DS PENSKE achieved their first Julius Baer Pole Position since 2016, as reigning champion Stoffel Vandoorne became the ninth different polesitter in nine races ahead of the inaugural Julius Baer Sao Paulo E-Prix.
Vandoorne beat the TAG Heuer Porsche of Antonio Felix da Costa to lock in his first pole since Rome in Season 8. The Belgian driver also topped Group A qualifying, continuing a crazy coincidence that the driver fastest in that group has gone on to take pole in the last four consecutive races - joining NEOM McLaren’s Jake Hughes in Diriyah, Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans in Hyderabad, and Nissan’s Sacha Fenestraz in Cape Town.
Standings leader Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) finds himself marooned down in 18th, having failed to make it out of the Groups. Home heroes Lucas di Grassi (Mahindra Racing) and Sergio Sette Camara (NIO 333) also struggled and will start at the back - the former hit a wall, pushing a bit too hard, and the latter a bump which forced a reboot of his car.
Vandoorne and Da Costa went head-to-head, with the DS PENSKE driver coming out on top with a time of 1m11.904s. However, it was unbelievably close, with Cape Town winner Da Costa missing out by just six hundredths of a second in his first Duels appearance of the season with Porsche.
"That feels extremely good after some difficult first races where qualifying didn't really go my way,” Vandoorne stated after securing Julius Baer Pole Position. “I just couldn't put things together [so far this season], but today was really an awesome job and we managed to improve everything quite a bit since the start of the year and I'm just very happy to be on pole here."
Surprisingly, no Porsche-powered car had previously made the top four in qualifying this season, despite TAG Heuer Porsche and Avalanche Andretti sitting first and third in the Teams' World Championship.
The first Semi-Final saw Vandoorne take on Maserati MSG Racing’s Mortara, with the Season 8 champion making it through to the Final and achieving his first front row start so far in GEN3. Although the DS PENSKEs were on the front row in Hyderabad, they have not had multiple front row starts in a single season since as far back as Season 2. Mortara starts fourth.
The second pairing saw da Costa face Mitch Evans. Although it looked as if Evans had it in the bag, being almost three-tenths up at one point in his lap, the Porsche of da Costa put in an unreal performance in the final sector to secure a place in the Final while the New Zealander will line up third.
The first of the battles in the Duels was Mortara versus the Envision Racing of Nick Cassidy. These two fought each other before, at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix, and in both instances Mortara had come out on top. The Maserati driver went quicker this time, too, to make it through to the Semi-Finals of the Duels for the first time this season. Cassidy will settle for a net fifth spot on the grid.
Next up was Jake Hughes, versus reigning champion Stoffel Vandoorne. Unfortunately for the NEOM McLaren driver, he made a mistake and threw any chance of a Duels win away on his lap, which gave the Semi Final place to the DS PENSKE driver. This was the first time Hughes has lost a Quarter-Final since he made his Formula E debut at the Mexico City E-Prix earlier this year. He will start sixth.
Da Costa took on Maximilian Guenther, with the Portuguese storming to victory in what was his first Duels appearance of Season 9. Maserati MSG Racing will be encouraged to see Guenther and Mortara both inside the top eight - the German taking ninth spot.
Teammates at Jaguar TCS Racing, Evans and Sam Bird were put up against each other in the last Quarters battle. Kiwi driver Evans was comfortably quickest of the session though not of the day - that was da Costa's honour in FP2 - and made it through, where Bird set the fastest time of all the 'losers'. Bird's carry-over penalty from Hyderabad following that shunt with teammate Evans meaning the Brit drops to 10th on the starting grid.
The first qualifying group has looked like the place to be so far in Season 9, as the driver quickest in Group A has gone on to take Julius Baer Pole Position in the previous three races - something that ultimately continued here, too.
Home hero Sergio Sette Camara brought out a Red Flag with six minutes left on the clock in the first qualifying group. His NIO 333 car came to a halt at the side of the circuit, and after performing a quick restart, was able to make his way back to the garage. It didn’t seem to impact his session too much, as once green flag conditions resumed he headed back out on track.
Vandoorne managed to get to make the top of Group A once the chequered flag was waved, with a time of 1m12.761s. Just behind him was Cassidy, Mortara and Hughes who all made it through to the Duels.
DS PENSKE’s Vergne, who has been on the podium at the past two races, will start the inaugural Julius Baer Sao Paulo E-Prix from the fifth row of the grid. Championship leader Pascal Wehrlein (Porsche) will also start 18th, after serving a three-place grid penalty for a Cape Town clash, having never been outside of the top 10 so far this season. A tap with the wall for Wehrlein in the final few moments of the session might have something to do with this.
The ABT CUPRA of Nico Muller's managed seventh place, which is the best group qualifying performance by the team this season.
Jaguar's Bird, who will be serving a five-place grid penalty after being to blame for an incident at the Greenko Hyderabad E-Prix, went quickest with 90 seconds left on the clock and remained there at the end of the session. Aborting one of his earlier laps after Mahindra Racing’s Lucas di Grassi made contact with the wall and broke his suspension, both Bird and teammate Evans qualified for the Quarters.
Guenther got himself into second in the group, with da Costa outqualifying teammate Wehrlein for the first time in GEN3 to slot into third.
The return of Robin Frijns (ABT CUPRA) has been a big headline this weekend, but his first race back didn’t get off to a smooth start in qualifying. Stopping at the side of the track, the Dutchman reported that he “had nothing” from his car, but got going again after restarting his machine.
Envision’s Sebastien Buemi failed to make it through to the Duels for the first time in Season 9, with NIO’s Dan Ticktum also making a mistake and going wide in one of his final attempts to make it through to the Duels. Another big shock was Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis, who sits second in the championship standings, but will line up on the seventh row of the grid for today’s race.