Nico Mueller (DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT) strode to a sensational second place in the DHL Valencia E-Prix Round 5 despite being nudged into the gravel twice, and an early drive-through penalty - the Swiss and his team managing usable energy perfectly.
Nico Mueller (DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT) made the most of a perfectly-called conservative early-race strategy in the DHL Valencia E-Prix Round 5 to clamber through the pack from 22nd to second place and a podium.
Managing the balance between pace and usable energy became a critical focus throughout the series' first competitive outing in Spain at Valencia's Circuit Ricardo Tormo - even more so than usual in an E-Prix, with the permanent race-track a change-up from the usual street circuits on the Formula E calendar.
Mueller started from the back of the pack in 22nd, with qualifying unusually proving a struggle for the team over the weekend. The Swiss, along with his engineer, had decided to play the long game. Being conservative on energy at the start of the race would mean more left over for the later laps when others were maybe looking to save energy rather than make up ground.
As the race transpired, with multiple outings for the MINI Electric Pacesetter, a drying track and plenty of incidents, this proved to be the perfect strategy. Even with plenty of strife for Mueller himself to deal with, as he came off worst in clashes with Audi's Rene Rast and Mercedes-EQ racer Stoffel Vandoorne, the DRAGON driver was able to sweep home second and his best finish in Formula E yet - making up 20 positions in the process.
"This time, we got it perfectly right," said the 29-year-old. "We were conservative at the beginning given where we started, and it paid off in the end. It was very unexpected after ending up in the gravel twice in contact with other people, and having a drive-through penalty at the start of the race.
"I guess it’s proof and reward for never giving up. I’m super happy for the team; they worked so hard for it. It’s not always easy going up against all those big teams and our guys are working harder than anyone else out there."
Holding his nerve and believing what he was hearing over the radio from the team about how much usable energy he had left to play with as others around him faltered were key to Mueller's drive.
"It was very confusing inside the car and we had a lot of conversations," he adds. "I was still far at the back when the restart was taking place and lost in the queue. I was unsure of the numbers I was given and if they could be right because I was seeing people coasting super early to save energy.
"I was thinking ‘is what we’re doing right?’. I tried to reassure myself and I got confirmation over the radio so I was getting happier as the two laps went on, because I was gaining place after place and managing to reward the team for their hard work and getting it right – it’s very satisfying.
"I don’t know why Antonio (Felix da Costa) decided to go for those two laps, otherwise he’d be sitting here. But, it shows how difficult it is to manage these races even when you are experienced and know exactly what you’re doing. You put one small foot wrong and immediately pay a very big price for it."
With Mueller now into his second Formula E season, the Swiss can lean on more experience in a car that's unlike anything else the talented sportscar, touring car and rallycross driver has sampled in the past. Formula E is a unique proposition and Mueller feels he and the team are putting their understanding to good use.
"There’s a bit more experience there now which plays into how we managed things," he says. "Working hard with the same people and creating an understanding when you’re working through different scenarios in these situations is really helpful.
"It’s a reward for that. Qualifying has been our strength. It wasn’t ahead of Round 5 but we managed to turn it around in the race. That’s the unpredictability of Formula E and what makes this championship so exciting."