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Formula E Preview: Diriyah

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

After the fiesta in Mexico kicked off the 2024 Formula E season, the caravan heads to the desert of Diriyah, for Formula E's only weekend of night racing on the calendar. The track has quickly become a staple on the Formula E calendar, having hosted its first race in November 2019.

Teams and drivers will also tackle what is the first double header of the calendar, in a year consisting of as many as six double-headers in total. 

While some left Mexico City in high spirits, others were disappointed by their first outing in new machinery, most notably Dan Ticktum, who was the victim of a qualifying shunt earlier, before running out of tyres late in the race, as he dropped back to over a minute off the leader by the chequered flag, finishing 18th out of 18 runners at the flag. 

While Ticktum will be looking forward to a better showing in Diriyah, the driver who left Mexico the happiest would be Porsche’s Pascal Wehrlein, who continued his strong run in the country, notching up another win around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, having taken his fourth pole position earlier. 

Nick Cassidy would count himself satisfied too, having earned third on Jaguar debut, as he outscored his new teammate Mitch Evans on the day. Splitting Wehrlein and Cassidy was the latter’s former teammate Sebastian Buemi, proving Envision were still a force to be reckoned with this year. 

Max Gunther capitalised on post-qualifying penalties to finish fourth for Maserati MSG, while his rookie teammate Jehan Daruvala had a solid outing on debut, qualifying 17th, and finishing only one spot higher in the race. The Indian driver kept himself out of trouble, on a day of three retirements from the race, and will be looking for another solid showing in the desert. 

Another team that would be bitterly disappointed after the Mexico City round would be Avalanche Andretti, with both drivers failing to make the duels, and winding up as the last of the points scorers on race day, in ninth and tenth. 

Knowing how efficient the Porsche powertrain proved in Mexico, both Jake Dennis and Norman Nato would be raring to go in Diriyah, with even more points on offer, and the recent form around the track bodes well for the American team too. 

However, their biggest challenger will be none other than last season’s Diriyah winner Pascal Wehrlein, who took both victories in the double-header last season, with Dennis in second both times. The German will most certainly be buoyed by his form guide at the winding Diriyah track, and will look to emulate his showing from season nine, and build on his championship lead. 

With double the delight for fans, and double the races this weekend, there’s plenty to look forward to for everybody, as we gear up for yet another electric racing spectacle in the desert. 

A Lap of the Diriyah E Prix circuit

A lap around this twisty, curvy Diriyah track kicks off with a short straight down to the left-hander of turn one, a tricky, medium speed left-hander that can prove tricky for drivers. It is most certainly not the ideal overtaking spot, and things can certainly go wrong if a move isn’t executed properly — with Sam Bird misjudging an overtake on Alex Lynn in 2021, a perfect example of this. 

A quick run around the Diriyah Flagpole Square takes the drivers onto turn four, a sharper right-hander, giving the drivers a bit of a breather before they take the series of high-adrenaline quick corners, spanning turns five to 14. 

Precision is important along this section, with one corner’s exit setting up the next one’s entry, and one moment off the racing line, or a misjudgement can send you into the barriers — just like it did for Max Gunther in qualifying last season, or Alexander Sims in 2022. 

This series of ten corners allows drivers to push their Formula E machines right to the extremities of the circuit, making for some exhilarating moments in qualifying, a prime example being Jake Hughes run to pole position in round three last season, a special lap to fetch a maiden pole for the Briton. 

Another speed section leads into the left-hander at turn 15, before the winding right hander of turns 16 and 17, arguably the most important turn on the circuit. The traction and drive off this corner is important, as it leads onto a long straight. 

At the end of this straight is a slow right-hander of turn 18, the main overtaking spot on the circuit. The curvature of this turn, along with the following left-hander, makes this scene a popular overtaking spot. Edoardo Mortara’s double-overtake into turn 18 in 2021 still remains one of the iconic Formula E overtakes to this day. 

A quick right-hander separates into the pit lane and the racetrack, before the right hander of turn 21 takes the drivers past the finish line, and on a lap of the track. 

The attack mode is situated on the outside of turn 19, the scene of overtakes on the track, and expect some action on the exit of this corner, should a driver attempt to take attack mode, and rejoin in the path of an ensuing driver. 

The start and finish lines are situated at different parts of the track, the starting grid on the long straight between turns 17 and 18, and the finish line just after turn 21. 

Who are the favourites for victory? Whom to watch out for?

Naturally, picking a favourite for a Formula E race weekend is no easy feat. However, one driver would certainly back his chances of winning, and maybe even clean-sweeping the weekend. 

Yes, Pascal Wehrlein swept the race weekend in season nine, coming from far behind on the grid to win both races, with championship rival Jake Dennis in second. The efficiency of the Porsche powertrain was evident during the race days, as both drivers made up for qualifying struggles. Coming off a strong victory at Mexico, expect Wehrlein to be on form right from the outset, and the chasing pack will have their work cut out. 

Reigning champion Jake Dennis finished second both times in season nine, and would be eyeing a return to form on a circuit he's done well at, in the recent past. Given the efficiency of the Porsche powertrain, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him battling for victory

Nick Cassidy would be another driver in the shout for victory at Diriyah, despite his prior record at the track. His adaptability proved key last time out in Mexico City, as he finished on the podium for Jaguar, beating more established teammate Mitch Evans. Should Cassidy take another podium at Diriyah, he would firmly be in the reckoning for the championship.

Finally, do keep an eye on Envision Racing's Sebastian Buemi and NEOM McLaren's Jake Hughes, the duo having taken both pole positions on offer in 2023. They would look to put on a stronger performance in the race this year, having scored points earlier out Mexico City.

Past Winners at this track

2023 - Pascal Wehrlein won both races held at the circuit in season nine, coming from behind on the grid to take victory on both occasions.

2022 - Nyck de Vries won the first race of the season, while Edoardo Mortara triumphed in race two

2021 - Nyck de Vries took his first Formula E victory in Diriyah, which was also hosting the season opener for the first time, while Sam Bird won race two of the weekend for Jaguar.

How many laps is the race for?

Both races will run for 39 laps each, without taking into account any added laps for safety car periods during the race.

Prediction for the Weekend

Being a double-header, it would be harder to make one bold prediction. However, expect Pascal Wehrlein to win atleast one race on the weekend, while the other race will be an intriguing battle for victory. With as many as five contenders for race victory, I predict Nick Cassidy coming out on top for Jaguar, amid this hotly-contested tussle for victory

All in all, the first double header of the 2024 Formula E season promises to be an enthralling affair on track. Do tune in for the brace of races over the weekend, with race one on Friday, 26th January, and race two on Saturday, 27th January, action kicking off with Free Practice one for round two on Thursday, at 6pm track time (3pm GMT) and the second race of the weekend slotting in all four sessions in a day.


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