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Formula E preview: São Paulo

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

Seven weeks after last stepping out of their Gen3 Formula E machines in the night of Diriyah, 22 drivers and 11 teams will once again return to the racetracks, this time for the São Paulo E Prix, in the land of Samba, football, and a city known largely for its unpredictable weather, the Terra da Garoa (Land of Drizzle)

Aside from the vast cultural traditions followed, and the football craze in the country, the motorsport culture reigns supreme in Brazil, the Sennas, Piquets, and Fittipaldis being as much a household name as Pele or Maradona.

Likewise, the passionate Brazilian motorsport fans will have one of their own to cheer for during the São Paulo E Prix, with Formula E veteran Lucas Di Grassi, and youngster Sergio Sette Camara once again set to take to the grid on Saturday.

The Formula E Paddock would be glad to return to racing action once again, coming off an unforeseen seven-week hiatus induced by the last-minute cancellation of the Hyderabad E Prix, initially scheduled to take place between 8th and 10th February this year.

A lowdown on the season so far

With the last bit of Formula E action having taken place in late-January, around the tight and twisty Diriyah Street Circuit, let us recap the events from the duel in the desert.

The weekend was all about one driver: Nick Cassidy. Having come into the Diriyah double-header on the back of an excellent podium on debut for Jaguar, the Kiwi brought home another podium in race one of the weekend, finishing third.

He started third for the next race, remaining ice-cool to fend off a chasing duo of Robin Frijns and Oliver Rowland to take his first victory of the season — one that catapulted him into a comfortable 19-point championship lead to his closest competitor, Mexico E Prix winner Pascal Wehrlein. Picking up the fastest lap point after Jake Dennis' post-race penalty was icing on the cake for Cassidy.

As for Dennis, his weekend reflected the typical roller-coaster journey of any Formula E driver. A dominant win in race one, including the fastest lap, was followed by a sub-par showing in race two, as he was demoted out of the points after the post-race penalty for overtaking Cassidy's teammate Mitch Evans under yellow flags, late in the race.

Nissan had an underwhelming start to the season in Mexico City, but came to the party in round three at Diriyah, with Rowland taking pole position for the race, while teammate Sacha Fenestraz made it to the duels for the first time this season. Rowland would net a podium finish later that day, while his French-Argentine teammate finished in the top five, both drivers earning their first points on the day.

A dominant showing at Mexico was quickly left behind for Pascal Wehrlein, as he was simply unable to match his highs from season nine, only finishing eighth and seventh at Diriyah, and conceding the championship lead. Even still, he maintains his position to competitors Dennis, and the Penske duo of Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Speaking of the DS Penske duo, they have gone under the radar for the trio of rounds in season ten, quietly accumulating points along the way. While their drivers finished sixth and eighth in Mexico City, Vergne's pole in round two, and subsequent defensive drive to finish runners-up in the race later has helped the team to second in the teams' standings.

Vandoorne has started off his season with two points scores in three races, and returns to a location where he snared pole in season nine, the highlight of a tough season. He would look to channel the same drive and speed he showcased in qualifying last season, and bring himself into the championship fight.

The standings heading into São Paulo look as follows:

  1. Nick Cassidy (Jaguar TCS Racing) - 57 points

  2. Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) - 38 points

  3. Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Penske) - 33 points

  4. Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) - 28 points

  5. Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) - 21 points

The teams' standings ahead of round four at São Paulo are as follows:

  1. Jaguar TCS Racing - 78 points

  2. DS Penske - 47 points

  3. TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team - 38 points

  4. Avalanche Andretti - 37 points

  5. Envision Racing - 37 points

The racing course for the event

The São Paulo E Prix is set to take place along the 2.933 km (1.822 mi) long São Paulo Street Circuit, which has hosted four IndyCar races in its past iteration, before being declared as the host of the São Paulo E Prix from season nine.

Running alongside the Anhembi Sambadrome, the host of the famous carnival celebrations in the city, the circuit features plenty of straights linked by a series of corners. The track layout encourages overtaking, evidenced by 114 overtakes from the 2023 running of the event, with a whopping 11 lead changes in a 31-lap shootout.

The turn one-two-three complex is definitely a pinch-point for drivers, with most of the grid getting caught out by the narrow peripheries of this section. With drivers often running so close in the race, turn one is a major overtaking spot, with the ensuing corners making for plenty of side-by-side manoeuvres among drivers.

Get it wrong, though, and you'll pay a hefty price — as evidenced by Norman Nato and Edoardo Mortara's lap one nutcase, and Dennis getting it all wrong later in the race, in a desperate attempt to lunge past his championship Wehrlein into turn three, all in vain.

However, get it right off turn three, and an opportunity to pull off an overtake exists at the chicane consisting of turns four, five and six. This was a major overtaking point during season nine's race, with the preceding straight giving drivers an opportunity to settle behind their opponent for a slipstream, before making an overtake into turn four, and maintaining the position into turns five and six.

Another short straight ensues off this chicane, before the twin right-handers of turns seven and eight lead the drivers under the bridge, and along the left-hand kink of turn nine, before a left-hander into turn 10. This is an unorthodox section to pull off an overtake, as evidenced by Evans getting past Cassidy on lap 20 for the race lead last season.

Drivers will have to be alert on their brakes, as the right-hander of turn 11 quickly follows, taking them back onto the start/finish straight, for a lap of the São Paulo Street Circuit.

Drivers to keep an eye on

With the Jaguar powertrain expected to be strong once again around São Paulo's speedy street circuit, expect the works Jaguar duo of Nick Cassidy and Mitch Evans to slug it out at the head of the field once again,

The newer Kiwi in the Jaguar fold has upped his game in season ten, boasting a 100% record of podium finishes so far. Cassidy's efforts have given him a 19-point cushion to his nearest rival, and a victory in São Paulo would only help in his quest for the elusive world championship.

As for Evans, he comes into the São Paulo E Prix as the previous winner of the event, emerging victorious in a race witnessing a fierce jostle for the lead.

While his form this season has been patchy after a mistake-ridden Diriyah weekend, he would definitely enjoy coming to a track he has done well around. Evans is a driver who can absolutely get it right when he is in his zone, and a win this weekend would definitely put him in good stead, rejuvenating his championship hopes.

The Porsche-powered championship rivals Jake Dennis and Pascal Wehrlein would be itching to begin on a high note, coming off an underwhelming start to the season, compared to season nine, when both drivers sat one and two in the championship standings, sharing three victories.

While the Porsche powertrain may not possess the same level of performance as their Jaguar counterparts, the duo would be looking to stay closer to their rivals, in order to pick up the scraps in the event of a coming-together ahead, or even look to mount a battle for victory, as Wehrlein's teammate Antonio Felix Da Costa showed last year.

The DS Penske duo of Vergne and Vandoorne would fancy their chances around the Brazilian capital too. Vergne currently sits third in the championship, having taken pole position and a podium at Diriyah. While Vandoorne hasn't had the same level of success, he was on pole for season nine's running of the event, and would look to channel the same energy going into this weekend's race.

Finally, do keep an eye on home heroes: ABT Cupra's Lucas Di Grassi and ERT Formula E Team's Sergio Sette Camara, the latter having made it to the duels in round two at Diriyah. The advantage of racing at home could spur them to go that extra mile to net a strong result, and thrill the home crowd.

What are the timings for the event?

The timings for the event are as follows, in UTC:

Free Practice 1 - Friday, 15th March, 2024: 16:25 - 17:15 local time (19:25 - 20:15 UTC)

Free Practice 2 - Saturday, 16th March, 2024: 7:25 - 8:15 local time (10:25 - 11:15 UTC)

Qualifying - Saturday, 16th March, 2024: 9:40 - 11:03 local time (12:40 - 14:03 UTC)

Main Race - Saturday, 16th March, 2024: 14:03 - 15:30 local time (17:03 - 18:30 UTC)

A quick recap of last year's race

Simply put: A race no driver wanted to lead.

The long straights and multiple overtaking zones meant no driver wanted to stay out in front, as they would be consuming more energy staying ahead, while giving their chasing rivals a slipstream, allowing for greater efficiency in managing energy.

While Stoffel Vandoorne took his only pole position of the season at São Paulo, the race quickly turned into a battle between the Jaguar duo of Mitch Evans and Sam Bird, as well as Nick Cassidy, driving for the Jaguar-powered Envision Racing back then.

Antonio Felix Da Costa too put his name into the mix, while his teammate Wehrlein hovered around the lower end of the points, coming off better in a turn three nutcase with Jake Dennis, who would retire from the race.

While the top six, involving the Jaguar duo, Cassidy, Da Costa's Porsche, and the DS Penske duo of Vergne and Vandoorne were initially in the lead pack, with as many as 11 changes for the lead, the Jaguar powertrain proved more efficient to its Penske and Porsche counterparts, with Evans, Cassidy, and Sam Bird eventually locked into a battle for victory.

The trio were separated by the slender margin of half a second across the finishing line, making it a clean sweep of Jaguar powertrains on the podium.

The race was much-loved by fans, having witnessed as many as 114 overtakes across 31 laps of racing plus four added laps of the race.

Another exciting race awaits us this weekend; Credit - Simon Galloway

My predictions for the race

With the Jaguar powertrains proving superior across last year's race, and the same expected for this year's event too, I would predict a race win for Mitch Evans, a crucial result to restart a championship charge. Cassidy will continue his podium run this season, with the other step on the podium set to be a battle between multiple drivers.

I will predict big points for the DS Penske drivers too this weekend, with both drivers building on their starts to the season.

Finally, I predict one of the home heroes Di Grassi or Sette Camara finishing in the points, being spurred on by the home crowd in their quest to bring home a strong result.

That's it, then. Do make sure to tune in for the live action on Friday, with the first practice session of an exciting race weekend set to get underway.


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