That was a thriller wasn’t it? Formula E‘s inaugural race in India was entertaining from start to finish and it was the series’ only two-time champion Jean-Eric Vergne who held the field off with a defensive masterclass.
Sport is all about drama and unexpected moments which is exactly what the Hyderabad E-Prix gave us. Probably Jakarta 2022 is the only other race in the last 13 months that gets close to the excitement from Saturday.
For all the doom and gloom ahead of the new season, though we tried to be as upbeat as possible here, Gen3 has surely won many people over now.
How did Vergne hold off Cassidy?
Before getting onto all of the incidents, let’s talk about the driving from Vergne and Nick Cassidy, which was the most impressive aspect of the race.
Vergne needed the perfect drive to win and that’s what he managed to execute. It was reminiscent of his performance in Punta del Este during Season 4 when he held off Lucas di Grassi in arguably the best ever, pure Formula E race.
He took full advantage of two big mistakes from his rivals, which didn’t matter in the end, but how were we to know that at the time.
First, Jaguar decided to tell Mitch Evans to take attack mode which was a baffling decision. He simply came out in traffic, when he could have continued backing up the field and saving energy.
Then, Sebastien Buemi missed taking his second attack mode so Vergne was able to get into the lead. However, it soon became clear he had less energy than the cars around him, particularly Cassidy, who found himself in second after all of the drama.
It looked like Vergne was going to be a sitting duck, but the reality was he had a similar amount of energy as everyone else and it was actually Cassidy was the outlier.
Envision may have made a mistake by telling Cassidy to save much more than he needed. It’s like they thought there was going to be another lap, so maybe the planned for two additional laps rather than one.
Vergne‘s defence though was excellent as he put his car in the right place and saved energy in areas where there was no chance for Cassidy to get by.
He didn’t celebrate his 11th Formula E win massively either, showing he knows his DS Penske team need to find more efficiency and develop their car if they want to win the title, because they cannot rely on Vergne to execute every single event like he did in Hyderabad.
Bird apologises to Jaguar after hitting Evans
The number one rule for any racing driver is don’t hit your teammate. Sam Bird simply got it all wrong going into the Turn 3 hairpin, going for a move on Nissan‘s Sacha Fenestraz that was never on and subsequently hit Evans.
It looked like Bird was trying a surprise late overtake on Fenestraz, but the dust and how far back he was just meant it was too ambitious of a move.
All three drivers, along with Maximilian Gunther were caught up in the incident and Bird was immediately on the radio to apoligise.
Considering that Jaguar probably had the car to beat in India, to come away with nothing is a huge moment in the championship for both Bird and Evans.
“I’m incredibly sorry to all of the team, Mitch and the other people’s races that I ruined today,” said Bird. “We have a really strong car and I made a mistake which cost everybody.
“I know how hard everyone has worked and I hope I can make it up to everyone in Cape Town.”
Team principal James Barclay added: “The team performed incredibly well this weekend but unfortunately sometimes mistakes happen and that’s what happened today.
“Sam has apologised to Mitch and the team and we put it behind us. If you look what we achieved today, we have a very fast race car and our customer team Envision were fighting at the front for the full race.”
How did Wehrlein extend his championship lead?
We saw very little of championship leader Pascal Wehrlein, but he somehow ended up taking fourth place after several penalties and incidents.
Oliver Rowland was given a five-second penalty for track limits abuse so dropped from fourth to sixth and Buemi was given a post-race drive-through penalty for exceeding the power limit, so dropped off the podium him to 15th. The Swiss driver was absolutely gutted post-race and it also helped Wehrlein in the title fight.
Antonio Felix da Costa was promoted to third in what he called a “typical Formula E race”. It was a case of staying patient and out of trouble for Da Costa and Wehrlein, with the German knowing he didn’t have the car to come through the field like he did in Mexico City and Diriyah.
Wehrlein had a massive crash in practice one on Friday due to a stuck throttle. He went to hospital but was cleared for the race so 12 points is a great result.
“I’m very happy with that,” said Wehrlein. “After my accident during free practice, I was sent to hospital in the late evening because my back was very painful. It was still sore today but otherwise, everything is fine.
“I’m pleased for Antonio. He was able to demonstrate how good he is. The fact that we missed out on an entire practice session as a result of the accident was noticeable. Some small details on the car weren’t quite right. Still, all in all it was a great day.”
Challenging track was a real test
The excitement of the event was helped by a really challenging 2.835km Hyderabad circuit that immediately goes up into the top 10 of best Formula E tracks, at least for me.
Overtaking could have been made a little easier if the track was wider in places, but it also allowed for stunning defensive performances like Vergne had.
The Turn 1-2 chicane caused all kind of problems in qualifying with Bird, Edoardo Mortara and Rene Rast having their laps deleted in the quarter-final part of the duels.
Any track where you need to really go up against the walls to find time and have different types of braking zones due to the flow of the corners is a great circuit.
It could easily become a staple on the calendar, so let’s hope we are talking about Formula E in India again in 12 months time.
Formula E championship situation
The pecking order change we expected for the double-header in Diriyah happened in Hyderabad instead as the Jaguar powertrains come to the fore.
Maserati have found improvements too, but they will still need to make serious gains because Vergne‘s win was far from easy.
That said, we don’t know how where Mortara or Gunther would have truly finished after they were involved in accidents. Mortara finishing 10th after breaking his front wing and having a pit stop underlined how crazy the action was by the way.
It’s still advantage Wehrlein as he is 18 points ahead of Jake Dennis, who broke his rear wing after being tagged by Rast, and Vergne is 49 points adrift of the championship lead.
Gunther may have been the driver of the week in Valencia testing but he has still not got off the mark so is surely out of title contention, as may defending champion Stoffel Vandoorne on five points.
Cape Town is next, another new venue so it really is anyone’s for the taking in two weeks time.