Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes-EQ) bounced back from a disappointing Round 3 to fight his way from fourth to the front, holding fast for victory in Round 4 at Rome's Circuito Cittadino dell'EUR - firing himself into championship contention having started the day 15th in the standings.
Alexander Sims (Mahindra Racing) swashbuckled his way to second spot, with Porsche's Pascal Wehrlein taking the final podium berth after Norman Nato (ROKiT Venturi Racing) was disqualified for energy overuse - such were the fine margins in the final throes of the race.
Polesitter Nick Cassidy (Envision Virgin Racing) span out of the lead on the opening lap with Nato briefly heading the pack before Wehrlein snatched top spot. Vandoorne then made it count through the first ATTACK MODE activation and drove like he was "on another planet" according to Wehrlein. The Belgian bossed things from there to the end despite a frenetic final lap thanks to a late spell behind the Safety Car.
Drivers' Championship leader Sam Bird (Jaguar Racing), and the man third in the running pre-race, Nyck de Vries (Mercedes-EQ), were wiped out in contact with one-another as they fought for points on the cusp of the top 10 - both failed to finish.
WHAT A RACE START! We go green in Rome for Round 4 🇮🇹— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) April 11, 2021
Live updates here >> https://t.co/sHOKGxvLZW#GivingConfidence#Allianz#RomeEPrixpic.twitter.com/ewLkUIR4uZ
As it happened...
As in Round 3, Round 4 got going behind the Safety Car with a few slimy patches left around the circuit under the trees after this morning’s wet practice and qualifying sessions.
It was a disastrous start for Cassidy once the field was released, as the pole man locked up the rear tyres to spin at Turn 7, which saw him fall to 11th position – the lead handed on a platter to Nato.
Three laps in and the Kiwi set about battling back, moving beyond both Sam Bird (Jaguar Racing) and Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) for ninth while race leader Nato had Pascal Wehrlein’s Porsche all over his rear diffuser.
The Frenchman couldn’t hold on long, with Wehrlein snapping out of the slipstream to pinch the lead on Lap 3 and Vandoorne followed immediately with a muscular pass at the Marconi Hairpin. First to third in half a lap for Nato.
After the opening throes, Wehrlein led from Vandoorne, Nato, Maximilian Guenther (BMW i Andretti Motorsport), Sims, Edo Mortara (ROKiT Venturi Racing), Cassidy, Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.dams), Nico Mueller (DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT) and Bird – the top 15 inside 10 seconds again in Rome.
Cassidy’s recovery reached seventh spot come Lap 4, but Rowland gave the Envision Virgin Racing car a nudge into Turn 14, forcing the Kiwi into the Tecpro barriers and all the way to the back of the pack. No luck for Cassidy, who reported his earlier lockup from the lead was the result of a software glitch.
As the first round of ATTACK MODE activations began to shake out, it looked like Vandoorne had been the big winner. Wehrlein was last of the front-runners to jump and it cost him first spot – the Mercedes man getting the better of the Porsche driver in the battle of the Stuttgart manufacturers.
Heading inside the half hour plus one lap, and contact between Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) in mid-pack resulted in a mess of carbon fibre – the latter accusing the former of a “crazy move” that spun him on the back straight into the wall. A Full Course Yellow was the result while the Audi was cleared.
Five minutes later as the race went green once again, Sims caught Wehrlein napping to steal second spot with Vandoorne scampering five seconds clear of the pair of them – the Belgian using his advantage to use ATTACK MODE number two.
Here's the moment @svandoorne claimed victory on the streets of Rome!#RomeEPrix@MercedesEQFEpic.twitter.com/F6LQM6leyo— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) April 11, 2021
Through the second round of ATTACK MODE of three for this race, and into the final 20 minutes plus a lap, DS TECHEETAH's Antonio Felix da Costa was also making progress – slicing beyond Mitch Evans (Jaguar Racing) and Buemi in quick succession for eighth, up from 15th on the grid at the start. Five minutes later, he jumped by Rowland for seventh in that tricky Turn 7 braking zone, though in any case, the Brit was slapped with a 10 second penalty for that earlier move on Cassidy.
It remained as you were in the podium positions with Vandoorne leading Sims and Wehrlein. Nato held fourth, his teammate Mortara fifth and Guenther sixth. That was, until Lap 17 when Nato slipped up the inside of Wehrlein for a provisional podium – top stuff from the rookie.
With a little over five minutes plus one lap to run, a shunt for Rene Rast as the Audi driver scrapped on the cusp of the points and pushed a little too far meant another appearance this weekend for the Mini Electric Pacesetter Safety Car. Leader Vandoorne saw his ample advantage quashed with the pack now backed up – it had all looked to be in-hand for the Belgian.
The race became a one lap dash and the Mercedes led away, using FANBOOST as a defence. In-behind Vandoorne, it was all going off with Mortara producing the save of the season to hold Guenther off and keep it out of the wall.
Meanwhile, the pre-race championship leader Sam Bird, and the man third in the running, Nyck de Vries, were wiped out in contact as they fought for points on the cusp of the top 10 with Rowland also involved.
Vandoorne held firm to take the chequered flag and redeem his race weekend after falling from pole after contact in Round 3. Sims followed second just 0.6 seconds back with Nato taking a first Formula E podium on track. A post-race penalty for energy overuse saw him unceremoniously demoted though, with Wehrlein profiting to fill that final podium berth.
Mortara came home fifth, followed by Guenther, Evans, da Costa, Buemi, Tom Blomqvist (NIO 333) and Mueller completed the top 10.
Sam Bird leaves Rome atop the Drivers' table, with Jaguar teammate Mitch Evans narrowly behind in second spot. Vandoorne's win lifts him to fourth from 15th.
Jaguar Racing head the way in the Teams' running, with Mercedes-EQ second and reigning champions DS TECHEETAH third.