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Gunther grabs victory for Maserati in Tokyo thriller

Written by Vyas Ponnuri


Max Gunther took his fifth Formula E victory — his first of 2024, making it five different winners in five races in season ten, ahead of Nissan's Oliver Rowland and Andretti's Jake Dennis, in a thrilling Tokyo E Prix that grew increasingly tense towards the latter stages.


Having started second, Gunther took the lead from pole-sitter Rowland, who appeared to hand the lead over to the German driver, in a bid to conserve energy and charge back to the front later in the race.


However, a superb series of laps saw Gunther retain his lead — despite taking attack mode later on. With low energy levels for the leading duo, the Maserati driver held on for victory, by the barest of margins from his chasing rival.


The pole-sitter for this race, Rowland eventually finished second, having led for 25 of the 35 laps, losing out on race victory to his Maserati rival. He would take a special podium in the sakura liveried Nissan, in front of the home crowd, with Nissan's headquarters not too far from the venue of the race.


Dennis eventually finished third, and despite having more energy left than the two ahead, he was locked into his own battle with the Porsche of Antonio Felix Da Costa, and admitted he was satisfied with third, in the post-race interview.


Da Costa eventually finished fourth, having spent a significant chunk of the race staring behind the rear wing of Edoardo Mortara, before moving ahead as the latter took his second attack mode of the race.


His teammate Pascal Wehrlein finished fifth, having snatched the position from Mortara at the final corner, drawing level on points with championship leader Nick Cassidy.


Edoardo Mortara finished sixth, but was disqualified after the race for over-consumption of energy. As a result, Nico Muller inherited sixth, an excellent return for the Swiss driver, bringing home ABT Cupra's first points of the season.


Championship leader Cassidy finished eighth, but was promoted to seventh after Mortara's disqualification, a fantastic return for the Jaguar driver, after a tough qualifying session saw him start 19th for the race. He would finish ahead of Robin Frijns, with ERT Racing's Sergio Sette Camara finishing ninth, and Rowland's teammate Sacha Fenestraz rounding out the top ten.


AS IT UNFOLDED

The Tokyo streets would always be tough to overtake on, and as such, qualifying well would go a long way in setting up the race for the drivers around the streets of Tokyo. An exciting qualifying session saw several front-runners fall by the wayside, with Rowland taking a popular pole position in front of his team's home crowd, from Gunther, with Mortara qualifying an exceptional third.


As the five red lights went out, Rowland got off to a good start, on the grippier side of the grid, with Mortara catapulting himself into second, eyeing up the lead from Rowland. Gunther slotted into third, ahead of Dennis, with Sette Camara making up the top five.


Turn 15 would always prove to be a tough spot to overtake at, and it would be the scene of an incident between McLaren's Jake Hughes and ABT Cupra's Lucas Di Grassi, with an attempt to overtake by the latter sending the McLaren racer into the barriers, on lap six. A brief yellow flag prevailed, with Hughes eventually getting underway once again.


McLaren's tough day got even worse, with both drivers pitting shortly after, and rejoining well down the order, and adrift of the rest of the pack, occupying the last two spots on the grid.


Up front, Sette Camara was slowly starting to drop off from the quartet ahead, and was quickly overtaken by the chasing Porsche duo of Wehrlein and Da Costa. The German soon scrapped with Dennis ahead, his attempts to overtake going in vain, as he lost out to his teammate Da Costa too, who soon overtook Dennis.


The race would be turned on its head soon after, when Mitch Evans attempted an ambitious lunge into turn 16, and outbraked himself, going into the barriers. The safety car was deployed, with debris scattered around the track, after Evans damaged his front wing after making contact with Frijns, and another incident between Di Grassi and Nyck de Vries saw both drivers make it into the pits for repairs.


The ensuing safety car would stay out till lap 22, meaning it would be another 11 tours before any laps were added, when the chequered flag waved. Rowland led from Gunther and Mortara, with Da Costa and Dennis rounding out the top five. Elsewhere, Cassidy had steadily made up ground from 19th, and was now only two spots away from points.


Rowland opted to give up the lead to Gunther on lap 24, in a bid to conserve energy by sitting in the slipstream of the Maserati ahead, having been lower on energy compared to the cars around him.


With free air ahead and one attack mode remaining, Gunther stretched the lead out front to as much as 1.7 seconds, before diving in for a dose of attack mode on lap 28 — and maintaining position to Rowland behind.


Mortara, who was running third in the race, took his final four minutes of attack mode on lap 30, with Da Costa moving into the podium places, and Dennis squeezing past the Mahindra, who appeared caught out by the Andretti suddenly appearing on the scene. The Mahindra driver would then have to fend off a chasing Wehrlein, who was running with damage to his front wing.


It was later announced that the race would have two added laps, taking the total length of the race to 35 laps. On lap 32, Norman Nato took his final attack mode, rejoining just into the path of Frijns. With no room on the outside of the corner, the Envision racer clattered into the Andretti ahead, breaking his front wing, and losing positions to cars behind.


Da Costa attempted to pass Rowland for second later around the speedy turn 15, but the Briton showed no interest to cede position, shuffling the Porsche racer towards the barrier. An opportunistic Dennis seized the incentive, and snatched third from Da Costa, relegating the Portuguese driver to fourth.


Rowland had soon caught back up to the Maserati ahead, and tried every opportunity to surge ahead, challenging at turns three, ten, and 15, before attempting one final move into turn 19. Nevertheless, with both drivers running out of energy, Gunther held on at the chequered flag, denying Rowland and Nissan what would have been an emphatic victory.


As a result of Mortara's disqualification and Cassidy's excellent recovery drive to seventh, the Kiwi retains the lead of the standings, albeit level on points with Wehrlein, who finished fifth, while Rowland's hat trick of podiums catapults the Yorkshireman into third, with Dennis only one point in tow.


As many as eight different teams finished in the top ten, with only Nissan and Porsche having both drivers score points, after an enthralling Tokyo E Prix.


TOKYO E PRIX: FINAL RESULTS

  1. Max Gunther (Maserati)

  2. Oliver Rowland (Nissan) - +0.755s

  3. Jake Dennis (Andretti) - + 1.405s

  4. Antonio Felix Da Costa (TAG Heuer Porsche) - +1.822s

  5. Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) - +3.897s

  6. Norman Nato (Andretti Formula E) - +4.573s

  7. Nico Muller (ABT Cupra) - +4.983s

  8. Nick Cassidy (Jaguar) - +5.542s

  9. Robin Frijns (Envision Racing) - +5.929

  10. Sergio Sette Camara (ERT Formula E Team) - +6.504s


The drivers' standings after round five at Tokyo are as follows:


  1. Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) - 63 points

  2. Nick Cassidy (Jaguar TCS Racing) - 61 points

  3. Oliver Rowland (Nissan Formula E Team) - 54 points

  4. Jake Dennis (Andretti Formula E) - 53 points

  5. Max Gunther (Maserati MSG) - 48 points


The teams' standings after round five at Tokyo are as follows:

  1. Jaguar TCS Racing - 100 points

  2. TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team - 83 points

  3.  Andretti Formula E - 70 points

  4. Nissan Formula E Team - 63 points

  5. DS Penske- 57 points

That caps off an exciting weekend from Tokyo! Do tune in for Formula E's next round in two weeks time, when the teams and drivers venture into the European stretch of the season, for the Italian double-header of the Formula E season, at Misano on 13th and 14th April, 2024.

UPDATE - Norman Nato's five-second penalty was overturned post-race, with the Frenchman reclassified sixth on the road for Andretti.

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