26 Jan 19

Santiago analysis: Rookie Wehrlein rules, Envision takes the lead & Audi 'still not satisfied'  

Under the scorching heat of the summer sun in Chile's capital Santiago, the battle of attrition raged with Envision Virgin Racing's Sam Bird emerging victorious among the few survivors. Three races into the latest ABB FIA Formula E Championship and we've seen three different winners take to the podium, each of them unlikely heroes. As the most unpredictable season of the all-electric racing series rumbles on to Mexico City on February 16, here's what we learnt from the showdown in Santiago.  

Abt proves Audi's pace but "still not satisfied"

"After two tough races, of course third place is good but for me, I don't think I'm one hundred percent on it - there's still a little bit of confidence to gain," maintains Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler's Daniel Abt. After gaining a precious 16 points (15 for the third place finish and one for the fastest lap) for the German manufacturer team in Santiago, the team now sits fifth in the championship standings.  

"Today the approach was to play it safe for the team - for the points - and not do anything stupid.

"I feel I still need to improve a little bit. In this car, you need to feel confident. I'm not feeling one hundred percent together with the car like I did last season.

After the podium, the German driver now sits in seventh place, a full six places higher than his teammate Lucas di Grassi who is yet to make his mark on the fifth season of Formula E. While last season proved that Audi is capable a tremendous turnaround, the fact that it's customer team - Envision Virgin Racing - is leading the championship with the same hardware must be difficult pill for the German squad to swallow.    

formula e in santiago
Despite Abt's podium finish in Santiago, the German driver's still not satisfied with his performance. 

Bird carries Envision into the lead, Audi left behind

“We went with Audi for a reason - they have amazing resources," says Santiago winner Sam Bird confidently. After the manufacturer-backed Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler team clinched the teams' championship title last season, it proved it had the hottest hardware in Formula E. With such a reputation, privateer team Envision Virgin Racing selected the Audi powertrain to run in its Gen2 cars for its fifth campaign, which has so far proved effective. Too effective, some would say. With a double podium finish in Marrakesh and a win from Bird in Santiago, the customer team are leading the championship with Audi left stranded fifth in the standings, 41 points astray.

"Through the help of Audi Sport, the skillset of the data engineers who pulled back the pace and mechanics, I’m here, and we’ve been able to claw back time and learn from mistakes," says Bird. 

Good news for the 'underdogs' but a hard truth for the mighty manufacturers. Then again, this is Formula E. "Anything can happen in this championship," adds Bird.  

Battle scars, blows and scrapes in Santiago

With constant body knocks, scrapes and scratches traded in Santiago's Parque O'Higgins, only 13 cars and drivers survived the testing 2.348km street track. 

"I must have touched about 15 times during the race," said Nissan e.dams' Oliver Rowland reflecting on the chaos. 

"Some people run into the back of you, and you run into the back of others - you can push a bit - it's good fun." 

"I fought hard and most of the time fairly."

After a close call with Venturi's Felipe Massa in Marrakesh, Roland battled again with the Brazilian in Santiago, trading more paintwork around the Parque O'Higgins circuit.  
 
"[Massa] got squeezed by one of the Dragon cars into the last corner and I followed the Dragon car through. I was down on the inside and I caught him on the exit. I didn't really expect him to be there. 

"We had quite a few scraps, which was fun. I don't know if he's mad at me and I don't really care. He was winging a bit in the driver's briefing in Marrakesh - it's one of those things. You race hard and you take it on the chin. Maybe next time I'll come off worse." 

zero to hero: ROOKIE WEHRLEIN's podium finish

"I'm just happy to be in this position," says Mahindra Racing's Pascal Wehrlein, clearly relieved at not only finishing his first full race in Formula E but also making it onto the podium.

"Today was great as my first full race in Formula E - the other one in Marrakesh didn't go so well! What can I say, it's amazing." 

"I was in the car when I finished the race and I thought, 'oh my god, I could have won that race.' I was angry at the time but the longer I'm out the car, the happier I get.  

 "You just had to stay on the racing line out there. Off the line there was a lot of debris and marbles. Once you found yourself there, it's like driving on ice.

"At the end we were not limited by energy but by temperature. I had a lot of energy left in the car which I'd have liked to have used but we couldn't [because of team orders]. If they hadn't come through, I'd have gone like hell," said the rookie with a smile. 

Joining Mahindra Racing only a few months back ahead of pre-season testing in Valencia in October, the German-Mauritian driver clinched a second place finish despite being one of the least experienced all-electric drivers on the grid. With an impressive background in motorsport, covering everything from Formula One to DTM, Wehrlein's claims he's "never had this much fun," since joining Formula E at the start of the season.  

"It's always nice when you travel to a weekend and you do a good job, that you can be on the podium and win the race. But in previous years, it was great but aiming for P15 or P10 is a different mindset. 

"At the moment, I'm really enjoying the fact that I can challenge for the race win...it was a good decision coming to Formula E." 

formula e podium in santiago
Mahindra's Pascal Wehrlein clinches a second place finish in the scorching heat of Santiago in his first full Formula E race. 

Can't handle the heat? 

For eight of our drivers, the scorching summer sun in Santiago appeared to prove too much as they failed to finish the race, with most succumbing to the damage they sustained in Parque O'Higgins. For the 13 survivors, however, both they and their Gen2 cars proved they're more than capable of seeing out some of the toughest conditions in Formula E history as track temperatures exceeded 62 degrees Celsius during the race. "It was a really, really tough race and was super-hot out there," said Daniel Abt after finishing third in Formula E's hottest race on record.