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The races included both professional esports as well as full-time Formula E drivers battling it out in a virtual format, with all proceeds going to UNICEF
The first round of the ABB Formula E Race At Home challenge took off on April 25 at the Hong Kong Central Harbourfront Circuit after the test run at Monaco. The ABB Formula E Race At Home challenge features all the teams and drivers from the ABB FIA Formula E championship as well as a selection of the world’s fastest gamers.
The Race At Home challenge comprises two distinct grids, the Driver grid consisting of the stars of the Formula E Championship competing head to head, and the Challenge grid, formed in part by open online qualifiers, featuring a selection of the fastest gamers and influencers on the esports scene. Through the medium of the races, the Formula E manufacturers, drivers and fans will be raising funds for UNICEF to keep children around the world healthy safe and learning during the coronavirus crisis.
Now, considering the races themselves, we can draw many parallels between the Race At Home challenge and the Virtual F1, however, while the Virtual F1 is based on only race victories, the Race At Home challenge consist of point scoring rounds. The season will consist of seven points going around leading to a double-header grand final, to be held on the weekend of June 6-7, where it’ll be double points on offer for the winner and the honour of being the first Race At Home champion. Additionally, in the Challenge grid, the grand final race winner will also win a chance to drive in a Gen 2 Formula E car, along with a place in the BMW Sim M2 CS cup finals in Munich
Qualifying at each event was a hurried fare. Both the Challenge and Driver grid set out in groups of six in a series of one-lap qualifiers to determine the order of the grid. Yes, you read that right: out lap, flying lap, done...and that too at a street circuit!
For the Challenge grid qualifiers, Petar Brljak, driving in NIO 333 Racing colours, set the fastest time in a strongly-contested session which saw top 11 drivers coming in within a second of the leader, with Tag Heuer Porsche’s Joshua Rogers and Geox Dragon’s Peyo Peev setting an identical 59.722-second time. Olli Pahkala and Lucas Muller, running the Mahindra Racing colours, finished fourth and seventh respectively. Meanwhile, Peev’s Geox Dragon teammate Joel Erikkson ran into technical problems, causing him to start dead last on the grid.
For the Driver grid qualifiers, Mercedes-Benz EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne set the fastest time, winning the Julius Baer pole position. Now, while the actual Julius Baer Pole position winner gets a rolling trophy, in case of the Race At Home challenge, the pole position elicits an additional €1000 donation by Julius Baer bank, to UNICEF. The racer qualifying second was Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein, followed by BMW iAndretti Motorsport’s Maximilian Gunther. The top three racers were a class of their own, finishing within two-tenths of a second of each other. Meanwhile, DS Techeetah’s Antonio Felix Da Costa crashed into the wall after Corner 3 and spun out, causing him to qualify last, 7 seconds behind Nissan E.Dams’ Sebastien Buemi.
The online events use the Race Royale format over 15 laps, where the last driver in the end of each lap is eliminated. The pressure will build until only 12 will remain, leaving a single-lap sprint to the finish line. Also, while the damage setting in the Virtual F1 was switched off, the damage setting here was set at 80 per cent, as opposed to the 25 per cent it was during the test race at Monaco. Lastly, it bears mentioning that being electric, racers here aren’t starting heavier (as there’s no fuel to consider) and aren’t in any need of regeneration (due to the overall low length of the race) which mean they can afford to mostly go flat out all thorough, or as long as the tyre degradation setting (also switched on) would allow.
For the Challenge grid, the racers set off with Petar Brljak going into the wall right into Corner 1 (a decreasing-radius hairpin) and just about hanging onto his spot, with Joshua Rogers coming up to second, as he swooped through the inside of most of the racers who were unable to take a tight enough line. Meanwhile, one of the Mercedes cars, as a result of sustained contact with the car just ahead, flipped over.
Going into lap two, Brljak was leading, with Joshua Rogers 0.588 seconds behind him, with BMW iAndretti’s Kevin Siggy in third and Olli Pahkala in fourth. This same sequence continued for the next lap as well, though Rogers crawled in a bit closer, now 0.437 seconds behind Brljak. At the end of lap three, Tag Heuer Porsche’s Mike Channel was eliminated.
In lap four, Brljak was able to discover a small burst of speed, building up almost a second’s lead with Rogers. Meanwhile Peyo Peev, now in last place, went into the Corner 1 run-off, effectively eliminating him. Lap 5 started with some contact between the front-runners, causing the gaps between them to reduce marginally. Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Zbigniew Siara was eliminated at the end of the lap.
By Lap 6, Brljak had some more instances of slides (and consequently damage), which saw his lead over Rogers diminish further. However, being a street circuit, chances of overtaking were few and far between.
Lap after lap, Brljak was missing the apex of Corner 1; however he was able to bring the car’s rear around just in the nick of time, not letting Rogers through. For his part, Rogers was constantly breathing down his neck, leading to quite a bit of contact between the two front-runners. A bit further down the pack, Mahindra Racing eammates Pahkala and Muller had Rokit Venturi Racing’s Erhan Jajovski hemmed in. However, with just four laps to go, DS Techeetah’s James Rossiter fought up the grid to just 2 seconds behind Jajovski, with Muller having fallen down the order, ultimately getting eliminated at the end of lap 13.
In the penultimate lap of the race, Rogers looked almost ready to grab the lead, though Brljak was able to find a burst of speed just at the nick of time. Not to be outdone, Rogers stayed in Brljak slipstream, finally taking the lead in Corner 6. For his part, Kevin Siggy, too, kept the pressure going.
The last lap saw Brljak pulling his same late-apex/rear-wheel-slide manoeuvre on Siggy, ultimately widening the gap between him and front-runner Rogers. This was chiefly because being a points-based race, Brljak, already smarting from being dethroned, was not going to lose another spot to Siggy. The race ended with Joshua Rogers taking the win (and the 25 points), followed by Petar Brljak and Kevin Siggy.
For the Driver grid, Stoffel Vandoorne’s fortunes were untouched by Corner 1; not so for Wehrlein, who was pushed to third by some clever manoeuvring by Envision Virgin Racing’s Nick Cassidy. However, Wehrlein did his best to hold on to his position, and was running alongside Cassidy till the Corners 3-4 chicanes.
Coming into Lap 2, Da Costa, who was last on the starting grid, already climbed up to 13th place, before some inadvertent contact pushed him to 19th. Lap 3 started with contact between Mio 333’s Ma Quinghua and BMW iAndretti’s Alexander Sims. Up front, Max Gunther was still in the lead, followed by Nick Cassidy and DS Techeetah’s Jean Eric Vergne briefly pushing Wehrlein to fourth, before the Mahindra racer regained his spot. By the end of the lap, Vandoorne had been pushed down to the sixth place, while his Mercedes Benz EQ teammate Nyck De Vries was eliminated.
By Lap 5, Vandoorne had moved up a spot, while Vergne, who had been running at fourth, got abruptly disconnected, causing him to be summarily eliminated. Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s James Calado was next in line, his crash causing him to be about 13 seconds behind Sebastien Buemi, who was running 19th.
At the halfway point, Max Gunther was holding on to his lead, almost a second ahead of Cassidy and almost three seconds ahead of Wehrlein. Ma Quinghua was still fending off Tag Heuer Porsche’s Neel Jani, while trying to catch up to Alexander Sims, who had now made up a 1.5-second lead. Meanwhile, Lotterer was the next to be eliminated, with Da Costa joining him by the end of the lap.
Lap 9 started out with a bit of excitement in the joust between Nissan E.Dams’ Oliver Rowland and Nio 333’s Oliver Turvey, who had some contact, and then were running virtually wheel-to-wheel through most of the stretch till Corner 2, where Turvey finally made his move. The rest of the lap saw the status quo maintained.
The final third of the race started off with Cassidy, while less than a second behind leader Gunther, who had still progressed a good three seconds ahead of Wehrlein. However, Wehrlein himself was 4.5 seconds away from Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns (fourth), and a staggering 11 seconds ahead of Oliver Turvey (sixth).
The Pre-penultimate lap saw Cassidy trying to close the gap with Gunther, and likewise for Wehrlein. The track, by now, consisted of two different groups. The top five (Gunther, Cassidy, Wehrlein, Frijns and Vandoorne), the next two (Turvey and Rowland), and the back bunch (Rokit Venturi’s Felipe Massa, Wehrlein’s Mahindra teammate D’Ambrosio, Alexander Sims, Ma Qinghua, Tag Heuer Porsche’s Neel Jani, Geox Dragon’s Nico Mueller) and back marker Rokit Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara.
With one lap to go, Gunther was once again able to extend his lead to 1.3 seconds, while Turvey and Rowland were still battling for seventh place. The final lap saw Gunther pulling ahead a further half-a-second, ultimately winning the first race of the Formula E Race At Home challenge, followed by Nick Cassidy, and Pascal Wehrlein. Birthday boy, Rokit Venturi Racing’s Felipe Massa finished eighth, his top-ten finish netting him some points for the season, as did Jerome D’Ambrosio who finished ninth, leading to a double points finish for the Mahindra Racing team.