Jean-Éric Vergne produced an energy-saving masterclass in the inaugural Hyderabad E-Prix today (11 February), holding off a pack of pursuers to secure his 11th victory in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship and ignite his challenge for a third career crown.
DS Penske’s tough season so far showed signs of turning around when Vergne finished seventh two weeks ago in Diriyah, and that momentum continued as the Frenchman lined up second on the grid in India.
In front of FIA President Mohammed Ben Seluyem and a sell-out crowd at the lakeside Hyderabad Street Circuit, he maintained that position in the opening stages of the race behind pole-sitter Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing). He looked primed to grab the lead on lap seven when the New Zealander took his first Attack Mode, only for the opportunistic Sébastien Buemi to carve past the pair of them in one fell swoop in his Envision Racing single-seater.
Vergne stayed second after both he and Buemi had activated their own Attack Modes – with Evans slipping to third – and the top two were gifted a sizeable advantage when a collision at the hairpin on lap 13 removed four of the other front-runners from contention.
A misjudgement by Sam Bird saw the Briton slide into Jaguar stablemate Evans – who had just been beginning to close back in on Buemi and Vergne – with Sacha Fenestraz (Nissan Formula E Team) and Maserati MSG Racing’s Maximilian Günther caught up as collateral damage.
In their second ‘home’ race, both Jaguars were out, while Fenestraz – following an excellent run in only his fifth Formula E outing – and Günther found themselves heavily delayed. The incident dashed the hopes of Maserati, who like DS Penske demonstrated much-improved form in India but saw Edoardo Mortara lose his front wing early on after tagging Nick Cassidy’s Envision Racing entry.
The four-car fracas at the hairpin elevated Cassidy – the architect of a stellar start from ninth on the grid and a strong opening stint – to third ahead of René Rast (NEOM McLaren Formula E Team), with Mexico City winner Jake Dennis vaulting up four spots from ninth into fifth for Avalanche Andretti, having qualified outside of the top ten.
Up at the front, meanwhile, Vergne utilised his second Attack Mode approaching mid-distance to snatch the lead from Buemi, who subsequently also fell behind team-mate Cassidy – the Envision duo stalked by the stealth-like Dennis.
The ultra-efficient Cassidy – saving significantly more energy than any of his immediate rivals – next set his sights on Vergne, turning up the wick as the race approached its final quarter, but an incident for Jake Hughes’ McLaren on lap 23 brought out the safety car. And at the re-start, further drama would ensue...
With the field suddenly bunched up, fifth-placed Rast ran into the back of Dennis at the hairpin, spelling an early bath for the former and sending the latter scurrying for the pits, dealing a blow to his championship charge.
Worse still for the Briton, it elevated his chief title rival Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) to seventh, behind Oliver Rowland – on Mahindra Racing’s home soil – António Félix da Costa in the sister Porsche and defending champion Stoffel Vandoorne (DS Penske), who had begun the E-Prix right the way down in 17th position. And there were still more twists to come.
As Cassidy redoubled his efforts to find a way past Vergne – with Buemi acting as rear-gunner – Rowland tried to take advantage, but his attempt to steal third from the 2015/16 title-winner only succeeded in allowing da Costa to sneak past into fourth.
Despite receiving a track limits warning and beginning the last lap with four per cent less energy than Cassidy, Vergne – showcasing all of the skill that made him a two-time Formula E champion – held on to the chequered flag to deny the New Zealander by just four tenths-of-a-second.
Buemi crossed the line third but was subsequently penalised for over-power use, relegating him to 15th and promoting da Costa to the podium in his 100th E-Prix – the Portuguese ace’s maiden rostrum appearance for Porsche.
Team-mate Wehrlein – having run 15th early on – ultimately wound up fourth, extending his championship lead in the process, with Sérgio Sette Câmara a superb fifth for NIO 333 Racing, the Brazilian’s best result in just under two years.
Rowland finished sixth ahead of Norman Nato in seventh for Nissan. Vandoorne ended up eighth after picking up a track limits penalty, with Avalanche Andretti’s André Lotterer ninth from virtually the back of the grid and Mortara recovering to snare the final point on offer in tenth.
Formula E’s 2022/23 campaign continues with another new race in Cape Town, South Africa, on 25 February.
Jean-Éric Vergne, No. 25, DS PENSKE, said:
“I’m very, very happy. It was a tough race – I had to defend quite hard at the end but we somehow managed to win it. It was a clean race, no mistakes. Very happy with the win today. It’s good for everyone’s heart in our team. For the first few races it’s good to boost it with a good race like that so couldn’t be happier. I like new tracks - I think it’s cool. Especially this one – it’s a lot of fun. When there is a lot of little secrets to find on the track, I probably find them quickly enough.”
Nick Cassidy, No. 37, Envision Racing, said:
“I mean I had a really good car today - huge thanks to all my guys. I think at the races this year we’ve been pretty good. I really feel for Mitch and Jaguar today because they’re a great partner and they’ve started the season very strongly. I think the package we have is really strong and so I’m super sorry to see them go out the race like that. (On reason behind having no duels this season but getting on the podium). Apart from we’re good in races? Honestly, we’re there in quali as well. Riyadh, Mexico and here, the difference between P1 and being in the duals and being P5 has been two-tenths. There’s not a big margin between 5th and starting 10th or potentially pole. That day will come.”
António Felix da Costa, No. 13, TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, said:
“It felt like it meant to be. The race actually started really well and then I got squeezed by Dennis and I lost a lot of positions. But we stayed calm and worked our way back to the front slowly, and managed our energy. It hasn’t been an easy start for me. It was an emotional day for me looking back at the now 100 races or the 99 races before and where I am and things not working out like I want them to be. I can’t be satisfied with the way I am qualifying at the moment. Having said that, I have an amazing team behind me, always pushing me and giving me the tools. So I know it’s only a matter of time before we do a better job in qualifying and obviously the car can race really well. And yeah I’m really happy I came all the way to India and got a podium in my 100th race. So much happened. I got angry, I was happy, I was calm, I was stressed. But again, I worked well with the team throughout the whole race and I guess that’s the experience of 100 races if I’m honest -starting there and coming all the way here.”