How battery temperature and Sam Bird brilliance decided Sao Paulo E-Prix

McLaren's Sam Bird came out on top after a great battle with Jaguar's Mitch Evans at the 2024 Sao Paulo E-Prix

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Formula E was back with a bang in Sao Paulo as Sam Bird made a stunning last lap overtake to deny Mitch Evans victory and give McLaren their first win in the series.

Bird joined McLaren at the start of this season and hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium since July 2021 in New York.

As expected, a peloton-style race emerged with nearly the whole field nose to tail for much of the first half. During that period, Bird actually led the majority of the race and maybe this was key to his win.

Temperature overrides energy management

The big bunch racing that the Gen3 Formula E car has produced was first seen in Sao Paulo in 2023, before the Berlin and Portland rounds also saw crazy races where cars were three wide and no one wanted the lead.

This is due to the high drag of the car and the big benefit of being in the slipstream, so you can lift and coast into the corners to save energy.

We saw this strategy play out on Saturday in Sao Paulo again as Pascal Wehrlein, Antonio Felix da Costa, Jake Dennis, Evans and Bird all led at various points in the opening 20 laps.

Following the second Safety Car for Nick Cassidy‘s crash on Lap 16, Bird led the next 12 laps from Evans and Wehrlein, who were battling hard for second.

Sam Bird leads Mitch Evans and Pascal Wehrlein at the 2024 Sao Paulo E-Prix | Formula E

Evans was tactically saving energy in the tow of Bird but his battery temperatures also would have been going up whereas the McLaren driver was in clean, fresher air.

With seven laps remaining, Evans went to the front but it’s likely his battery temperature was higher than Bird‘s. It was expected that he would hold Bird off due to superior energy but it soon became clear that several cars were struggling with overheating. Gaps started to open up and the Porsche-powered cars of Dennis, Wehrlein and Da Costa slipped back.

Bird had a temperature warning himself with two laps remaining but was all over Evans, who suffered big derates on the straights, where the car loses power and slows down before a corner.

This is how Bird was able to brilliantly dance around the outside going into the penultimate corner of the race as Evans‘ car had enough and forced the Jaguar driver to almost stop accelerating it looked like.

“I said on the radio ‘I think Mitch is struggling more than me with the temperatures’,” said Bird. “I was told to cool the car, then I saw the lift points and I thought ‘look, it’s now or never, I’ve got to go’.

“He defended the inside and gave me just enough room on the outside to have some kind of move. I don’t know how close it was to the wall, but it was fair racing and got it done.”

Jaguar have had the benchmark powertrain along with Porsche in recent seasons, so it was a surprise to see Evans struggling when many thought the win was his.

“I’ve not experienced derate like that before in this category with the battery,” said Evans. “That was a new experience. We knew it would be on the limit but the way it came was quite aggressive.

“Even when I was in the lead, I was under consuming a lot and doing all the right things to manage the temperature, energy and track position. I was a bit surprised to get the warnings, especially having that clean air. If I was on the tow, it would have made more sense.

“I don’t think I overmanaged it but the rate it came in was so aggressive, it felt like I was in a Gen 1 car on the last lap. But, it was still a great move from Sam.”

Bird is the word in Sao Paulo

Bird spent three seasons as Evans‘ teammate at Jaguar but clearly lost confidence in the 2021 season when he was regularly being beaten and couldn’t fight for the title when Evans could.

The 37-year-old left at the end of last season and it seems like joining McLaren his remotivated him after a very difficult two years.

As he said on the radio “there is life in the old dog yet” and more drives like that could see him join the championship fight for the first time since 2018.

Sam Bird celebrates on the podium at the 2024 Sao Paulo E-Prix | Formula E

“What a race that was, that was great,” Bird exclaimed after the race. “It means so much for everybody at NEOM McLaren. I think everybody can now see the progress that is slowly happening.

“A double podium for Nissan. They haven’t done that in years and years, so I’m delighted for that group. Also for my guys at NEOM McLaren podiums have been sparse. I hope that this opens the floodgates a little bit.

“I had to target the beginning of the year to get a couple of podiums. I didn’t expect to win. It was a great race between me and Mitch, my old teammate, it was really fair.”

Evans added: “To lose it out to Sam, who’s been a really tough period. It’s really cool to see him on the top step of the podium.

“He looks good in orange and it’s good to see him back in his winning ways. From my side, we did all the right steps at the right times, just wasn’t meant to be today.”

Nissan powertrain shows its worth

Oliver Rowland deserves a mention too because from nowhere he crossed the line in third place, ahead of Dennis and Wehrlein to make it two Nissan powertrains on the podium.

Rowland took advantage of Dennis and Wehrlein throwing car punches at each other at the last couple of corners to make it back-to-back third places.

McLaren run the Nissan powertrain, so the Japanese manufacturer will be delighted and maybe relieved to know that in the hot conditions they are a match for the Jaguar and Porsche powertrains.

Oliver Rowland celebrates on the podium at the 2024 Sao Paulo E-Prix | Formula E

“We saw last year they had potential at some races but never quite capitalised,” said Rowland, who returned to Nissan this year. “That’s why it was attractive to be there. I think the team has solidified itself.

“Both McLaren and Nissan worked very well together and we are able to kind of put together a package, keep chipping away at the top guys.

“We still know that we have some limitations that we can’t really fix until next year. But I think if we can learn to be perfect this year, when we get hopefully what’s coming next year, then we can be in a really strong place.”

John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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