BMW i Andretti Motorsport's Jake Dennis became a winner in his debut Formula E season after a commanding DHL Valencia E-Prix Round 6 victory in a race 'nobody wanted to lead' at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
Drivers and engineers had spent plenty of time scratching their heads about getting the balance between pace and energy management just right ahead of Formula E's trip to Valencia's Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
The track has hosted the series' official pre-season test for the past four years, so it's not completely unfamiliar, but it's a permanent circuit, with modifications in the form of a couple of tighter corners and a pit-straight chicane.
It's faster, with more long, sweeping turns than is usual of a street circuit on the Formula E calendar which put even greater emphasis on Formula E's age-old balance between managing usable energy and a racing driver's natural instinct to go flat-out from start to finish.
With a strong headwind for Round 6, and with Round 5 highlighting that it's a tough ask to get this balance right in uncharted territory, engineers were keen to have their drivers stay in the slipstream behind Jake Dennis - the BMW i Andretti Motorsport driver starting from Julius Baer Pole Position for the very first time.
Drivers were happy to let the BMW i Andretti Motorsport man do the hard work of punching through the air first - a penalty to efficiency in the shape of aerodynamic drag. Most played the long game, seeking progress either through ATTACK MODE or late on in the encounter, where those who'd looked after their usable energy best could profit. So, Mahindra Racing's Alex Lynn patiently followed right under Dennis' diffuser, leaving the BMW driver hoping his compatriot would make a move.
"I’m honestly over the moon," said the 25-year-old. "I really didn’t think it was going to work out, having to lead every single lap going into the race – leading was something nobody wanted to do and nobody thought it was possible. That’s just not the ideal strategy and we went into it hoping that Alex (Lynn) would overtake us but it became quite apparent that he definitely didn’t want to do that.
"He was behind me for the opening half of the race and there was some contact at Turn 9. It was really important to try and break the tow by using the energy at the right time while trying to be efficient at the right time too."
The majority of the 24 drivers looked to play the long game and make their progress during ATTACK MODE and towards the end of the encounter where those who'd looked after their usable energy most effectively tried to make it count. BMW instructed the Brit to hold fire and lose a second on the penultimate lap to ensure he had the energy for an all-out final lap sprint.
Dennis held fast in defence, and even managed a 1.5-second gap to second-place man Lotterer to the chequered flag - the Porsche driver breaking his duck to notch his first podium, and maiden points, of Season 7 after Norman Nato (ROKiT Venturi Racing) had clashed with Lynn, knocking the Mahindra man down the pack. Lynn would eventually recover to third, though.
"We had to change things up," continued Dennis. "It was a game of poker and he (Lynn) followed every move I made. We were just showing our hand a little bit and we knew it was going to be difficult on energy at the end but our strategy was perfect and we made it a lap shorter so we could flat-out race at the end.
"So, we managed to lead every single lap and it showed just how efficient we are and the car was really good on race pace. The team did a great job of telling me when to push and when to save to hit our targets. It helped that we were super-efficient out-front, even with a headwind – that just shows what an incredible job the team have done with this car.
"It was an incredible result for everyone back in the factory and here in the garage who’ve worked so hard – it’s an amazing achievement getting my first pole and win."
Dennis was in no doubts as to how significant his win in Valencia is in terms of his career, and how much of a boost it'll be going forward. After six rounds of Season 7, he's just 22 points shy of Drivers' standings leader Nyck de Vries (Mercedes-EQ) and Dennis feels anything's possible ahead of Formula E's trip to Monaco on May 8.
"It has to be my best day in motorsport in terms of how the whole package came together and it’s one of the best moments in my career," he adds. "To go up against guys like Antonio (Felix da Costa), Jean-Eric (Vergne), Oliver (Rowland) and beat them is a real confidence boost.
"It’s impressive the team put their trust in me and to deliver BMW’s first win and pole of the season just shows they made the right decision. I’m truly grateful they put me in the car.
"I’ve learned a hell of a lot in my first six races and we’ve had the full rollercoaster. We’ve been through all kinds of scenarios and it’s been a learning curve and it’s just about putting everything together for a smooth weekend – that’s the toughest part of Formula E.
"I think we’re back in the hunt – only 22 points behind the Drivers’ leader. We’ve made a big step in the Teams’ too, so it’s all eyes on Monaco."
Published on 27th April 2021