DS TECHEETAH and Antonio Felix da Costa sealed their first silverware of Season 7 with a Round 2 recovery which kickstarted the team's campaign after a tough opening race; though the second encounter of the campaign didn't pass entirely without hitch for the reigning champions.
DS' drivers had been first out in qualifying ahead of Round 1 as part of Group 1 by virtue of their final standing in Season 6. This hampered progress as the circuit came to the later runners, with track evolution always a massive factor amid sandy surrounds in Diriyah.
“Last year we had a shocker of a weekend and left with three points in total,” said a philosophical Da Costa after Round 1. “We can’t let this affect us too much but we’re still here with last year’s car.
“Mercedes and Venturi looked super strong in race one, as did Virgin, and the Dutchmen were really on it this weekend! We’ll try and salvage as much as we can, and from Rome we’ll have our new beast and start our championship there.”
Da Costa and DS made good on their promise of grabbing as much as they could get their hands on in the second race, with both the Portuguese and teammate Jean-Eric Vergne running at the sharp end of the pack throughout - sparring for some 20 minutes and even coming to blows.
Vergne came home third on-track with Da Costa in close company but the Frenchman had that podium taken from his grasp via a post-race penalty as he was unable to make use of his second ATTACK MODE activation with the race red flagged.
“It was a good performance and result; we showed we have the pace and I am super pleased with that," said the champion.
“Everything looked like it had come together, but in the end I’m afraid to say that it didn’t," added Vergne. "When there is a big crash like the one Alex (Lynn) had, the only thing that matters is that he is okay. It would have been a really nice start, but we have seen that you don’t have to win the first race to win the season."
Managing two champions in a single team has always been an unenviable challenge in motorsport. DS TECHEETAH now has to contend with that reality and immediately, two-time champion Vergne and reigning title-winner Da Costa gave Team Principal Mark Preston food for thought - and not for the first time at DS!
After a race-long drive line-astern, the pair came to blows at Turn 20, with both keeping their foot in - making contact inevitable. They survived their scrape but it did cause them to drop away from leaders Sam Bird (Jaguar Racing) and Robin Frijns (Envision Virgin Racing).
"You can see both sides of the story from the drivers and why they thought something happened," said Preston. "They were obviously barging each other which wasn’t ideal, and that stopped them going at the guys out-front properly. We can react faster in the heat of the moment with situations like this and we'll optimise that in the next races."
"You don't waste energy among teammates fighting each other," said Vergne post-race. "When Antonio was in ATTACK MODE, I let him pass because we're a team and we try not to use unnecessary energy overtaking each other.
"I drove the inside line and expected him to repay the favour and let me pass but he stayed outside. We touched, and then in the last corner he just didn't brake. He just drove into me, and we collided."
"If that is his view of things, then it is probably the truth," responded Da Costa, right after the race. "I'm usually the first to raise my hand when I've made a mistake and if I'm wrong here, I'll do it this time too but I was able to take a quick look at the pictures and I'm not entirely sure."
Who was in the wrong? You decide; we're staying out of it!