PORSCHE POWER PROPELS EARLY-SEASON PACE-SETTERS WEHRLEIN AND DENNIS TO ANOTHER ONE-TWO IN DIRIYAH
Pascal Wehrlein celebrated his 50th race in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship with a second career triumph in Saudi Arabia this evening (27 January), as the TAG Heuer Porsche driver led another Porsche-powered one-two ahead of championship leader Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti).
Wehrlein only began the Diriyah E-Prix from ninth on the grid, but he went immediately on the offensive. Navigating a tight Turn One and artfully avoiding the drama around him, the German gained three spots before the opening lap was complete.
That elevated Wehrlein into the leading pack from the outset, behind pole-sitter Sébastien Buemi (Envision Racing), fellow front row starter Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren Formula E Team), Jaguar TCS Racing’s Sam Bird, NIO 333’s Dan Ticktum and René Rast in the second McLaren entry.
Initially, Buemi – in his 100th E-Prix – looked to have proceedings under control as he established a small margin over his pursuers, but once Bird relieved countryman Hughes of second on lap three, the chase was on. Four laps later, the Briton – with the bit between his teeth – seized the initiative at the Riyadh Street Circuit’s favoured overtaking spot of Turn 18, but all the while, Wehrlein was lurking.
A lock-up from Rast promoted the Porsche ace to fifth on lap ten, which became fourth when Ticktum deployed his first Attack Mode, losing three places in the process. From there, the 28-year-old set his sights on Buemi and Hughes just ahead, enabling Bird to make good his escape.
Hughes was Wehrlein’s next victim, with the pair switching positions during the opening flurry of Attack Modes, and by mid-distance, Buemi found his Envision’s mirrors full of Porsche. The Swiss star’s second Attack Mode on lap 23 released Wehrlein to set off after Bird, whose lead no longer looked quite so secure.
What ensued was an absorbing cat-and-mouse duel, as Bird – knowing his rival had more remaining energy and an Attack Mode still to take – focussed on placing his Jaguar inch-perfectly so as not to offer the hard-charging Wehrlein any opportunity to pounce.
The Porsche star thought he had got the job done with a feisty late dive into Turn 18 on lap 25, but he overshot the corner slightly, which enabled Bird to reclaim the lead. It would be another five laps before Wehrlein successfully made a move stick, after which, he began pulling away.
If Bird’s threat was fading, then Dennis, by contrast, came on increasingly strong as the race progressed. From 11th on the grid – directly behind Wehrlein – the Briton went early with his first Attack Mode and similarly carved through the field. After latching onto and passing the two orange McLarens, the Mexico City winner set his sights on the podium, with Buemi his next target.
When the Envision driver served his second Attack Mode with eight laps left to run, Dennis was through, and he fought his way past Bird not long after. He subsequently zeroed right onto the back of Wehrlein, but despite feinting a pass into the final corner, was unable to unsettle his fellow Porsche-powered competitor. Still, the runner-up spoils preserved the 27-year-old’s early-season championship lead.
Bird was delighted to finish third after almost 20 races away from the podium – describing the result as a ‘mini-victory’ in his 100th E-Prix, around a circuit at which he has always excelled.
Buemi wound up fourth – his best finish since the end of Season Six in his second start for Envision – with Rast ultimately upholding McLaren honours in fifth, snaring an extra point for posting fastest lap. Behind the German, Nick Cassidy (Envision) gained ground late on to make it three Jaguar-powered cars inside the top six.
Double champion Jean-Éric Vergne advanced five spots from his grid position to take the chequered flag seventh for DS Penske, ahead of Hughes, who faded over the second half of the race. André Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche) and Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans – who picked up a five-second penalty for contact with Rast on the first lap – completed the points-scorers.
Defending champion Stoffel Vandoorne (DS Penske) could manage no better than 11th despite an assertive opening tour, with Ticktum dropping to a disappointed 14th following his early heroics. Wehrlein’s Porsche team-mate – Season Six champion António Félix da Costa – was the race’s biggest casualty, the Portuguese ace finding himself caught up in a concertina effect just after the start that cost him his front wing and prompted a short safety car intervention.
The second leg of the Diriyah double-header – round three of the 2022/23 Formula E campaign – will get underway at 20:00 local time (18:00 CET) tomorrow (Saturday, 28 January).
Pascal Wehrlein, No. 94, TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, said:
“It feels incredible. I am so proud of these guys, unbelievable - what a car I had today. I mean from P9 to P1, amazing, I am so grateful to have this team. It has been a lot of work. We always wanted to achieve these kind of results, we had some highlights in the past but definitely this year we wanted to do a big step forward. I know how hard these guys are working, I am also quite often with them and pushing with everyone, especially after the testing in Valencia we were not looking that strong so I know how many hours everyone has put in. To start this well in the season in the first and second race is amazing, like I said I am just thankful for everyone and their hard work - we keep pushing."
Jake Dennis, No. 27, Avalanche Andretti Formula E, said:
"I wasn't at all [expecting to be on the podium]. I thought it was going to be quite difficult to overtake here with the mountain section being so fast, but my god the race car we have is just unbelievable. For me and Pascal to get another 1-2 from ninth and eleventh is testament to how much effort has gone in. Full credit to Avalanche Andretti for giving me the best race car today. We closed in on Pascal at the end, I was pushing to get the move done but when you're racing a guy with the same car it is difficult to pass. But I am so happy and we deserve this after a difficult qualifying. I had to stop him getting an eight-second lead, but yeah super pleased for everyone and another 1-2. I need to try and beat him tomorrow and beat everyone else, but nonetheless I can sleep well tonight."
Sam Bird, No. 10, Jaguar TCS Racing, said:
"It feels so good to be back on the podium, I can't tell you. It has been a rough twelve months, but Jaguar have been amazing - they have stuck by me, put their arm around me and also recently we had a very difficult Mexico to open the season. The amount of work, the amount of sleepless nights everyone in the team has had in order to get us to this point, this is a little mini victory for us. I get that Porsche will be taking the spoils - but for us and where we have come from, amazing. Congrats to everyone in the team - we keep pushing. I tried to place my car to make it difficult for Pascal, I know the grip out there is tricky, but he did a superb job. The Porsche is looking extremely decent on change of direction and minimum speed, so we have got a bit of homework to do tonight.”