“Veni, vidi, vici” – Jean-Eric Vergne became all scholarly as he crossed the line as the winner of Formula E’s first race in Rome this weekend, as the double champion got his season underway after a poor start in Saudi Arabia. Stoffel VanDoorne won the second race, with both results shaking up the championship order at rounds three and four.
Sam Bird still leads the overall championship thanks to his podium in round three while his Jaguar team are sitting pretty at the top of the teams table as well, courtesy of team-mate Mitch Evans finishing third in the same race. Robin Frijns, of Envision Virgin Racing, rounds out the top three.
Vandoorne (fourth), Pascal Wehrlein (sixth) and Alexander Sims (ninth) are the big climbers following the Rome results.
Vandoorne has a weekend of contrasts
Formula E seems to always throw up topsy-turvy weekends for drivers and teams, and Rome was no different. Vandoorne went from pole to a Did Not Finish in race one, following a big shunt when he hit a manhole cover to avoid a slowing Lucas Di Grassi.
Race two was far more successful for the Mercedes EQ driver as he controlled proceedings virtually from the off and got his tactics spot on. He stayed in touch with early leader Wehrlein, then an early entry into the Attack Mode zone meant he was in the lead when a full course yellow came out. The unlucky Wehrlein effectively wasted his response, running with Attack Mode power while the track was under waved yellows. From there, even a late safety car couldn’t stop Vandoorne taking a comfortable victory.
Safety car and full course yellows
Safety cars and full course yellows played their parts in both races.
Rounds three and four were both started under the safety car because of damp track conditions. Given the street circuit’s surface changes, new tarmac in certain sections and all the painted white lines, it’s understandable why the rain on Saturday meant that the race was started behind the electric Mini Pacesetter course car.
Sunday, though, was a stranger decision. Mixed qualifying conditions had shaken up the grid order, with two rookies – Nick Cassidy and the brilliantly-named Norman Nato – on the front row, but the surface seemed dry enough for a normal race start.
Saturday finished under a full course yellow, following Vandoorne’s shunt. It denied what was shaping up to be a fascinating finish, just as the order had settled down following everyone using their Attack Modes, and we were into the stage of the race where energy efficiency starts to play a part. It allowed Vergne to cross the line unchallenged, followed by the Jaguar pair of Bird and Evans – Jaguar’s first double podium in Formula E.
Sunday’s race had a late safety car that bunched the field up behind Vandoorne, but he used his Fan Boost wisely and finished the one-lap dash to the flag with just enough battery energy left. Predictably, behind him things were less serene: Nato had used too much energy so was bumped from his third-on-the-road spot, while Bird was taken out with an overly-optimistic dive from Nyck de Vries.
Alexander Sims plays a blinder
From sixth on the grid, Britain’s Alexander Sims had a great race, keeping out of trouble and playing his tactics well. As ever with Formula E, he managed to keep himself in the hunt by being in the right place to capitalise when drama befell others. Not that it was all down to luck – perfect timing between him and his race engineer, when they counted down the seconds to the end of a full course yellow, allowed the Mahindra driver to get the jump on Porsche’s Wehrlein ahead. From there, he controlled his pace to the flag. Clever racing.