16 Dec 18
"The last two years have just been so hard," says Antonio Felix da Costa, visibly relieved after clinching his second win in the series at the 2018/19 season opener in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. "I was far from giving up - I'm a fighter, after all. But it's hard - I'm also a winner and I hate to lose. To finally do it today, is just amazing... the DAC is back!" he says with a grin moments after taking the chequered flag.
Four years after the inaugural ABB FIA Formula E Championship race in Beijing 2014 and the series welcomed in a new era of all-electric street racing with the 2018 SAUDIA Ad Diriyah E-Prix. The 2.495km track skirting the historic heartland of Ad Diriyah was described by Mahindra Racing's Jerome d'Ambrosio as nothing short of "the most unforgiving we've seen in Formula E." Quite something from a man that's spent the past four years of his life competing in every Formula E races to date.
While the E-Prix saw the debut of new drivers, teams, rules and power modes, it brought with it a healthy dose of battle scared cars, close combat and a healthy dose of uncertainty. Well, it wouldn't be Formula E with it, right?
For newly named, full factory team BMW i Andretti Motorsport, da Costa's win was more than just a great start to the season. After the team posted the quickest times in two of the three days of pre-season testing, its maiden win here in Saudi Arabia was proof of the German squad's newfound pace. In the previous 2017/18 season, the team's association with BMW was nothing more than a technical partnership which saw the Andretti squad finish bottom of the championship standings. Just five months on, the manufacturer-backed team has secured more points in the first round of the 2018/19 season (a total of 28) than it did across the board last season (a total of 24). A good start from BMW "but we'll just keep on getting better," insists da Costa.
While the celebrations continue over at BMW i, rival German team and reigning champions Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler are left wondering what on earth just happened. "We need to improve everything," says frontman Lucas di Grassi while his teammate Daniel Abt admits he'd "prefer winning and being disqualified than only driving for P8 and being unhappy about my pace." Last season, the team got off to a disastrous start after di Grassi battled against a suite of technical issues while Abt was stripped of his first, albeit short-lived victory in Hong Kong and disqualified from the race. Although it's only the first round, it's not a good start for the German powerhouse who finished last season (just five months ago) with an outstanding powertrain and pace, which carried the team to its first championship victory. "We were not quick - in the race, we were struggling," signs off Abt. With less than a month to go until we do it all again in Marrakesh, Audi's sure got some work to do.
With all eyes on our three podium protagonists, perhaps the most impressive performance of the day actually came from the back of the pack as Nissan e.dams rookie Oliver Rowland fought his way up seven places to finish seventh overall. "To get up to seventh from 14th was pretty good, I was fighting with Abt and di Grassi, which was great," said Rowland. "You have to think, manage and be aggressive - I haven't had that much fun racing in a long time," he says with a smile. With only one very wet day of pre-season testing under his belt, the British driver took to the track in Ad Diriyah with a significant disadvantage and still managed to place higher than both Audi drivers, Panasonic Jaguar Racing's Nelson Piquet Jr, Envision Virgin Racing's Sam Bird and Felipe Massa (Venturi) - the list goes on. Impressive? Indeed. Expected? Not in the slightest. Welcome to the most unpredictable racing series on the planet.
Alongside new cars, new drivers, new teams and a new track, the 2018 SAUDIA Ad Diriyah E-Prix saw the debut of a new power mode in the form of ATTACK MODE. Placed off the racing line on the exit of Turn 17, all 22 drivers had to pass through the ATTACK MODE activation zone twice, each time collecting an additional 25kW of power that they could engage for four minutes each time during the race. Finding out the details of how many times and for how long they could use it, the mode brought about a whole new level of decision making for the drivers out on track. "My heart rate was a little bit higher as [the DS Techeetah drivers] got closer again," said race winner da Costa, reflecting on the final moments of the race. "I used ATTACK MODE, just like JEV did, and I managed to keep the win at the end. It was a really clever way to use it," err, even if he does say so himself. With a whole season ahead, ATTACK MODE has proved it's more than capable of spicing things up on track. While it worked wonders for da Costa, for di Grassi, the risk didn't pay off as the driver lost positions after deviating from the racing line to go into the activation zone. With a whole season of ATTACK MODE ahead, in-car race strategy has the potential to make or break a drivers championship title hopes, as Daniel Apt-ly demonstrates below. See what we did there?
With the season opener and Saudi showdown already over and done with, we're already looking forward to the next race - the 2019 Marrakesh E-Prix where Formula E returns for the third time in the series' history. Get ready for sand, souks and a spectacular showdown in Morocco’s magical city of Marrakesh. The battle for the streets is back. Join us.