By Dylan Coyle
WHIP Radio Assistant Sports Director Dylan Coyle reports from New York on the latest in the Forumla E World Championship title hunt
New York City was already gifted a fantastic race on Saturday. Somehow, Sunday’s season finale seemed to dwarf it.
Audi claimed the Team Championship by a mere two points with a double-podium finish. Series champion Jean-Eric Vergne finished first, but a penalty assessed to Andre Lotterer severed Techeetah’s title lead.
After an exhilarating drive from behind by Vergne to take 5th in Saturday’s race, the focus changed to helping Techeetah secure the Team Championship with a strong performance on Sunday. It was a spot they had held for most of the season, and it looked like they had the clear grid advantage as Lotterer and Vergne started 2nd and 3rd, while Audi drivers Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi started 4th and 5th.
That all changed when the lights went out. Well, around a tenth of a second before they went out.
Lotterer and Vergne both appeared to get fantastic starts off the line, but both starts seemed too fantastic. After Vergne overtook pole winner Sebastien Buemi in the first turn, it was revealed that both Lotterer and Vergne were under investigation for jumping the start. In Lotterer’s case, it was clear as can be: he jumped it. Vergne’s situation was a bit more difficult to decipher, as it could’ve been called either way.
Around 10 laps into the race, both drivers received their decisions from the Stewards. Lotterer needed to serve a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, but Vergne was free.
It was a penalty that ultimately cost Techeetah the Team Championship. Lotterer made his way up to 9th, but it wasn’t enough to change the outcome.
“We stayed focused,” Lotterer told WHIP Radio, “and we tried to change the strategy so we could somehow finish in the points.”
He was able to get into the points, but not up to the position the team needed.
As for Vergne, he was adamant that he made a perfect start.
“Well, you know, it’s something I train,” Vergne said in the post-race press conference. “I work very hard on many aspects, and one of them is reactions, and I guess I have good reactions, and that’s good!”
That led to laughter from di Grassi and Abt, while Vergne just smiled.
“But, he jumped the start,” di Grassi added with a smile at the end of a completely unrelated question. “For sure.”
Abt, who received a bonus point for the fastest lap, was under immense pressure from Buemi near the end of the race for 3rd. If Buemi, who races for the supplier of Techeetah’s powertrains in Renault e.dams, passed Abt for 3rd, Techeetah would’ve won the championship. This was something Abt was not made aware of.
“No one told me,” Abt said. “I mean, they told me ‘stay ahead of Sebastien’, but, I mean, that’s obviously a thing you get told. Of course you want to stay ahead of all the guys behind. I just pushed to the limit every single lap. I wanted to end this season on the podium, but it was so hard.
“I had no clue that this was really crucial,” he emphasized.
In the first four races of the season, Audi only had 12 points. In the eight that followed, they recorded 252 more for a total of 264 points. This means that they secured 67% of the maximum available points over the last two-thirds of the season. That’s domination.
Di Grassi, last year’s champion, didn’t even score points until the fifth round of the year. He ended up 2nd in the Driver Championship, leapfrogging Sam Bird in the process. Abt finished 5th, but his early-season woes, including the win that was taken away from him in Hong Kong due to disqualification, could lead to him asking a lot of “what if” questions.
“For us especially, the first four races have been quite a disaster, to be honest,” Abt told WHIP Radio during the press conference. “Of course, looking back, we would prefer to be sitting here also celebrating the drivers champion. You cannot change the past, you can only change the future. We ended on a real high. Four podiums now here in New York. The Team Championship. This gives a big boost to everyone. We know the mistakes we made. We know that we cannot repeat them if we want to fight for the drivers title. But on the same side, we know what we can achieve, we know how good the team is, how good the car is.
“I think, we just need to make a reset now, calm down for a few weeks, and then get back into full attack mode for season five and try again,” he added.
It’ll be a season of change for Formula E next year with the new generation-two car being deployed, 45-minute timed races replacing lap countdowns, and car swaps no longer being needed due to the stronger battery. While Audi definitely figured out the generation-one car by its expiry date, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see them, as well as most of the paddock, struggle out of the gates next year.
There is a lot to consider going into next season. Between Mercedes joining the sport, Felipe Massa joining Venturi, and the new car and rules package, the time off will be much needed for the drivers. And while Vergne plans to stay busy with racing in the Summer, Abt has some immediate plans.
“I fly to a beach on Wednesday, and hopefully I have a week that I cannot remember.”
That sounds like a good way to celebrate the Team Championship.
This article was written, researched, and published by WHIP Radio Assistant Sports Director Dylan Coyle. If you wish to interact with Dylan, you can reach him on Twitter at @DylanRCoyle.
Photo: Formula E