Even by Formula E standards, Hyderabad was a wild ride. It was the first time ever (excluding the anomalous Valencia race in Season 7) that only one of the drivers that started the race in the top eight finished in the top eight. One! That was race winner Jean-Eric Vergne, and although it would be churlish of me to predict quite the same level of chaos this weekend in Cape Town, I think we are in for another unpredictable weekend.
Ahead of the last race in India I wrote all about the adventure of a new race on the calendar, so I wont bore you with the fact that I am now a lovely blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Shiraz after almost a week in the wine country, but this is Formula E breaking new ground once again. Where India had seen 10 years pass since the last World Championship motor race in the country, in South Africa it will be 30 years!
Ten of the drivers on the grid weren’t born when Alain Prost won the 1993 South African Grand Prix from pole position, beating Ayrton Senna by one minute and twenty seconds! Something tells me the race on Saturday wont be won from pole position, and certainly not by almost a lap! In fact, in the last seven races seven different drivers have started from pole position, and none have been able to convert it into victory. In last season’s 16 races, the polesitter won on just four.
All weekends are important, but we are getting to the point of the season where drivers can be cut adrift. I know that is ridiculous to say, considering the huge points advantage that Pascal Wehrlein currently has over the rest of the field, but some drivers this weekend could score huge wins.
If Vergne, Jake Dennis or Sebastien Buemi take victory, they are solidifying themselves in the title fight. A win for some of the chasing pack though could be huge. The obvious candidates are the Jaguars who after their disastrous result in Hyderabad could bounce back here in Cape Town. A win for Sam Bird, for example, would only take him to 58 points – where Wehrlein already has 80 – but it would be a huge momentum boost.
We saw Mitch Evans score one point in the first three races last season and still come back to finish second in the championship, and the Kiwi has led the opening stints of the last two races but so far has yet to finish higher than seventh. If he can start converting the qualifying performances into race results he’s not out of it yet.
Writing this has actually just triggered memory of a dream, where last night – in my dream – I asked Jaguar’s Technical Manager Phil Charles why they had been the first to blink with their ATTACK MODE strategies in the last two races. I cant remember his answer, and even if I did it would be worthless because it was still a dream, but it’s a good reminder to ask him this weekend. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be dreaming about Formula E strategy.
One other driver who cropped up out of nowhere and could be in for a title tilt is Nick Cassidy. Buemi stole the limelight a little in the first three races of the season at Envision, and had 15 points cruelly taken away from him after an odd penalty in India, but Cassidy was ahead on the road and did an excellent job to finish second and challenge Vergne for the win.
Again, all of these potential contenders are a long way adrift of Wehrlein, and one of them needs to start putting some consistence scores together - a la Vandoorne last year – in order to close the gap. As much fun as the sharing of the spoils is at the moment, if someone doesn’t start to bang in more regular results there will be no one for Wehrlein to share the spoils with.