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Both racers, flying the Mahindra Racing flag, displayed sensational pole-to-flag victories, handily upsetting the championship status quo
The first of two rounds comprising the grand final of the FIA ABB Formula E Race At Home Challenge kicked off on May 6, once again at the Brooklyn street circuit, also known as the Red Hook circuit, in New York, USA, a 2.373km circuit with 14 turns. As before, the challenge comprised 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 aim to raise funds for UNICEF to keep children around the world healthy, safe and learning during the coronavirus crisis.
As before, the Race At Home challenge consists of point scoring rounds, with his being the double-header grand final, with double points on offer for the winner and the honour of being the first Race At Home champion. 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.
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. However today’s qualifying session held a special importance, as the championship order in this race set the base for the one-time shootout: the final race at Berlin.
This time around the Drivers grid qualifying happened first. Coming into the weekend, Mercedes-Benz EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne led the championship with 105 points, followed by Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein with 104 points, and BMW iAndretti’s Maximilian Gunther in third place with a distant 73 points. For the qualifiers, the racers went out in pole position, with points to win for pole position and fastest lap.
There were also two new drivers for the final two rounds, with South African racer Kelvin Van Der Linde joining Lucas Digrassi as the second driver for Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler, after Daniel Abt’s suspension two weeks ago, and Joel Eriksson replacing Nico Mueller in the Geox Dragon team.
For the Driver’s grid qualifiers, it was Pascal Wehrlein with the fastest time of 1:11.175 minutes, winning a point and equalling Vandoorne’s overall points tally, with debutant Van Der Linde just 0.274 seconds slower in second place and Nissan E.Dams’ Sebastien Buemi in third place. This was Wehrlein’s second pole position so far in the championship. In fact, Wehrlein has consistently been in the top three the entire championship, except for race 2 in Monaco.
For the Challenge grid, Kevin Siggy, flying the BMW iAndretti flag, was leading the championship with 129 points before the qualifiers, followed by Peyo Peev from Geox Dragon with 76 points, and Lucas Muller from Mahindra Racing with 74 points.
Going into the qualifiers, Lucas Muller set the fastest time of 1:11.006 minutes, followed by Kevin Siggy at 1:11.081 minutes, with row 2 comprising Tag Heuer Porsche’s Joshua Rogers (1:11.318 minutes) and Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Petar Brljak (1:11.382 minutes).
As always, the online events used the Race Royale format over 15 laps. Here, post Lap 3, the last driver in the end of each lap is eliminated. The pressure builds until only 12 racers remain, leaving a single-lap sprint to the finish line.
Race – Challenge grid
As the racers set off, Mueller held on to his lead, followed by Siggy and Rogers, with Brljak falling to P5 and DS Techeetah’s Kush Maini taking P4. The order stayed unchanged going into the next lap as well. The next lap saw the battle for the final points-paying position heating up between Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Alisdair Irvine (P10), BMW iAndretti’s Cem Bolukbasi (P11) and Nissan E.Dams’ Niek Jacobs. Soon however, DS Techeetah’s Nuno Pinto passed Bolukbasi, causing only Jacobs and Irvine to stay in the fray.
At the end of the lap, Kevin Muller was still leading at seven-tenths ahead of Siggy, with Rogers in third, while Axel La Flamme was eliminated. By the next lap, Siggy was just three-tenths behind the leader and was raring to make a move, however Muller was holding on to his spot, and by the end of the lap was able to get back to six-tenths ahead, with Rogers now closing in on Siggy. Starting lap 7, and the pressure on Siggy seemed to increase with both Muller and Rogers upping the pace. On more than one occasion, Siggy’s late apexes had Rogers almost closing in, but not before the former’s drive out of the corners.
At the back of the pack, Jacobs was still pursuing Irvine (still P10), from 0.7 seconds behind. With the final third of the race to bear, Mueller was now over a second-and-a-half ahead of Siggy.
Side note – With Lucas Mueller running Wehrlein's Mahindra Racing car, he’s got the attention of Mahindra Racing team principal Dilbagh Gill, who wished him good luck for the race, and he (Mueller) even wore a Mahindra Racing t-shirt during the race.
With four laps to go, the positions throughout the race were still basically unchanged. The top three were still Mueller, Siggy and Rogers, with Maini in P4 and Irvine in P10. In P11, however, Bolukbasi finally saw an opening and leapt, bagging P11 from Jacobs in Corner 10.
This change meant Irvine was now fair game, and the Audi driver was now stepping up his defensive driving. Going into the penultimate lap, and the status quo was maintained. With Nuno Pinto being the last driver eliminated, the battle was back to between Irvine, Bolukbasi and Jacobs for the final points-paying position.
And just like providence, Bolukbasi and Irvine had a tussle and went into the wall just before the Corner 12-13 kink, which Jacobs took advantage of and sprinted to P10. Up ahead, it was Lucas Muller, flying the Mahindra Racing flag, who sealed his pole-to-flag victory, with BMW iAndretti’s Kevin Siggy in second place and Tag Heuer Porsche’s Joshua Rogers rounding off the podium.
Mueller’s victory puts him at P2 for the final race of the FIA ABB Formula E Race At Home challenge, with Siggy still holding on to the championship lead.
Race – Driver’s grid
Before the race starts, to reiterate, Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein was on pole, with Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Kelvin Van Der Linde in P2, Nissan E.Dams’ Sebastien Buemi in P3, BMW iAndretti’s Maximilian Gunther in P4, and joint championship leader (both he and Wehrlein have 105 points) Mercedes-Benz EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne in P5.
As the lights went green, both Wehrlein and Van Der Linde were able to hold onto their positions, while a slow start from Buemi saw Gunther climb to P3, with Nissan E.Dams’ Oliver Rowland in P4. Vandoorne, however, was still P5, with Buemi now falling rapidly down the order, ending up all the down to P19.
Soon, however, Vandoorne played his cards right and was able to climb to P3, passing both Gunther and Rowland at the Corner 10 hairpin, before bumping into the wall and losing a spot to Rowland. Down the pack, Vandoorne’s teammate Nyck De Vries’ car spun out and was bumped into by the whole pack, causing him to drop to P12, leaving quite a bit of carnage around him as well.
Lap 2 had Wehrlein, Van Der Linde, Rowland and Vandoorne maintaining a 1-2-3-4, with about a second’s gap between each of them, which continued throughout the lap. The next lap saw Buemi eliminated, with Nio 333’s Xinghua Ma and Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Di Grassi holding onto the last two spots now. Back up the grid, and Gunther at P5 was doing his best to catch up with Vandoorne, and was almost side-to-side for a brief moment.
By lap 4, the leaders had spread out, with about 1.5 seconds separating the first five racers. Meanwhile, Rokit Venturi’s Felipe Massa was in P6, his best showing so far in the championship. Another lap in, and Wehrlein was over 2 seconds ahead of Van Der Linde. Almost at the back of the grid, DS Techeetah’s Jean Eric Vergne (P18) pulled a really risky overtake on Geox Dragon’s Joel Eriksson, going up a spot in Corner 1 of Lap 7.
At the halfway mark, and Vandoorne had fallen back almost two seconds from Rowland. Meanwhile, with Eriksson eliminated, Tag Heuer Porsche’s Andre Lotterer was feeling the heat, with Vergne and Ma next in line. Up ahead, with Wehrlein sailing on at a good clip, the fight for P2 was on between Van Der Linde and Rowland, with less than half-a-second separating them. Additionally, despite his best efforts, Vandoorne was still at P4, now over two seconds behind Rowland.
Going into the final third of the race, and the racers were once again upping their speed. Rowland was back to under half-a-second on Van Der Linde, while Vandoorne was steadily cutting tenths in every sector. Down the grid, Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns was able to climb a spot at the Corner 10 hairpin, which saw him climb to P9, nudging Nio 333’s Oliver Turvey and Tag Heuer Porsche’s Neel Jani out of the way.
In the penultimate lap, Vandoorne had closed in on the front-runners by quite a bit, but still didn’t seem to be fast enough to join the fight. This is despite contact between Rowland and Van Der Linde, which would no doubt have slowed them both up. Going into the final lap and Vandoorne, now almost a second behind Rowland, seemed to losing the lead in the championship. Coming out the Corner 6-7 chicane, Rowland looked set to overtake Van Der Linde, though a cleaner exit gave the Formula E debutant a crucial burst of acceleration.
This same heart-stopping moment was repeated out on Corner 10, when a Rowland was briefly able to pass Van Der Linde, however was unable to hold onto the lead, and was once again relegated to P3. Corner 11, however, turned out to be third-time-lucky for Rowland, who got ahead with some smart wheelsmanship and a liberal helping of nudges.
Ultimately, it was Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein who took the win, with Nissan E.Dams’ Oliver Rowland coming in second and Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Kelvin Van Der Linde rounding off the podium in his first virtual Formula E race.
Wehrlein’s victory, or rather Stoffel Vandoorne’s fourth-place finish makes the latter’s championship position especially dicey, as the race winner is awarded 25 points, with 18 points going to P2 and 15 to P3.
However, considering the final race in Berlin has double the points to be won, there is still a margin, however slim, for Vandoorne to yet be crowned the first ever Formula E Stay At Home challenge winner.