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2024 Formula E Sao Paulo E-Prix | 7 talking points

18th March 2024
Simon Ostler

The Sao Paulo E-Prix was certainly worth the wait for Formula E action to return after an extended six-week break. Round four got the all-electric world championship back underway in stunning fashion, and it was Sam Bird who took the win with a breath-taking overtake at the penultimate corner.

It didn’t take long for Formula E to regain its momentum, and now we head into the season proper with four different winners from the first four races and plenty of drivers still in with a shout of the title. Here’s all the fallout from the 2024 Sao Paulo E-Prix.

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1. Sam Bird pulls off stunning win

After a miserable season by his standards at Jaguar last season, you could say Sam Bird was lucky to be picked up by McLaren for the 2024 season. Since his initial run as the only driver to win a race in each of the first seven seasons of Formula E, Bird has struggled for consistency, with a handful of podium finishes strewn among a host of clumsy incidents and a general lack of pace. But if there was any doubt about his innate racing ability then he has smashed that to bits with his performance in Sao Paulo.

Solid pace in qualifying saw him start fifth on the grid after a penalty for Maximilian Günther, and from there he drove brilliantly to put himself in position to fight for victory. Mitch Evans led going into the final lap, but Bird looked to have the better pace. He got a great exit out of Turn Eight and pulled to the outside with two corners to go to pull off an incredibly brave overtake around the outside of the penultimate corner.

It was his first win for almost three years, one that showcased all of his fighting qualities. It’s a result that moved him into the top six in the drivers’ standings, and McLaren will know they have a driver who can deliver the goods if the car is fast enough.

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2. Nick Cassidy’s strong run comes to an end

It was beginning to look as though Jaguar’s Nick Cassidy would be difficult to beat in 2024, but his run of podiums including a dominant victory at round three in Diriyah came to an end in pretty disappointing fashion in Sao Paulo. It could have been very different, Cassidy missed out on the qualifying duels despite setting a time that was only 0.020 slower than his team-mate Evans who ended up fifth on the grid.

Starting in the pack left him mired in the melee during the opening laps, and early contact with Edoardo Mortara eventually caused his front wing to disintegrate and send him into the wall on lap 16. It was an underwhelming weekend and a damaging no-score that means he heads to Tokyo with just a four-point lead in the championship

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3. DS Penske race pace struggles continue

DS Penske looked to be the favourites for the Sao Paulo E-Prix after qualifying, the black and gold cars have been regulars in the duels this year, and lined up second and third on the grid, looking to have plenty of pace to make the most of their numbers advantage.

It didn’t take long for both Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne to start going backwards. While the likes of Bird and Oliver Rowland made brilliant progress with their use of Attack Mode, the DS pair lost ground. A final classification of seventh for Vergne and eighth for Vandoorne is a poor return, but you get a sense this team is working towards getting back to the front, and the new arrival of former Jaguar mastermind Phil Charles will no doubt galvanise their efforts.

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4. Jake Dennis falls short

The reigning champion’s underwhelming season continued in Sao Paulo as he fought to fifth place after a disappointing qualifying that saw him start from tenth on the grid. His pace in the middle of the race was strong and exemplified by his excellent energy management, and with ten laps to go he looked to be in contention for the win.

As the drivers around him began to push on, though, Dennis’s charge waned, although he still looked set for a very impressive podium behind Bird and Evans. That was until a small mistake in the final corner allowed both Oliver Rowland and Pascal Wehrlein to overtake him on the run to the line.

It was a frustrating end to a weekend when the Andretti team looked far from its best, although Dennis’s second-best result of the year appears like pretty good damage limitation as he keeps himself within striking distance of the championship leaders.

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5. Maximilian Gunther completes impressive comeback

The driver of the weekend might well have been Maximilian Günther. A brilliant qualifying effort saw him finish third, just losing out to eventual pole-sitter Wehrlein in the duels. Following that, he was handed two separate 20-place grid penalties for exceeding the maximum allowance for gearboxes and inverters dropping him to the back of the field. That only made up 17 of his 40-places, though, so on top of that he was required to serve a stop-go penalty. Race over?

Not for Günther, who proceeded to make the most of an early safety car to get himself back among the pack and fight through to the top ten. He was right on the pace of the leaders throughout, making the most of the traffic ahead of him to maximise efficiency. It was an assured drive worthy of plaudits.

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6. Oliver Rowland on a charge

Another driver in red-hot form is Oliver Rowland. Normally known for scintillating qualifying laps, this time he found himself languishing down in 11th on the grid in a Nissan car that’s clearly struggling for pace.

He sat quietly during the early phase of the race, but gradually began to make progress up the field as drivers ahead started opting for attack mode. With some tidy strategy and a turn of pace on demand, he found himself in fifth place with a lap to go.

As all eyes were focussed on Bird as he made his move for the win, Rowland quietly made a similarly spectacular move at the final turn as he overthrew both Wehrlein and Dennis for the final podium spot with a brilliant piece of opportunist driving. With two successive podiums he is the form driver heading into Tokyo.

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7. Formula E delivers another stunning weekend

Aside from the final moments, which were as thrilling as they were eventful, the Sao Paulo E-Prix was a brilliant bit of entertainment from start to finish. On a circuit that’s hard on batteries, the focus was on energy management with several strategies converging for some heart-in-mouth overtaking.

To have all three podium positions confirmed at the final two corners is everything we want from our motorsport, with plenty of jeopardy, plenty of action and surprises all the way to the chequered flag.

Formula E travels to Tokyo for round five on 30th March. Despite coming away from Sao Paulo empty handed, Nick Cassidy carries a four-point lead in the championship, although Wehrlein, Evans, Vergne, Dennis, Bird and Rowland are all within touching distance.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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