully passed Bird and seconds later Sims followed suit putting BMW i Andretti Motorsport in a one-two position. As the timer counted down, their lead only increased from the remaining front pack reaching a 4-min gap at it's peak. The only question for them seemed to be when and how they would fire up the required two attack modes.
Meanwhile, the rest of the pack were intermittently using their tactical power boosts, with the results showing how critical this gameplay can be.
Attack mode duration is only announced directly before the race, to prevent sophisticated-computerised race planning, and was announced to be 4 minutes long at a 12.5% increase in power. But powering up attack mode does cost time and the extra power costs energy. Nevertheless, attack mode must be used twice during the race, at any time after the first two laps.
With BMW "a certainty" for 1st and 2nd podium places, the racing was on for third place. At 23.5 minutes to go, d'Ambrosia moved into third place, with Brazilian, di Grassi, fighting hard on his tail in attack mode. Indeed, attack mode helped the following pack of four to reduce the BMW duo's lead down to about a minute, neither of whom had used theirs at that point.
Then with 9.30 minutes remaining, just as the race seemed to be won for Antonia Felix da Costa of BMW, he took the 7th corner slightly wide allowing his teammate, Alexander Sims, to take the questionable opportunity to cut under him through the brake zone. Both cars locked up and, in the ensuing skid, touched briefly. Sims managed to stay in contention, but Da Costa was sent into the wall. Jumping out of his disabled car, the safety vehicle came on and the Round One "Ad Diriyah" champ stood behind the barrier staring in utter disbelief at his car, no doubt going over and over what had just happened in his mind, and the inevitable questions he would face from HO. Da Costa was later quoted as saying that Sims had been faster all day and he should have let him past.
The clocked ticked on still, but frustratingly the safety car remained on track. Da Costa was seen to remain frozen in the heat staring at his car until it was removed some laps later.
The Mahindra team now found one of their cars (d'Ambrosia) in the lead, and endeared themselves when Dilbagh Gill, CEO and Team Principal, took time out from the pit wall to talk to journalists by phone.
The “no passing while the safety car is in force” rule provides an ideal time to activate attack mode without risking losing a place while driving through the activation zone. All those that hadn’t already used both their boosts drove through the zone Everyone except Sims in 3rd place.
Sims was the only car who didn't opt to activate Attack Mode causing the commentators to wonder if it was strategy or an oversight. The 45 minute race (+1 lap) was ticking down towards the last few minutes and still the safety car was in play. This meant the booster plays were also slowly wasting away for those that had activated early.
When it seemed likely that only a few laps remained, and with the yellow flag still flying, Sims finally activated his booster and then shortly after, the race was back on. However, with time run out, the final lap was not enough for him to pass the leading car driven by Jerome d'Ambrosio of Mahindra racing team.
Final podium finish was d'Ambrosio (who started in 10th position) ahead of Frjins by 0.143s and Bird in third. Sims, a podium certainty for most of the race, finished in 4th.
Final 2019 Series (top of the Board) placings after two rounds are:
Race 3 in the series will be held in Santiago, Chile on 26 January 2019. Be sure to start Fanboosting your favourite car from today. You can vote once every 24 hours. There are five winners, so even if Mahindra win two places, there are still three chances for New Zealand's only driver, Mitch Evans. Of course, after today, like 1.4billion population of India, you may be feeling like supporting Mahindra too.