17 Feb 19

Mexico analysis: Crash chaos causes energy meltdown, the master of Mexico returns

"I have to say it was probably the best Formula E race of my career to date," said Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler's Lucas di Grassi, grinning from ear to ear after emerging victorious from one of the most chaotic races in the history of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. 

In short, It all started with a bang - and a rather big one, at that - and it ended with arguably one of the greatest finishes in motorsport. In Mexico, we saw a motorsport master restored to his former glory. We saw chaos reign supreme after a cataclysmic collision and witnessed more unpredictability as the underdogs continued to defeat the odds, retaining their ground at the top of the Championship. Mexico City, it's been a pleasure. Here's what we learned from the 2019 CBMM Niobium Mexico City E-Prix. 

The master of Mexico City returns

For Audi's Lucas di Grassi, the Brazilian driver didn't hesitate in describing the madness in Mexico as simply, "the best Formula E race of my career to date." In what turned out to be a cold but cunning move, the former champ hunted down his less-experienced targets - namely Oliver Rowland and Pascal Wehrlein - to snatch the win in the dying seconds of the race. 

"I knew [Wehrlein] was running out of energy," said di Grassi with a knowing grin. 

"I was putting on pressure, trying to overtake and over the last five laps, I knew I had more energy. 

"In the last chicane, I could see that he was closing the door and I was going to the outside. In the last lap I was behind him, pretend to go around the outside, he opened a small door, just enough for the car to fit in - between the wall and the car and I went there.

Di Grassi's win in Mexico City is his second in his Formula E career (after he won in 2017) but also brings Audi's total victories in Mexico's capital to three out of the four races. With that much-needed points boost, the former champ moves towards the top of the standings (he's now fourth overall with 34 points). Could the old master restore his chances of another Championship title? Time will tell.

Crash chaos causes strategy meltdown

Just five minutes into the race, Panasonic Jaguar Racing's Nelson Piquet Jr. was sent flying across the track after a colossal coming together with reigning champion and DS Techeeath driver Jean-Eric Vergne.

"He defended, because he had a bad exit, and then he regenned too early. I didn't expect him to brake that early," said Piquet Jr. "I remember everything - hitting, landing, everything."   

"I was on the inside and he forgot to brake. He already hit me like three times before that, so I don't know what he was thinking," maintained JEV, clearly irritated after enduring his second consecutive 'pointless' finish this season.  

With the Brazilain's car lying shattered and wrecked at the exit of the chicane, a path of debris was littered across the track, creating a minefield for the following drivers to avoid. From there, with the red flag out, any strategy or pre-race plans were blown to pieces. Well, this is Formula E, after all - expect the unexpected. 

Rookies battered and bruised, experience shines through

In the grand scheme of the race, the dramatic shunt that took place five minutes in was just the beginning. What ensued after the wreckage was cleared was a chaotic sequence of events that would wipe away the podium hopes of two promising rookie drivers. With teams' race strategy in tatters after the red flag added extra time to the clock, Nissan e.dams rookie driver Oliver Rowland and his teammate Sebastien Buemi fell foul of strategic miscalculation that would see them fell from the front after running out of energy, just metres until the finish line. "Somewhere there was an error with the number of laps we were supposed to do and somewhere we got confused," said Rowland. 

"[energy management] is probably one of the most simple things in the whole of Formula E and somehow it got mixed up...we crossed the line expecting to finish and, obviously, we didn't," admitted the British driver.  

But, with the taste of a second podium and first win on the tip of his lips, the pain for Mahindra Racing's rookie Pascal Wehrlein must be unbearable after a last gasp lunge from di Grassi saw his podium hopes destroyed. 

"So, obviously quite happy about how today went apart from the last lap," admitted Wehrlein. 

"Rowland was pushing quite hard from the beginning. To finish the race and to stay in front of them I had to consume a little bit more energy as well; so in the end, I tried to defend my position against Di Grassi, which was not possible," said the Mahindra driver, still coming to terms with the brutal defeat. With just three races under his belt compared to di Grassi's 49, experience clearly still counts for a lot in all-electric racing. 

formula e mexico finish line
Wherlein loses the win to di Grassi by less than a car's length in one of motorsport's most spectacular finishes in Mexico City. 

The underdogs still turn out on top 

After the madness of the race in Mexico City has subsided, Mahindra Racing's Jerome d'Ambrosio sits at the top of standings with 53 points, followed by BMW i Andretti Motorsport's Antonio Felix da Costa in second and Sam Bird in third for Envision Virgin Racing. Our reigning champions Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler and Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Techeetah) are no where to be seen. Making matters worse for the DS Techeetah driver, Mexico City marks his second consecutive 'pointless' race, which drops him to eighth in the standings. If we've learnt anything so far this season, it's to expect the unexpected and to never underestimate the underdogs. 

Taking to the podium for the first time since Hong Kong in 2017, Venturi's Edoardo Mortara was an unlikely candidate for a podium finish at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. "We are the smallest team by far and if you think that we are fighting against the likes of Audi and BMW, then we are already overachieving," explained the Swiss driver. "It shows the level of engineering that we have in Venturi - it's amazing." 

For BMW i's Antonio Felix da Costa, a miserable 2017/18 season couldn't be further from the form we've seen to date. A win in Saudi Arabia and a second place finish in Mexico City puts him second in the drivers' standings. This time last year, 12th in the standings with 16 points, just to put things into perspective. I was told on my radio that the Nissans would stop and then on the next corner, there they were there, like a moving chicane," said the BMW driver. "When I passed them, that was the moment I knew I'd get on the podium...I really wasn't expecting it before then!" 

Finally, the fifth season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship has raised the profile of another unlikely hero - Mahindra Racing's Jerome d'Ambrosio. Like da Costa, d'Ambrosio's rise from a 14th place finish last season to the top of the standings has been far from predictable. After missing out on the podium this time around, the Belgian driver fought hard in Mexico City. "For me, individually, it was an amazing race starting in 19th and finishing fourth," said d'Ambrosio.

"Fourth and sixth doesn't look amazing but in comparison to our competitors, we still managed to get some good points and take the lead in the teams' championship. It's amazing," added the seasoned Formula E driver.

formula e jerome dambrosio
Mahindra's Jerome d'Ambrosio leads the championship after finishing 14th last season. In Formula E, anything is possible.