"It feels like a dream!" says an emotional Daniel Abt (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler), glancing over as the sun sets behind the ageing terminal building of Berlin's iconic Templehoff airport. Just weeks after Techeetah Formula E's Jean-Eric Vergne cruised to victory in his hometown of Paris, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship crowned yet another home race hero - the third in the series history, after DS Virgin Racing's Sam Bird in London and JEV in Paris. "To win a home race has always been on my checklist and to finally do it with the one-two finish and maximum points is crazy - it still feels a bit unreal - I loved every second of today."
Finishing a perfect race with a full 29 points after clinching the Julius Baer Pole Position (three points), the Visa Fastest Lap (one point) and, of course, all 25 points for a first-place finish, Abt topped off arguably the most successful day of his career by leading his teammate Lucas di Grassi to a one-two finish. "When I was growing up karting in Germany there was no race in Berlin and no Formula E but luckily someone invented the series, brought us here and gave me the chance - it's been an incredible day!" Now, with 85 points, the German driver moves up to fourth in the championship, just one point away from Mahindra Racing's Felix Rosenqvist in third, who appears to be struggling to fend off the competition.
"It's always a threat to have di Grassi behind you! But I think I've shown that I can hold him back and it's all good," adds Abt, confidently. For di Grassi, despite finishing a full six seconds behind his teammate, the Brazilian continues to regain ground after a miserable first half of the season. After scoring his first points in Mexico City, the reigning champion has managed to finish second in every race since but the top step of the podium still remains out of reach. Now sixth in the standings - two places behind Abt - Audi's apprentice appears to be outpacing the master. “First congratulations to Daniel - he really deserved to win today,” says di Grassi. “every race in Formula E can be different. We can have a totally different performance in Zurich. It could be totally different in New York. We don’t know. So, we have to enjoy today that we managed to do the job, to get the job done and then we’ll see how it goes.”
Occupying the final step on the podium was championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne, who battled with Renault e.dams Sebastien Buemi for third place. Emerging victorious, the Frenchman furthers his championship lead by nine points. With DS Virgin Racing's Sam Bird still second in the standings, JEV is now 40 points clear of his closest competitor. With three rounds of the championship left, that all-important title is well within JEV's reach. When asked why he looked so relaxed, sitting back on his chair, with a knowing grin trademark snapback in hand, he said: "I've been racing four weekends in a row with three wins, one podium and extending my championship lead, why should I not be relaxed?" with a nonchalant smile. While the Frenchman might be relishing in his recent good fortune, it's most certainly been hard earned.
Just missing out on the podium once again was Renault e.dams Sebastien Buemi who lost the battle with JEV, trading places – as well as paint work – several times during the race. "I ended up in fourth and scored a few points but I’m bit disappointed to miss out on the podium.” Said Buemi. “When you are there, you feel it and it’s a bit of a shame, but I’m looking forward to the next race already – I’ve got to try and get the most out of that weekend and now get ready for Zurich.” The former champ has had a reasonably disappointing season compared to his previous performances, struggling to find the pace he once had. Now fifth in the standings with 82 points, Buemi’s hopes of a second championship title are fading.
If we’re talking battles, however, undoubtedly the hardest fight was fought by Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer who, despite a ten-place grid penalty carried over from the Pairs race, managed to climb from the very back of the grid to finish in ninth. “It was a new experience for me, starting from the back and passing a lot of cars, so I feel confident I can save energy and use it and overtake,” said the German driver. “Obviously it’s a track where you can do that but it was patience game and I put a lot of energy to the side at the beginning, saved my tyres and then I just took them one by one, even though I had to sit in the pits for ten seconds, which was part of my Paris penalty, I was able to come back again and finished ninth in the points, it’s the best we could have done honestly.” Earning just two points from the race in Berlin, Lotterer is 10th in the championship with 43 points. While a championship title might be a stretch for the former endurance racing champion, Lotterer has taken well to all-electric street racing and looks to carry that ability through to the next round in Zurich. “New tracks are always good for me and I want my first win so I’m going [to Zurich] with a good motivation. I’ve been improving myself every time… the car is good, the team is good, so let’s do it.”
But beyond the usual format and faces, the Berlin race was a glimpse of the Formula E’s future. With Nico Rosberg returning to the race track for the first time since announcing his retirement in 2016, the German world champion took our Gen2 car for a spin through the streets of Berlin before hitting the track. Watch the video below to see what he made of it.
Alongside the Gen2 car was the first public drive of Jaguar’s I-Pace eTrophy, driven by Formula E Founder and CEO Alejandro Agag. The I-Pace eTrophy will run as a support series for the championship, starting from the season opener in Riyadh.
But it wasn’t just about new cars – there were new(ish) faces in the paddock, too. Returning to Formula E for the first time this season was Stephane Sarrazin (MS&AD Andretti), who finished at the back of the pack and Tom Dillmann for Venturi Formula E, who finished a respectable 13th, despite making it into a point-scoring 10th just a few laps from the end. With all four German drivers making into the top ten in their home race, the sold out crowds were treated to another close battle, with all 20 drivers posting Qualifying times with less than a second - 0.998s – separating the whole field.
But that’s all from Berlin for this season as the championship moves on to the final European race in the Swiss city of Zurich. Marking the return of circuit racing to Switzerland after it more than a 60 year hiatus, the inaugural Zurich E-Prix on June 10 will see all 20 drivers race around the 2.46km long circuit, running parallel to the lakeside, past the Arboretum and into the historic city centre and looping back to the start/finish line in front of Enge harbour.