The debut of Formula E in India offered everything: After a dramatic training crash by Pascal Wehrlein with major technical worries at Porsche, qualifying and the race got down to business. In the end, a lucky guy crowned himself the deserved winner.
Already on Friday everything seemed lost. After World Championship leader Pascal Wehrlein brutally hit the wall while accelerating, Porsche had no choice but to park all the cars in the first practice session. The risk of another major software error was too high. The all-clear was given by the German pilot, who was also classified as fit for racing during further checks in the evening.
During a hard and long night - both in the Wehrlein garage and on the laptops - the people from Stuttgart were finally able to identify the problem: A control unit malfunction had provoked the expensive and painful technical misunderstanding. As a quick solution, they switched back to the software version from Saudi Arabia. Further analyzes together with the FIA are to follow.
Qualifying chaos and a "lucky loser"
So all racers with Porsche power could roll out of the pits on race Saturday (11.2.). But the test deficit from the previous day weighed all the more heavily in the first Formula E race on the challenging, slippery circuit in Hyderabad, central India. Jake Dennis (Andretti-Porsche) missed the top 10 with eleventh place in qualifying. Wehrlein was only twelfth ahead of António Félix da Costa. André Lotterer (Andretti-Porsche) even fell down to 20th place.
Meanwhile, Jaguar man Mitch Evans secured pole position - but in a bizarre and controversial way. In the absence of curbs, the chicane in turns 1 and 2 presented itself as a track limit hotspot. Several drivers had overdone it there in the knockout phase and were subsequently penalized by the race control for transgressions. Many felt let down by the officials' communication afterwards.
For example, the supposed quarter-final winner Sam Bird (Jaguar) threw his gloves into the equipment shelf and grumbled about the "bullshit chicane". Because the times of the other quarter-finalists from the opposite branch of the knockout tree had also been collected for offenses, Bird opponent Jean-Éric Vergne (DS Penske) then had to go into the semifinals alone. In the parallel approach, Evans prevailed against Sébastien Buemi (Envision-Jaguar). Sounds funny, but that's how it was.
Super meltdown for Jaguar
The initial phase of the Indian debut was relatively clean, at least by Formula E standards. But among the diligent savers, some dissenters caused a riot early on. Nick Cassidy (Envision-Jaguar) moved into the middle of the top 10.The first to suffer from major damage was Maserati driver Edoardo Mortara, who, through his own fault, crashed the front wing under the car and later spread the debris around the course without being punished.
After this questionable episode, numerous pilots took the detour to their first Attack Mode activation. When Evans picked up the extra power, action finally broke out at the front. However, the New Zealander was ultimately the loser of the first phase of the boost strategies and had to fall behind Buemi and Vergne. Shortly thereafter, he was to pay twice for the unfavorable timing.
In the field of pursuit of the New Zealander, Bird had lost control of the sister car in the hairpin bend and slipped into the black and white big cat, ahead of Evans, who had fallen behind. Other victims of the inconsolable "Elder Raceman" were Sacha Fenestraz (Nissan) and Maximilian Günther (Maserati-DS). The dream of a championship comeback for the Jaguar squad had turned into a dystopia after a little more than a third of the race. And it got worse: Bird travels to South Africa with a five-place penalty.
Vergne's luck continues
In the course of further activations, Jean-Éric Vergne took the lead. However, the Envision duo of Cassidy/Buemi and Dennis, who jumped up smart, put him under constant pressure. After 23 laps, the race stewards, courageous in view of the large amount of debris, had no choice but to call the safety car onto the dusty track for the first time. The reason was strange.
McLaren man Jake Hughes had turned into the right-hand wall in his Nissan customer car after the high-contact hairpin because his mirror, which had been smashed by a piece of debris, had blocked the steering wheel. The Brit's comment: "Well, anything can happen in Formula E." And that was also the appropriate motto for the final phase.
At the front, the two-time champ Vergne initially used all his experience to lead the field back into racing. Behind him, however, the previously extremely economical Cassidy massively increased the pressure with his colleague Buemi in wait. While the leading group initially tried to be reasonable, there was a slap and a stab in the rest of the field. Among other things, René Rast (McLaren-Nissan) hit Dennis in the rear and was given three penalty starting places in addition to the destroyed race.
DS finally arrived, Porsche escaped?
Despite the energy advantage, Cassidy was not allowed to attack in the final phase, which was extended by one round. But the Jaguar customer could look forward to an Envision double podium with Buemi - but only briefly. After crossing the finish line, the race organizers suspected that Buemi was using too much energy, which was confirmed a little later. The result: 17 penalty seconds. Crouching frustrated at the pit wall, the Swiss then took note of the award ceremony. A protest was crushed.
Not only Vergne and his team boss Jay Penske were happy on the podium, especially after the first success of the new DS-Penske cooperation. Third-placed António Félix da Costa also felt that the huge jump through the field was the deserved culmination of his 100th FE race. However, the biggest winner of the eventful day was Pascal Wehrlein. The father-to-be went from being unlucky to the now dominant leader (18 points ahead of Dennis) in less than 24 hours.
The next quarter of the season starts in two weeks in Cape Town (February 25th). The electric series also celebrates its debut there. After a quieter start in Mexico, a changeable double run in Saudi Arabia and the spectacle in India, the new Gen3 could perhaps show a new face again. Abt Cupra, the second German team, would definitely be happy about a friendlier face after another painful run.