Wehrlein and Porsche power ominous for rest of Formula E field

Two action-packed Formula E races in Saudi Arabia gave us plenty of talking points as the pecking order surprisingly stayed largely similar to the season-opener

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Roll back to December 2022 and Formula E pre-season testing, there was not much hope at Porsche and Andretti with both teams expecting to be in the midfield when talking to Total-Motorsport.com.

After three races, double Saudi Arabia winner Pascal Wehrlein leads the championship by six points from Jake Dennis as the pair have finished 1-2 in each E-Prix so far.

The name of the game in Formula E is efficiency, something the Porsche powertrain, which is used by Porsche and Andretti, have in buckets and it has left the rest of the field scratching their heads.

Why is the Porsche powertrain so good?

Wehrlein and Dennis came through the field brilliantly in both races in Diriyah, underlining their form from the season-opening Mexico City E-Prix where they also finished first and second.

In Friday’s race, Wehrlein started ninth and Dennis 11th, with the pair beginning from fifth and sixth in race two. They saved energy in the first half of each race, before pushing on and making on-track overtakes or through strategy with their use of attack mode.

During the early seasons of Formula E, having two or three percent more energy than your rivals was not seen as a major advantage. You would often see drivers finishing with more than two percent.

Pascal Wehrlein, TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, 1st position, celebrates at the podium ceremony

Nowadays, it’s a very different story where even half a percent either way is important when in a battle. The track position advantage of Wehrlein over Dennis was probably only thing separating the duo in both races.

Through Turns 16 and 17, the long sweeping right-hander which leads onto the back straight, the speed Wehrlein and Dennis were carrying was visibly higher which also saves them energy too. Perhaps they have found something with the suspension or are getting the new Hankook tyres to work better than their rivals.

They are both significantly stronger than their respective teammates too, although Antonio Felix da Costa was unlucky in the first Diriyah race, so you have to give big credit for the way the championship leaders have adapted and understood the new Gen3 car better than anyone else.

“This weekend has been incredible,” said Wehrlein. “Our race pace is incredible. We had the perfect strategy, using the attack modes at the right time and not having to use them after the safety car was crucial.

“What can I say? Just amazing from my team, all the hard works has paid off finally and I’m so proud of them. This weekend will be one I will never forget.”

Bird and Buemi’s revival

Two drivers who had a disappointing campaign last season were Sam Bird and Sebastien Buemi but they are both getting back towards their best which is great to see.

Bird ended his podium drought on Friday and should have made it two third places in Diriyah if his Jaguar team didn’t decide to put pressure on him by using his two allotted attack modes in the final part of the race.

The problem with using your attack modes at the end of an E-Prix is that the defending driver is more likely to defend harder, knowing there are just a few laps to go. Conversely, they may let a driver go more easily if it’s the middle of the race and they know their rival is faster.

Bird did overtake Rene Rast momentarily but went too deep at the Turn 18/19 chicane. It was an excellent defence from Rast to make it as difficult as possible for Bird.

Rene Rast, NEOM McLaren Formula E Team, e-4ORCE 04 leads Sam Bird, Jaguar TCS Racing, Jaguar I-TYPE 6

Buemi took pole position in his 100th Formula E race on Friday which clearly meant a lot. He backed that up with two solid drives to take fourth and sixth, including taking advantage of Mitch Evans being jammed up behind the McLaren of Jake Hughes as they went across the finish line. Smart driving from Hughes who did everything he could to keep fifth.

“It is very early days in the Gen3 era and it’s important that we understand what works and what doesn’t work with the car,” said Envision team boss Sylvain Fillipi.

“Seb was really strong again in qualifying and fourth on the grid was a very good result, plus he was also second quickest in his group. Unfortunately, Seb was a bit unlucky at the start of the race and lost two places, but good attack mode strategy helped him recover and of course he managed to pass Mitch Evans right at the end.”

What is going on at Maserati?

In a stark contrast to pre-season testing, Maserati and DS Penske are still in the midfield when they expected to be battling for the wins if Valencia was anything to go by.

Crashes from Edoardo Mortara and Maximilian Gunther in qualifying for race one were very costly. Instead of analysing where they could improve, the team had to work overnight on Mortara‘s car to get the car prepared for Saturday’s race and it will surely have dented the Swiss driver’s confidence.

It’s no coincidence that both Maserati and DS Penske are both in the middle of the field in terms of pace, both over one lap and a race distance.

Jean Eric-Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne at DS Penske is the strongest driver line-up on the grid, but they are just lacking raw speed even when they are putting together clean laps. That’s never a good thing.

Maximilian Gunther, Maserati MSG Racing, Maserati Tipo Folgore Stoffel Vandoorne, DS Penske, DS E-Tense FE23 attack zone

Tyres could be a key factor, with the team not switching it on are yet to find the optimal window, and everyone else seems to have moved forward since testing more than the Maserati-powered cars.

It’s not championship over yet but with Vergne on six points and Vandoorne on one point, it’s already crunch time for both of them if they want to stand a realistic chance of being title contenders.

Just two weeks until the next round and it’s a new venue – Hyderabad in India on February 11. Surely the pecking order will change?

Nigel Chiu
Nigel Chiuhttps://total-motorsport.com/author/nigel-chiu/
Nigel Chiu is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who worked at Total-Motorsport for 18 months until May 2023. He has been following F1 since 2007 and hasn’t missed a Grand Prix weekend since. Nigel’s worked with several motorsport websites, plus Eurosport and subsequently went on to work with Sky Sports F1 where he travels to multiple F1 races each season.
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