Winners and losers from Formula E’s Sao Paulo E-Prix

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As peloton-style racing returned to Formula E, the single-race Sao Paulo E-Prix served up a finish for the ages for both first and third place – but also a brutal retirement for one of the title protagonist and a general veneer of disappointment for some of the other usual frontrunners.

Here is our in-depth dive at what went on up and down the pitlane in Sao Paulo – through the format of picking out our winners and losers.

Winners

Sam Bird

Sam Bird, McLaren, Formula E

By his own high standards Bird had endured a relatively barren couple of seasons before taking a milestone first win for McLaren and for the Gen3 Nissan car in Sao Paulo.

It was a win chiselled from a granite-like mould typical of Bird from his Gen1-and-most-of-Gen2 Formula E glory days.

In both judgement and juggling of the oppressive temperatures he was shrewd and business-like in dispatching the ultimately temperature-hamstrung Mitch Evans on the final lap. It will go down as one of the most thrilling in Formula E’s decade-long history, perhaps even a rival to Lucas di Grassi’s miracle-of-Mexico last lap in 2019.

“It is a huge boost, but there’s still work to be done,” Bird said after savouring the podium adulation.

“Jags, Porsche, Andretti, Envision, DS, Maserati, Nissan, there’s so many other brilliant teams that, at any other time, can be winning or scoring podiums – so we need to learn from this, understand why it was really good, understand what we did well, what we did badly, and then try and score some more good points in Tokyo.”

Sam Bird, McLaren, Formula E

Coming off a pair of erratic seasons at Jaguar, the new environment at McLaren seemed to have coaxed out his old skills.

The reality is that he never lost them. Rather that external factors had contrived to bog him down in a lack of consistency rather than out-and-out pace.

For his boss Ian James, a winning Bird was never in doubt.

“We had a number of different options at our disposal last year, but just to reiterate, we believed that his experience within Formula E, his work ethic and, ultimately, the character that he is, I just felt that it would fit in very well with the team,” said James.

Sam Bird, McLaren, Formula E

“I feel like he’s paid us back today for that faith in him.”

Seeing Bird across the finish line was Brazilian racing royalty Emerson Fittipaldi. He celebrates half a century since his second world title with McLaren in 1974, so it was fitting that Bird’s drive was something that the great Brazilian master would himself have been proud of.

“What a great way to celebrate our first win as well with the guy that was instrumental in McLaren winning its first championship, Emerson Fittipaldi, waving [Bird] across the line with the chequered flag,” underlined a jubilant James.

“That was just the icing on the cake.”

Nissan

Sam Bird, McLaren, Formula E

It’s fair to say that Nissan, at best, has flattered to deceive over the last two seasons.

But within its Gen3 design there lurks something potent. When the conditions allow, such as in Sao Paulo, it managed the temperatures better than any, particularly in the hands of Bird in the customer McLaren.

In addition to the powertrain’s first victory, works driver Oliver Rowland took a second straight third place after a meteoric surge through the field.

Oliver Rowland, Nissan, Formula E

As it heads to its home race in Tokyo, the only Japanese manufacturer in the Formula E paddock now rightly has a spring in its step.

Whether it’s red and white or papaya in livery, a surge of momentum follows right now.

Oliver Rowland

Oliver Rowland, Nissan, Formula E

A busy race for Rowland – a rollercoaster, really – as he climbed from 11th to third.

Judging the upper midfield excellently, Rowland made his trademark brawny moves to get into the top six, which looked for a long time to be his zenith.

But then came the final stages – and while you might be able to take the karter out of Barnsley, you can’t take the Barnsley spirit out of the karter!

Positioning his car brilliantly and sniffing Jake Dennis’ and Pascal Wehrlein’s blood, Rowland struck decisively in the last corner to take the final rung of the podium by a slender 0.089s!

Oliver Rowland, Nissan, Formula E

“I was quite concerned to just finish the race myself,” said Rowland.

“I saw them [Dennis and Wehrlein] fighting, so I thought I’ll just get close and if anything happens I can pick up the pieces.

“In Turn 10 I think Pascal went in on Jake. They were pretty aggressive with each other and put each other right on the inside of 11, so I managed to get up underneath them and beat them to the line, which was pretty cool.”

It was straight from the karting kick-ass manual and a brilliant bit of opportunism from one of Formula E’s best street fighters.

Max Guenther

Maximilian Guenther, Maserati MSG, Formula E

Guenther and Maserati MSG went into the Sao Paulo weekend having already made the decision to take a 20-place penalty for a gearbox change to improve performance – a decision Guenther told The Race was to “put us in a better place for the rest of the season”.

The thinking behind it was that the Sao Paulo track was open to ‘top gear from the rear’ performances. Better here than pretty much anywhere else in the first part of the season, was the rationale.

What wasn’t foreseen though was another issue, this time with the inverter.

That meant that the sting of the 20-place grid drop for the gearbox change became a bit of a wound when the extra 20 for the inverter triggered a stop-go penalty.

It obviously spoiled a super strong qualifying from Guenther, who would have lined up third, instead effectively putting him, as he joked, “somewhere on Copacabana beach”.

“We knew there was only one strategy that’s going to work – which was saving and hoping for a safety car,” Guenther told The Race.

That safety car did materialise – and Guenther then “went for it”.

Maximilian Guenther, Maserati MSG, Formula E

It was a fighting drive full of forceful but well-executed moves. The only shame was they were not generally seen on the TV feed.

“I think there were quite a few good ones,” he said.

“Once or twice, I overtook two guys in one move, in Turn 4-Turn 5. I hope Formula E pulls out some onboard videos from the race because there was quite some good fighting and overtaking. I enjoyed the race a lot.”

There was one particular heart-in-mouth moment when he locked up spectacularly on the penultimate lap but just made the chicane.

“I tried to make a move on Stoffel [Vandoorne].

“Everyone was struggling a bit for derating at the end and I saw a chance, went to the outside – but I locked the front tyres so I didn’t pull the move off.

“At the end I still stayed P9 in that last lap but I gave it a go. I tried.”

From that Copacabana beach, Guenther earned his day in the sun and a couple of points to boot.

Losers

Porsche

Antonio Felix da Costa and Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche, Formula E

“We had a plan but it didn’t go to plan.”

That’s what a pensive Pascal Wehrlein told The Race an hour after he finished in fourth position – having relinquished a podium in the final centimetres.

Orchestrating race choreography within teams is fraught with risk and at Porsche it so played out when Wehrlein and Antonio Felix da Costa almost tripped over each other in the early running. It was a bit messy.

“The strategy of the first laps was to not slow down the race too much, this means to show a decent pace and I think we maybe surprised some others when you could see Pascal taking off and doing the pace he did in the first laps,” Porsche’s Florian Modlinger told The Race.

“The target was for Antonio to progress quickly which he did, and the target was then to keep the cars in the top group, which we achieved.”

When Bird picked up the lead and took his first attack mode, the Porsches, which at one stage looked capable of conducting the race to their own whims with an energy-rich percentage, were “brought a bit into cars which we did not want [to be dicing with]”, according to Modlinger.

And when the energy targets increased and overtaking got more and more difficult, Porsche’s promise started to fritter away.

Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche, Formula E

Wehrlein laboured behind a defensive Evans – which ultimately scuppered any prospect of challenging to reclaim the lead and exploiting the energy richness of the mid-phase of the race.

“Then we had one single issue that we needed to analyse out of the last corner where Jake [Dennis] passed us,” continued Modlinger.

That appeared to be a power cut – which really cost Wehrlein the podium and was perhaps something similar in terms of temperature to what blighted Evans’ final lap.

“Then in the last laps Jake got slower but he also defended quite harsh[ly].”

Modlinger put something of a sheen on the race, saying that “everything went by plan I have to say, it was just we didn’t optimise the good position we were in”.

That related to when Da Costa and Wehrlein ran 1-2 – as “running behind Antonio and not wanting to take the lead, I think, was not the right thing to do”, confirmed Modlinger.

For Wehrlein there was generally reasoned disappointment at a missed opportunity.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win today and I think we had a fair chance to do that,” Wehrlein told The Race.

“But on the other side I’m also very happy about having good pace – good qualifying speed and strong race pace.

“So, it’s a good thing to be disappointed about P4. Now we’re the best qualifiers, which was a big goal of ours from last year to this year, to improve our qualifying pace.”

Nick Cassidy

Nick Cassidy, Jaguar, Formula E

Cassidy looked right at the races in FP1 with second place to his team-mate Evans. But then he didn’t get a 350kW lap in during the second session, which kicked off a peculiar confidence spiral around his car.

Despite him being fastest on his first quali run, Cassidy’s second attempt didn’t go to plan. Grip-wise it wasn’t quite there – but a ninth-place start was more of a disappointment than a disaster.

During the race Cassidy felt he “wasn’t making as much progress as I would have hoped”.

The self-criticism continued. “To be honest I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror,” he said.

“I didn’t do a good enough job today. I’ll reflect on that and try and be better.”

Nick Cassidy's crashed Jaguar, Formula E

Multiple hits on his front-wing were eventually his downfall as it became dislodged entirely and sent him careering into the wall, causing the second safety car.

“To be honest I had about two or three front wing taps and that’s why I’m not happy with myself.

“Of course, some of them you can be unlucky but if it’s three times you need to take some responsibility.

“I took too much risk with the front wing and I paid the price.”

Cassidy still leads the title stakes – but by a much reduced four points now to Wehrlein.

By the law of averages, something like this was coming for the driver who was arguably Formula E’s form man since Portland last June – but that will be little immediate consolation.

Jake Dennis

Jake Dennis, Andretti, Formula E

Like the works Porsches, Dennis appeared to be putting himself right in to contention with a controlled aggressive drive during the majority of the Sao Paulo E-Prix.

He certainly had his eyes on a win at stages – and so naturally felt “pretty disappointed to come away with fifth”.

“It slipped away from us and I think, when we hit the front so quickly, it was all a bit of a shock to all of us,” the champion told The Race.

“The strategy wasn’t great when I hit the front and we didn’t really know what to do. It was just a bit unclear with the communication between me and the team and ultimately we didn’t do a good enough job from that point on in the race.”

Jake Dennis, Andretti, Formula E

Part of the problem was typically and bluntly acknowledged by Dennis himself in that “there was a mode switch which I was meant to be in and I wasn’t, which then obviously hindered us quite a lot”.

“Poor communication between both of us – and I was driving around in the wrong setting for too long,” he added.

When a generally bad day at the office offers up eight points it shows the standards set by Dennis and Andretti now. But for Dennis there was disappointment around areas that he and the team are usually strong in.

“Normally one thing we’re good at is communication and strategy and working together.

“Today we just didn’t really do that for the last 15 laps.

“We just need to analyse that. We’ll learn from it, which is the main thing. We’re really good at learning from our mistakes and I’m confident that if we’re ever in that situation again we’ll be OK.”

Envision

Sebastien Buemi and Robin Frijns, Envision, Formula E

Two points for Sebastien Buemi’s 10th and fastest lap was scant reward for a team that has become used to podiums, wins and a title in recent seasons.

This was an insipid display overall, although Buemi’s charge from 18th to 10th was a modicum of light from a generally dark day for ‘the greens’ in Sao Paulo.

What is more, there was that rare sight in international motorsport – a confused Buemi. That is an emotion which doesn’t come readily to mind for one of racing’s uber-organised and controlled operators.

“Usually, we qualify quite well and then I was not that good in races but now I feel like I always have a lot of energy,” Buemi told The Race.

“Here, I felt like with the temperature I’m not so good and I need to understand why.

“I guess I took too much margin because I didn’t know when the car would stop. I feel like I had maybe a couple more places to gain but I still made it to the end and then fastest lap and got at least two points.

“From 18th it’s difficult to hope for more.”

Robin Frijns, Envision, Formula E

Team-mate Robin Frijns went almost completely unnoticed in the race, something you can rarely say of the Dutchman.

A generally languid race saw him banking energy for the final stages after getting stuck in the midfield maelstrom from most of the early phase.

That had been set up by a mistake in qualifying, which rooted him to a 17th-place start.

Late-race battery temperature spikes were the final nail in the coffin and a tepid run to last place firmly underlined a race to completely forget for the Riyadh podium performer.



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