Nissan’s Oliver Rowland stormed to Julius Baer Pole Position ahead of Round 3 in Diriyah, going up against Envision Racing’s Robin Frijns in a nail-biting finale. “That’s why I came back,” the Yorkshireman said on the radio after setting a stunning 1m10.055s lap time - the quickest lap time of the Diriyah weekend.
The session saw lots of big names wiped out early on including reigning champion and yesterday's race winner Jake Dennis (Andretti) and championship leader Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche). Frijns’ teammate, Sebastien Buemi, had a big shunt in Group B which ruined his car and left lots of drivers unable to improve on their time. However, the mistake did allow Maserati MSG Racing’s rookie Jehan Daruvala to make his first Duels appearance.
Envision’s Robin Frijns had a battle in the desert as he took on Nissan’s Oliver Rowland for the honour of pole position. Frijns’s first career pole came with Envision in Diriyah in 2021, but it wasn’t to be as Oliver Rowland got his first pole since Seoul 2022.
Rowland’s best start so far this season is 14th, and the three points for pole will be his first of the season. However, in an unusual stat, the pole sitter has not won any of the last six races here in Diriyah.
Frijns went head-to-head with DS PENSKE’s Season 8 champion Stoffel Vandoorne for a slot in the Final. Frijns beat the sister DS PENSKE of Vergne in the Quarters, and managed it again this time around to guarantee himself a front-row start. Dutchman Frijns hadn't managed higher than seventh in a dry qualifying session since Seoul in 2022, discounting his stunning wet-weather pole in Berlin last season. His last front-row start in the dry, coincidentally, was Berlin in 2022.
The next fight was between Cassidy and Yorkshireman Rowland. Cassidy is the only driver to have reached the Duels in every race so far this year, and has never previously started in the top five in Diriyah. This marked Rowland’s fifth career Duels appearance, and four of them have been in Diriyah. Rowland managed to speed through to the Finals as he went 0.197s quicker than Cassidy.
First up was yesterday’s polesitter Jean-Eric Vergne versus Frijns. The Dutchman’s teammate sat on and watched from the garage after an earlier crash, and Frijns managed to go two-tenths quicker and quicker in all sectors. Both of these drivers have had pole in Diriyah before, but Vergne has only taken back-to-back poles once in his career which was in Berlin Season 6.
Next up was Sacha Fenestraz versus Vandoorne but it was quickly established that Vandoorne was the favourite as he was sixth-tenths up by only the second sector. This is the first time that the Nissan team have appeared in the Duels in Season 10, and they did so with both their cars. Vandoorne was on pole for the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix, and managed to make it through to give it another try in the Semis.
Jake Hughes took on Nick Cassidy in the third Quarter Final, but despite the NEOM McLaren driver being a former Julius Baer Pole Position holder in Diriyah, it was the Jaguar driver who went quickest. He’ll be hoping to make it a hat-trick of consecutive podium finishes later today after getting third in both Rounds 1 and 2.
Last up was Rowland and rookie Jehan Daruvala on his first Duels appearance. Rowland had looked rapid all weekend, and dominated the session by going over sixth-tenths clear of the Maserati MSG Racing driver.
With track conditions being some of the best they’ve been all weekend, the lap times kept falling as the first group fought for a place in the Quarters. Fenestraz flew through the 2.49km lap to set a time of 1m10.641s and go quickest, the French-Argentine hoping for a better race today than he had yesterday when he was forced to retire. Joining him in the fastest four was Frijns and both DS PENSKE drivers, Vergne and Vandoorne.
Traffic was an issue towards the end of the session as all 11 drivers wanted to go out as late as possible because of the improvements with track evolution. In a shocking twist, a host of the favourites were knocked out, including standings leader TAG Heuer Porsche’s Pascal Wehrlein and yesterday’s front-row starter Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing).
Maserati MSG Racing’s Maximilian Guenther was also knocked out finishing the session in sixth, with Andretti’s Norman Nato finishing in tenth. Antonio Felix da Costa’s weekend has also not improved as the Porsche driver finished over a second off the pace of Fenestraz.
The second group was impacted heavily by a red flag, when Sebastien Buemi made a heavy impact with the wall at Turn 3 after missing the braking point entering the corner. The Envision Racing driver, who put it on pole here last season, caused significant damage to his front wing and suspension and will need a big rebuild before the E-Prix which starts at 20:00 local time.
Rowland made it two in two for Nissan, with Fenestraz having topped his group. Joining him in the Quarters was Cassidy who inherited a podium place yesterday after a last-lap error in yesterday’s E-Prix. NEOM McLaren’s Jake Hughes, who got his maiden pole in Diriyah in Season 9, made it through to the Duels and was joined by rookie Daruvala. The Indian driver was aided by the Red Flags but an impressive achievement nonetheless.
The stoppage also meant laps were ruined for the likes of McLaren’s Sam Bird and last night’s race winner Jake Dennis. The Season 9 World Champion said he was “driving the worst car I have ever driven in Formula E” adamant that it was “probably a good thing the red flag came out because I was going to get jumped from the cars behind me.”