The Gripping Storylines from the Desert of Diriyah
Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Simran Kanthi
Following an enthralling Mexico City E-Prix, the first of the new GEN3 era of Formula E, the bandwagon headed to the desert of Ad-Diriyah for the next two rounds of the 2023 Formula E season. Once again, it would be unknown who would come out on top over the weekend.
While one driver was truly dominant over the weekend and his closest rival followed him home in second, there were more gripping stories up and down the field, including a new pole-sitter and others getting their first points of the season, topped up with a spicy finish to the weekend. Who stole the show in the first double-header of the season? We take a look at the top stories from the second weekend of the GEN3 era…..
Wehrlein for the ‘W’ - Twice!
If there was one driver who certainly stamped his authority over the grid at Diriyah, it is none other than Pascal Wehrlein. The German Porsche driver used the efficient Porsche powertrain, carving his way up from ninth in round two and taking the lead from Sam Bird after an enthralling sequence of laps, before holding off his fellow Porsche-powered Andretti driver Jake Dennis in the late stages to take his second Formula E victory.
The German tripled his victory tally from before the weekend with another dominant display in round three, coming through from fifth this time, taking the lead from compatriot Rene Rast when he took his second attack mode of the race. It was a lead he held through a Safety Car period and never relinquished till the chequered flag, ahead of Dennis once again. Wehrlein's Diriyah dominance saw him take the lead in the championship from Dennis and leads by six points now.
With Wehrlein and Dennis taking early victories and top two finishes, stamping their authority over the early stage of the season, one would wonder if this is turning into a proper battle for the championship.
Hughes flourishes in the twilight at Diriyah
While Wehrlein's drives in the race stood out, one driver admittedly enjoyed qualifying around the tight confines of the Diriyah circuit. And that driver was McLaren's Jake Hughes. Having already shown his speed in qualifying two weeks prior in Mexico City, the Englishman went two better in Diriyah, securing his maiden pole position - bettering Jaguar's Mitch Evans by 0.1 seconds - in round three.
This was one better than his qualifying performance in round two, Hughes only losing out to Envision's Sebastian Buemi. All his qualifying runs saw him carry a lot of speed through the "bobsleigh" section, the Englishman even clipping the wall on occasion, coming into corners sideways at times. As said by Hughes himself, “this is Formula E, I can't leave anything on the track”, he regularly set the timing screens alight, constantly bettering his previous lap times.
His performances faded in the race, finishing eighth and fifth respectively, the latter being in a situation when he ran out of energy at the line. One could give Hughes the benefit of the doubt there, as the scenario is different from qualifying to race, and Nissan still has ground to make up to match their powertrain competitors' efficiency.
Rast brings home McLaren’s first podium
It wasn't just one but both papaya-orange cars enjoying success under the lights at Diriyah. Following his DNF late in Mexico City, Rast arrived at Diriyah looking for some better fortunes.
The German definitely enjoyed the twisty nature of the Diriyah circuit, making it into the duels' stage of qualifying for the first time, losing out to Jaguar's Sam Bird in the quarter-finals in round two. He still secured a strong fifth-place start for the race. Rast drove a composed race later to finish fifth and add to his growing tally of fastest laps in Formula E.
And in round three, Rast went even better in qualifying, making it to the semi-finals after getting the better of the more-fancied Wehrlein. He lost out to Mitch Evans in the semi-finals but would start third in the race. Come to the race, Rast kept up with the top two, even jumping Evans for the lead after both had taken their first attack modes. He even built a gap of two seconds to the Jaguar driver, before losing out to Wehrlein and Dennis. Rast's stern defence of third against Sam Bird, even having no energy left at one point on the last lap, earned him a podium finish, his and McLaren's first of the season. He will be motivated, hungry for success, and more of the same as the season progresses.
Sebastian Buemi joins Vergne at the top
While McLaren took home a historic first podium in the sport, Sebastian Buemi too had a moment to savour, taking his 15th pole position in Formula E, joint-highest with Jean-Eric Vergne at the top. The Swiss driver followed a consistent trend across the weekend, using less of the performance from his tyres in sector one, which gave him more grip and traction for the latter half of the lap. This approach paid off in qualifying in both races, the first seeing him get pole position and the second giving him a strong start position of fourth.
Round two saw Buemi take a strong fourth-place finish, only losing out to Wehrlein, Dennis, and fellow Jaguar-powered driver Bird. In round three, Buemi was running in the lower half of the points for most of the race, until the last lap, when he used his smarts to get past Evans for sixth, losing out to Hughes by the slender margin of 0.078 seconds. It capped off another great weekend for the Swiss driver.
In addition, Buemi made his 100th race start in the sport, along with Bird and Vergne.
Fenestraz and Ticktum redeem themselves; Maserati get off the mark
Having qualified strongly in Mexico City, both Dan Ticktum and Sacha Fenestraz found themselves at the receiving end of the stewards and had reliability issues, finishing outside the points.
Ticktum continued his upswing of qualifying form at Diriyah, making it to the semi-finals in round two, only losing out to Jake Hughes. He netted a best start position of fourth but couldn't sustain the same performance in the race, dropping out of the points by the end. The second race saw the Englishman start only 11th but took home the final point in 10th in a dramatic finish.
Fenestraz couldn't match his qualifying highs from Mexico City but climbed through the field from 12th to finish eighth by the chequered flag in round three, taking his and Nissan's first points of the season.
Another team that saw light at the end of the tunnel at Diriyah was Maserati MSG Racing. After their horror showing at Mexico City and in round two at Diriyah, round three saw Edoardo Mortara make it to the duels stage of qualifying for the first time this season. Although he lost out to Evans in the quarter-finals, he netted a start position of seventh, making it a vastly improved showing for Maserati, with Maximilian Guenther starting tenth for the race.
The race saw Mortara run in the high points initially, a strong start seeing the Swiss driver leap up to fifth at the start before gradually losing out to his competitors, taking home a ninth place finish and first points for him and the team of the season.
These were some of the stories that warmed the hearts of the fans during the double-header at Diriyah. Tune in for the next round of the Formula E season, as the caravan heads to a new location, Hyderabad, for a single race on 11 February.