Sette Camara and Vandoorne pick up ABB Driver of Progress in Rome

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Sette Camara and Vandoorne pick up ABB Driver of Progress in Rome

One driver’s nightmare is another’s opportunity. Which meant the two action-packed races that made up the 2023 Hankook Rome E-Prix created as much joy for some as did agony for others. ABB Driver of Progress winners Sergio Sette Camara and Stoffel Vandoorne are symbols of that. The former gained 13 places in Race 1, picking his way through the mid-race pile-up that eliminated so many, while Vandoorne rose 10 spots on a dramatic Sunday.

Rome racing pack start Vandoorne Season 9

Here’s how the NIO 333 and DS PENSKE drivers' respective rises fit into two of the more breathless rounds of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship we've seen in Season 9, as the stakes rise towards the London double-header finale.

Round 13: Fenestraz’s fall

Either side of the lengthy mid-race stoppage following that multi-car shunt, Round 13 was won by Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) in the classic style we've seen so often from the Jaguar, and Porsche-powered, cars in GEN3 so far. He kept himself in the mix throughout, never dropping lower than third, and used his energy sparingly in the first half before picking the right time to jump and turn his energy and track position advantage into an insurmountable obstacle for those behind to overcome.

After the Red Flag and restart, Evans was consistently using less energy than his immediate rivals Sacha Fenestraz (Nissan) and Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti). Fenestraz’s Nissan was particularly energy-hungry; it used a full percent more than Evans’s Jaguar on one lap alone before the Red Flag as the French-Argentine clambered beyond the Jaguars and hit the front.

R13 median energy

By the time Evans broke clear in P1 on lap 18, he’d followed Fenestraz and then Dennis for all but two laps of the E-Prix, and the difference to Fenestraz was staggering – Evans was 4% better off and even Dennis was 2.7% to the good as the Nissan driver was forced to overconsume in a bid to keep with the pair.

The gradual energy deficit, which was partly down to powertrain efficiency but exacerbated by leading so much of the race, marked the inevitable downfall of Fenestraz’s bid for victory and his engineer was over the radio to manage expectations and reset Fenestraz's mindset about where his race lie.

By this time, Evans had also built a crucial advantage over Dennis, who was vocal in his despair as he and his Avalanche Andretti team realised its calculation of the race distance after the Red Flag and laps behind the Safety Car meant it would come up a lap short on energy.

So as Fenestraz desperately managed his energy spend in the final third of the E-Prix, at times using 0.6% less per lap than Evans, so too did Dennis - the Brit suddenly having to switch to a more conservative approach.

By the time he was saving most aggressively he’d reduced his energy consumption by over 1% a lap from its peak, and that meant a slide down the order. It was not as severe as the saving Fenestraz had to suffer, as Dennis had a little more energy in reserve to begin with but it dropped him out of the lead fight and into a fierce defence against Jean-Eric Vergne and Nico Muller to the flag - where he did, just about, keep hold of fourth which could prove vital in the title shakeup.


Last beats early leader

While Dennis was able to hang on against Vergne and Muller, Fenestraz slipped all the way to 10th at the chequered flag – behind Sette Camara, who had started last on the grid.

The NIO 333 machine is not the most efficient so it’s no surprise to learn that Sette Camara didn’t exactly hoard a ton of extra energy to unleash late on.

But he did a good job of biding his time at the back of the field in the early stage of the race and that did mean a decent energy surplus come the half-way stage of the race – a little more than his immediate rivals, roughly the same as Evans, and nearly 2% more than Fenestraz in the lead after the restart.  


Having been 18th when Sebastien Buemi’s crashed triggered such carnage, Sette Camara survived the melee, picking his way through the scattered cars and debris, and his reward was taking the restart in ninth place.

Though he was unsurprisingly unable to keep TAG Heuer Porsche's Pascal Wehrlein behind in a quicker car, he did use his superior energy to pick off Fenestraz. That’s how the car that started the race in last place ended up beating the car that led a chunk of it.

Round 14: The race beyond the title twist

The big story from Round 14 in Rome was the major twist in the title fight on lap two.

Evans and Cassidy had been the class of the field on Saturday but neither Kiwi had much chance to influence Sunday’s encounter, as Evans made a mistake under braking and crashed into his championship rival on Lap 2 - narrowly missing the other of the standings' top three, out in the lead at the time, Jake Dennis.

Both cars rejoined but neither featured prominently in this race again. Evans had to retire just a couple of laps later despite his team's best efforts in the pits, while Cassidy persevered to the finish but made next to no progress and couldn’t get back into the points.

The elimination of Saturday’s top two cars presented a major opportunity for others. The leading beneficiary was, obviously, Dennis. Keen for revenge after the misjudgement that left him a sitting duck on Saturday, Dennis produced a textbook drive to dominate – leading every lap and managing his energy well despite punching the hole in the air for everyone else.

Dennis story of the race

But by around mid-distance, Dennis had 2% less energy than Sam Bird in second and nothing in hand over Norman Nato in third. Bird looked a major threat, but falling behind Nato was a killer for his hopes. 

Nato had matched Fenestraz's Saturday effort in qualifying with third on Sunday and carried that performance through the race to finish second. This was doubly impressive considering the Frenchman was running between a percentage point and 1.5% beneath the average energy consumption throughout the race - having also sustained damage in the opening laps, with his front wing dragging for the remainder.

He was visibly down on both top speed and average throttle usage, too - some 6km/h down on winner Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) in top speed and on Nato's fastest lap he pressed the throttle pedal 10% less than Dennis was able to. Despite all of this, Nato managed things expertly to cross the line with 0.0% of his usable energy remaining, and importantly, the ultra-efficient Jaguar TCS Racing I-TYPE 6 of Sam Bird still in his mirrors.

It was perfectly judged from Nato and Nissan, and allowed Dennis to ease clear despite Bird being up on energy - the Jaguar driver was unable to find a route by Nato and use it.


Recovery artists at it again

There were other sub-plots behind, not least the progress of Wehrlein and Vandoorne, essentially in tandem.

They ran separately early on, but once onto the fringes of the points in 10th and 11th respectively on lap eight they were inseparable to the flag, crossing the line nose-to-tail the next 16 times before finishing seventh and eighth.

Vandoorne may have felt more was possible as he used less energy than Wehrlein and was forced to drive at the Porsche’s pace at the end. They fell away from the group in-front at a substantial rate as Wehrlein’s pace dropped, complaining he “lacked a bit of power”.

R14 energy

Vandoorne might have felt he could have done more with the energy he had at his disposal compared to those around him but the, typically faster and more efficient, Porsche of Wehrlein just ahead proved, like Nato to Bird, an obstacle too many.

The reigning champion and Wehrlein have been the two most prolific recovery artists of the season. Vandoorne’s Rome rise means he has now climbed 59 places from his grid position across every race, and only Wehrlein has surpassed that.

The German driver was only marginally less impressive than Vandoorne in Rome, moving up eighth places to finish seventh after starting 15th. But Vandoorne’s 10-placed finish edged him as Sunday’s ABB Driver of Progress on this occasion.