The 2024 Diriyah E-Prix double-header was a tense follow-up to the opening round of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season, with a bigger emphasis on close fighting and making the right strategy calls at the right time than prolific overtaking alone.
But as evidence of how varied these kinds of performances can be, Bird and Mortara earned this in different ways with races at different ends of the grid. The key part of Bird’s race was a good old-fashioned bit of a clever, brave racecraft at the start.
HIGHLIGHTS: The 2024 Diriyah E-Prix Round 2
Bird’s initial launch was not stunning but his car positioning thereafter was. He gained ground on the outside into the first corner which then gave him the inside as the track went left, clearing TAG Heuer Porsche's prior standings leader Pascal Wehrlein, then decisively picked the outside line again for the next corner, passing Maximilian Guenther (Maserati MSG Racing) and Jaguar TCS Racing's new-for-Season 10 signing, and Mexico City podium-winner, Nick Cassidy, under braking.
This launched Bird from ninth to sixth on the opening lap and let him set up his race without having made instant progress without worrying about excessive energy use - track position being absolutely key. He settled into the rhythm with the lead group and used the first half of the E-Prix to conserve energy while holding station.
Bird stayed sixth for 21 laps and in that time was consistently slower than the field average – around 4kph down on the average speed per lap. He also had consistently lower battery usage than the cars at the head of the pack, but he wasn’t losing position, or ground, just ensuring nobody had a higher state of charge. That meant the experienced Brit could up the ante around the critical phase of his race, mainly between Laps 21 and 29 when he made the moves that would secure him fifth place at the finish.
Passing Sergio Sette Camara (ERT), he went from using around 2.5% per lap to 3%, then after losing out to Jaguar’s Cassidy, Bird clocked his own highest speed (230kph) on Lap 24 and the highest average speed on track of anyone (118kph) on Lap 28 – when he overtook Norman Nato – and again on lap 29.
Unlike Bird, Mortara was not in a position to set up a similar strong points finish with an early charge in race two.
Mortara's near miss
Starting down in 18th, Mortara always had his work cut out to get into the top 10 at all. Ultimately, Mortara fell short of points but a mid-race ascent meant he gave it a very good go.
The strategy was a familiar one for someone in Mortara’s position: conserve energy early on and see what opportunities are eventually presented.
That meant Mortara stayed on the better side of the average for battery state of charge early on, and nobody had higher by around mid-distance. With steady battery usage of between 2.5% and 2.7%, the Swiss-French-Italian gave himself a significant advantage compared to the frontrunners – race leader Cassidy, for example, was 3.4% worse off.
The problem for Mortara is he was not racing the outright leaders. So it was not easy to use what was a more negligible advantage compared to those immediately around.
He could only create a relatively small window to attack, between Laps 18 and 27, but he made full use of it. Mortara’s battery usage increased quite substantially, never less than 2.8% during this phase and with a peak of 3.1% on lap 21.
That was an interesting contrast with other drivers who hit a similar peak but much earlier in the E-Prix – Cassidy on lap 7 for example, and Oliver Rowland as early as Lap 5.
It paid off as Mortara finally started to make up ground, passing Sette Camara on Lap 17 and his teammate, returning from a spell in Formula 1 in Season 10 - Nyck de Vries on Lap 20. Nico Mueller in the ABT CUPRA was next on Lap 21, a Lap on which Mortara’s average throttle depth was 43% - more than 10% higher than some in the race’s lead group, an indication of just how much potential Mortara was asking of his powertrain.
By Lap 24, Mortara was also ahead of Maserati MSG Racing's rookie Jehan Daruvala and had risen from 17th to 12th, but his charge would end there. Not long after that he was more or less steady on battery state of charge with his immediate rivals, and though his peak speeds were still to come – 226.7kph on lap 25, it was actually lower than those around him.
In fact, Mortara had one of the slowest top speeds of every driver all race. Only three posted slower peaks, and the outright fastest (Jake Dennis) was 238.8kph – a marker of how cautious Mortara had to be even with his best opportunities to make progress.
As it stands...
All that leaves de Vries top of the charts leaving Diriyah, with Mortara flinging himself up the order to place second - a Mahindra Racing one-two in ABB Driver of Progress as it stands in Season 10.