Daniel Abt's victory on home soil was a defining moment in the history of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. It was a perfect day with the German registering the first-ever Grand Slam - making it a clean sweep with pole, the fastest lap, and leading the entire race on the way to victory.
The 2018 Berlin E-Prix started like any ordinary race day for Daniel Abt, but ended with a career-defining, fairy-tale win and a late-night (or early morning depending on how you look at it) kebab. The German sat down to reminisce about how that perfect day came together.
In the 2017/18 season Abt, who was one of the original squad of Formula E drivers, was coming off the back of his first victory just four rounds before the Berlin race, with a controlling drive in Mexico City. A win that would see him bestowed with becoming the first German driver to win in Formula E and securing Audi's first victory as a factory team.
Looking back at the Berlin race, Abt remembers heading into Tempelhof and putting a lot of expectation on himself, he'd finished second there behind Audi teammate Lucas di Grassi the year previously and had high hopes this time around: “Racing at home is always very important and special to me. Before race day we were all saying that we had to win the race.
“But I didn’t get the best start to the day, we weren’t the quickest during free practice.” Abt would end the two practice sessions with the 10th and seventh fastest times respectively.
""When the race came, I felt so comfortable with myself and the car, I somehow knew it was going to be our day.”
Regrouping Abt sat down with the team to put their heads together, he added: “We had to risk something, so we made a couple of changes to the car to get what we wanted out of it.”
It was in group qualifying when everything just fell into place for Abt, as he recalled: “When qualifying started I remember starting my first lap and it felt really good.
“That time was enough to make it through into Super Pole and at that moment I thought: ‘It has to be it!’. Before I knew it, it was pole position for my home race and that was already such an amazing feeling.”
Sat on the grid Abt was cool, calm, and collected. “When the race came, I felt so comfortable with myself and the car, I somehow knew it was going to be our day,” recalled Abt. “But there was still plenty of pressure building up due to the fear of losing it all, we just kept thinking that we had to bring it home.”
For everyone watching at home, it looked like a relatively straightforward race for Abt, he was clean away from the line and was untouchable.
Published on 12th August 2021
Behind the German, the positions were fought back-and-forth and even with di Grassi bearing down on him, when a slight delay in the pits brought the Brazilian into contention. Abt remained composed and harmonious with the Audi machine, extending his lead out again and eventually crossing the line with a comfortable six-second gap to di Grassi.
”Having Lucas right behind me put a lot of pressure on me and I almost lost pace at one point, but I kept thinking that I couldn’t lose it now.
“I can’t tell you precisely what happened during that race, but it was just perfect, and Audi finished with a one-two and that feeling was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
“That race meant so much to me, the atmosphere altogether having everybody there with the fans and the weather was perfect. I’d say it was almost unreal.”
It was one of those drives that all racers think about, that moment when they become one with the machine under them. It was an experience, unlike anything Abt had felt before.
“In all honestly it was the first time I had ever raced experiencing such a feeling in the car,” started Abt.
“I was always aware of what the car was doing or what it was going to do. It is hard to put it into words, but you and the car feel like one and it makes everything so much easier and manageable during the race. I only had to perform, so I did, and it worked!”
Coming out of the final turn Abt was greeted by rapturous cheers from the home crowd. Everyone that day witnessed history, with Abt firmly stamping his name into the Formula E record books.
It was a fairy tale moment, the first-ever Grand Slam in Formula E history; claiming pole position, leading every lap, setting the fastest time, and winning the E-Prix, and all of this in his home race.
“It was only my second win and for me, that race brought up so many emotions altogether.
“Winning before the eyes of all the people who have always supported me through thick and thin was the biggest win as I felt like their support had finally paid off. Thinking back to it I still can’t believe that actually happened!”
But how did it feel to be a record-breaker and the first driver to complete the Grand Slam in Formula E, the German elaborated: “It still feels good, it is was something you can tick off your list! It will always be mine and no one will ever be able to take that away from me.”
To be expected the celebrations ran well into the night, as Abt reminisces on the partying that followed: “I didn’t let back during the celebrations! Anyone who knows me well is aware I love partying and if the day goes well, it is just one more reason to celebrate! I remember being at the after-party and Alejandro (Agag – Formula E founder and chairman) shouting my name and people would go crazy.
“I felt like a rockstar, and my only thought was to enjoy the night and cherish that moment. We went home at 6am and I remember walking back to the hotel with people from my team surprised in seeing me only coming back at that time”
There was no walk of shame for the race winner however, even when spotted returning to the hotel, celebratory kebab in hand by Audi Team Principal Alan McNish.
Abt may be absent from the grid this season, but he’s well and truly ingrained in the Formula E family. His racing gear is hanging comfortably in the wardrobe, but he can still be found in the paddock working as a TV commentator and expert for German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1, bringing his experience from the cockpit to the commentary booth and calling back on his 69 race tenure in all-electric street racing.
“I really like it and am enjoying myself. For me it was a way to stay connected to Formula E,” said Abt.
“They’ve also been really happy to have me on board as I can bring a lot of insight and I know what the drivers are thinking.”
Like all of us Abt is on tenterhooks to see how the Season 7 finale will unfold in Berlin, he said: "This season is just crazy to predict. I've never seen a championship this tight. We've had a few weekends where someone that was in 10th or 12th in the standings jumps right up to the top. So imagine that happening in the final race!"
You can still follow all of Daniel Abt’s escapades on his YouTube channel, and for fans in Germany find out how to tune into all the action and listen to his commentary for the final two rounds of the 2020/21 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship from the BMW I Berlin E-Prix presented by CBMM Niobium