JACK NICHOLLS: Who's best placed to produce some Moroccan magic in Marrakesh?

I feel like every pre-race piece I write begins with a declaration of how much I enjoy going to [insert city name here], and Marrakesh is no different. It’s always a welcome addition to the Season 8 calendar, and in just a three hour flight from London you are transported to a completely different continent and culture.

READ MORE: City Guide: Marrakesh

Marrakesh was founded almost one thousand years ago, and in fact it was 900 years ago this year that construction began on the city’s famous red walls, and in an admittedly much shorter time frame it has provided some memorable moments for Formula E.

A Moroccan classic

Perhaps the most memorable was the race here back in Season 5. Sam Bird took pole position with a superb lap, despite having been shunted in the pit lane during qualifying by his then-Envision Virgin teammate Robin Frijns whose brakes had failed. BMW were then leading the race in first and second, before Alexander Sims and Antonio Felix da Costa inexplicably collided while fighting each other, sending them both out of the running.

Venturi’s Team Principal Jerome d’Ambrosio then came through to take his first victory for Mahindra and moving him to the top of the championship, while Envision finisihed second and third for their first ever double podium.

In the market for a title

It seems inevitable that we will either end the season with a first time champion, or the only double champion will become a triple champion. The top four of Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes-EQ), Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH), Edoardo Mortara (ROKiT Venturi Racing) and Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) have clearly broken away in the championship fight, and are separated by just 12 points arriving in Africa.

The average finishing positions for those top four make for interesting reading. Vergne actually has the best average finishing position over the first nine races, coming in at 4.3, admittedly just 0.1 position ahead of championship leader Vandoorne, illustrating the mighty consistency those two have achieved. By contrast, Evans' average finishing position is 7.7 as the New Zealander has had more peaks and troughs. Mortara actually has the best average finishing position, with 3.5, but that is excluding the two races that he failed to finish!

Cous and effect

Vandoorne is still holding on to the top of the standings, but only once in the last eight races (his Monaco win) has he finished ahead of the other three in the title race. Despite scoring well, he is always having to work hard to pick up those points, after a very curious qualifying record. In the last seven races, Vandoorne has qualified eighth an astonishing five times.

Stoffel Vandoorne Mercedes-EQ at the Marrakesh E-Prix

Eighth is a notable position, as it means he gets through to the Duels stage running at 220kW, but then on all but two occasions has been the slowest loser in the quarter finals stage when the power increases to 250kW. There’s no doubt he can get it right, as two pole positions this season have demonstrated, but if he and Mercedes-EQ can get on top of whatever is causing this qualifying inconsistency - or rather, consistency - then the Belgian will be able to run at the front from the start of races.

Something that a hundred men or more could ever do

Only Vergne has won two Formula E titles, and he really could be on for a third. After a couple of seasons arguably in the shadow of his DS TECHEETAH teammate Antonio Felix da Costa, Vergne has been superb in 2022. His qualifying has been outstanding, and he has the best average grid position in the field, and he keeps picking up the points as the only driver to score in every race.

Admittedly, he is yet to win a race this season despite three second places. Frijns is the only other driver to have multiple second place finishes. Even if a race victory doesn’t come this season, it’s perfectly feasible that the third title could Vergne’s way, which would be a remarkable achievement.

Outsiders

Like the perfect tagine, this season has been a slow burn for three former Kings of Morocco. Jaguar TCS Racing's Sam Bird holds a record of winning a race in every season of Formula E but that is looking under threat after a difficult campaign so far. He is arguably the most successful in the city, though, with a pole position and three podium finishes. There has been no win yet on the Marrakesh streets, but victory this weekend would put that to rest and continue his astounding sequence of wins.

Having said that, I am writing this on a plane somewhere over Spain in seat 12A; Bird is in 13A directly behind me, and is amusing himself by thumping the back of my chair and throwing things at me. I always try to remain impartial, but this is testing my patience.

Buemi Season 3 Marrakesh win

Two other former winners of the Marrakesh E-Prix arrive as winners at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) has a pole position, a win and a second place  here, and stood on the top step as the overall winner at Le Mans for the fourth time two weeks ago. There was a mini-renaissance from the Swiss in Jakarta, as he made it into the Duels stages of qualifying for the first time, before collecting a point for 10th place.

The last race here was won from pole position by da Costa. It was his first win of the season and kick started the three victories in a row that wrapped up the Season 6 title. Da Costa won the LMP2 class in Le Mans, and although he has no podium finishes yet this season, only Mortara has been stronger in qualifying over the last three races than the DS TECHEETAH man.

In summary, there’s so much to look out for in this weekend’s race, and it’s the final single header of the season too. After this, three double-headers in New York City, London and Seoul will determine the Season 8 champion.

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