Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes-EQ) showed the coolest head to win the final Duel and come out on top in Formula E's new qualifying format, besting Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti), in spite of the Brit's ruthless showing.
Dennis flew off to a fine start in the final face-off but his Andretti machine looked looser than Vandoorne's Silver Arrow 02 and by the half-way point of the lap, the Belgian had romped four tenths of-a-second clear. Dennis gave it all he had and nibbled at the deficit but Vandoorne's typically collected - and rapid - effort delivered Julius Baer Pole Position - stringing it together and delivering on four occasions, from Groups right through to the final Duel.
Ultra-calm had Dennis given experienced adversary Andre Lotterer (Porsche) absolutely nothing in the semi-finals with the Andretti driver pulling a storming sixth tenths on the German to make the front row, and ultimately second spot.
The Mercedes' had earlier faced one-another for a spot in the final face-off. Reigning champion Nyck de Vries swept sideways through Turn 5, and again on the way towards the back straight - a proper tank-slapper. That gave Vandoorne a 0.2 second advantage, though the Dutchman will be happy to have kept it out of the wall and settles for a "decent" third.
Lotterer left nothing on the table and pulled out a tenth-of-a-second on Robin Frijns (Envision Racing) at the half-way stage of their duel. Frijns had the benchmark in his sights but the Dutchman couldn't overhaul the deficit - seeing Lotterer progress and Frijns knocked out of the inaugural Formula E qualifying duel and into seventh.
Next up, Dennis faced Sam Bird (Jaguar TCS Racing) with the former leaving it all to do for the latter - too much to do, in fact, with Dennis making it through by a couple of tenths of-a-second to face Lotterer. Bird ultimately wound up fifth.
Vandoorne headed Cassidy out on-track in the third duel, though it was the Kiwi that set the pace around the first sector. Vandoorne began to reel Cassidy in mid-way around the lap and a storming final sector pulled the momentum the Belgian's way and saw him into the semi-finals and Cassidy into sixth.
Oliver Rowland could scarcely have been more sideways on the way down the 'toboggan run' and somehow kept it out of the wall. That left de Vries with the relatively simple task of keeping it clean to make it into the semis to square off against his teammate Vandoorne. Rowland will be disappointed not to capitalise on his practice pace and finds himself eighth.
Two runs on fresh tyres looked to be the way to go in the Groups – though there was scope for a third fast lap if needed, without that tyre turnover.
After a last-gasp scramble in the opening group, Frijns led Bird, Vandoorne and Rowland, with Di Grassi shuffled to fifth, while Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH) couldn't hide his annoyance as his final quick run was compromised in traffic. 2015/16 champion Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) found himself a second adrift of the pace and last in the opening group's running.
Group B's efforts were curtailed by Edo Mortara's trip into the barriers. The ROKiT Venturi Racing man set about his final flying lap but wound up in the wall - meaning de Vries' benchmark remained, with Nick Cassidy (Envision Racing), Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) and Andre Lotterer (Porsche) the drivers to make it through to the Duels.
Rookies Dan Ticktum (NIO 333) and Antonio Giovinazzi (DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT) had a tougher time of it, finishing 1.3 and 1.4 seconds off the pace, respectively, at the foot of the group, and the classification.
The 2022 Diriyah E-Prix Round 1 follows at 15:40 with the race itself at 20:00.
Published on 28th January 2022