It didn’t take much analysis after the first five races of the season to determine that Porsche had the best car, and were the team to beat in this first season of the GEN3 era. They finished first and second in the first three races, Pascal Wehrlein finished fourth in Hyderabad despite missing out on Friday practice due to a big crash, and Antonio Felix da Costa won the next race in Cape Town. If we look a little closer, though, there isn’t much evidence to support that theory anymore.
The standard theory is that the Porsche can't qualify particularly well, but is magnificent on energy efficiency, allowing it to come through the field and win. There were many who believed that they would clean up in Berlin, especially when we saw the level of efficiency required to be successful and Wehrlein lined up sixth on the grid for his home race. As it was, he finished lower than he started, crossing the line in seventh place.
There’s also not a huge amount of evidence to back up the ‘poor qualifying’ theory. Wehrlein qualified inside the top 10 at the first five races of the season, making it through to the duels on three occasions. Jake Dennis - in the customer Avalanche Andrett - qualified the powertrain on the front row in Mexico City, and da Costa took pole in Cape Town.
In November I hosted Porsche’s launch in Italy, and some the reiterated that their main focus with the GEN3 project was to be on track as quickly as possible. This was a team that had joined the GEN2 era a year later than all the other manufacturers, so had spent three seasons on the back foot. They were determined to be on the front foot with this new iteration of car. Getting on track early did have its drawbacks. There were teething problems with the new car, meaning that they ended up losing some development time compared to their rivals whose testing program started later on in the early life of the GEN3.
There’s no doubt that they arrived in Mexico City and Diriyah on the front foot. A well-oiled operation, who clearly had a strong handle on energy efficiency in the early stages. But those first three races would have given all the other teams a huge amount of data, and to my mind they had effectively caught up with Porsche by the time Hyderabad came along. Sure, Porsche were still a strong front-runner, but they have not enjoyed anywhere near the level of domination since.
By Diriyah, it seemed that Jaguar had the best overall package. The two strongest qualifiers this season have been Mitch Evans and Sebastien Buemi, in fact Buemi has only missed out on the duels once, and there have been three Jaguar powered cars through to the duels in each of the last four races, and there have only been two races this season where there was no Jaguar power represented on the podium at the chequered flag.
Now that Cassidy is just four points behind Wehrlein in the championship standings, there’s no doubt in my mind that the New Zealander is the favourite for the title. Not an easy favourite by any stretch, simply based on the trajectory of the season so far. Vergne is not out of it, Dennis is not out of it, and Evans is certainly in the hunt now that the Jaguars are emerging as the strongest package on the grid. It’ll need to be a strong weekend for Porsche and Wehrlein in Monaco if they want to show signs of being able to rekindle their early season form.