Five talking points from a frantic E-Prix in Cape Town

27th February 2023
Damien Smith

António Félix da Costa capped Formula E’s first visit to Cape Town by pulling the same fantastic pass twice to score his maiden victory for Porsche on Saturday. The Portuguese came from 11th on the grid to win a thrilling race on a superb, if bumpy, new street track that showed the new Gen3 racers off to their best.


Da Costa’s sensational double move

The season six champion will surely count this among his greatest victories – in any category of motorsport. He’d already climbed into the top three from his lowly grid slot by lap 20 and was second to leader Nick Cassidy when a full course yellow was called a lap later. Da Costa then stalked the Kiwi and on lap 24 surprised everyone – including the leader – by pulling off an audacious move at the Turn Seven, Eight and Nine sweeps. He was up on the outside through T7, which gave him the inside for T8 and held the position on the brakes into T9. You won’t see a better pass. Until he did it again, that is.

Da Costa appeared well set when he took his second dose of Attack Mode and retained the lead, now ahead of DS Penske’s Jean-Éric Vergne. But disaster: he missed the activation zone for the 50kW power boost and was forced to try again, this time losing the lead to his former team-mate. The laps were running out when in the first of two extras added for safety car interruptions he pulled precisely the same pass on Vergne as he had on Cassidy. At high speed, on a sequence that really didn’t look like a passing place, da Costa clearly caught Vergne by surprise, then held off the Frenchman to claim a famous win.

“I knew it was going to be a strategic one,” da Costa explained. “I’ve done this before where you have to give that lead away and plan a late move in the race. The energy was playing a big part, and so following was a bit of an advantage. I wanted to be behind him [Vergne] for a few laps to build that energy advantage and use it, but I know leaving it late is always a risk and JEV is a very hard guy to overtake. I thought I was gone for a moment there [on the brakes] into T9! But it’s good to race him on a day like this.”


Vergne misses second consecutive win

He’d won in Hyderabad on Formula E’s Indian debut a couple of weeks earlier, so Vergne was pumped to chase another for DS Penske. But this time the master of defending a lead found himself undone by a driver he knows well from their time together at DS Techeetah. Still, he took the defeat with grace and knew it was still a great result, as he chases what would be his third Formula E crown.

“It was close, but there are some risks today I am willing to take – and some not. I think in the view of the championship I am happy to take the second place points rather than a crash. I am a bit in-between [on my feelings], but at the end of the championship I am sure I am going to be happy with that race.”


Triumph, then disaster for Nissan

Sacha Fenestraz has been playing himself in so far this year in what is his first Formula E season, driving for the new-look Nissan squad. But in Cape Town it all seemed to click for the Japan Super Formula graduate as he took a sensational pole position. Against far more experienced rivals, it was always going to be hard for the Franco-Argentine to turn that pole into victory, but Fenestraz showed his mettle in the race and was on course for a podium third in the closing stages – until contact with Cassidy on the final lap left him spinning into a wall. To turn the screw further, Envision Virgin’s Cassidy picked up the podium.

“Overall we had a really strong weekend, we were quick in every session,” said Fenestraz. “To take pole position was amazing. It was a great moment so hopefully we can continue to show this level of performance. In the race we were doing well, a bit unlucky with the timing of the second Full Course Yellow, but I managed to get back up to third before the contact took us out of the race on the final lap. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we know we are quick and have the car to compete at the front for the rest of the season.”


DNF for points leader Wehrlein

While Da Costa celebrated his first win for Porsche, team-mate Pascal Wehrlein was ruing a tough day in South Africa. The German slammed into the back of the Sébastien Buemi’s Envision Virgin under heavy braking on the first lap and was out of the race. As for Buemi, he was left in a tyre wall and facing the wrong way, but put in a superb recovery to finish a remarkable fifth, behind McLaren’s René Rast.

Wehrlein was lucky that his points lead didn’t suffer much damage in the circumstances. Main rival Jake Dennis only finished 13th as the last classified runner following a drive-through penalty for an overpower violation. The result leaves Wehrlein still out front on 80 points, with Dennis on 62. Vergne is third on 50, with da Costa shooting up to fourth on 46.


More woe for Jaguar

Following their awkward collision in Hyderabad, fortunes didn’t improve for the works Jaguar pairing of Mitch Evans and Sam Bird in South Africa. Bird didn’t even start the race after walking away from a frightening practice crash that left his Jaguar too damaged to go any further. Edoardo Mortara had already smashed his Maserati entry into the wall out of the fast Turn Nine, but there were reportedly no yellow flags as Bird also lost control through the blind turn. His Jaguar hit the wall hard and rebounded into Mortara’s car, fortunately without injury to either driver.

The Jaguar team then put all its focus on Evans for the race. But the Kiwi’s day was ruined by a drive-through penalty and he finished down in 11th.

Along with Bird’s absence, the race also started without all four Mahindra-powered cars, those of the works team and the pair run by Abt Cupra. Rear suspension safety concerns led to a decision to withdraw the quartet before qualifying.

Formula E heads next to Sao Paulo for round six on 25th March, for its first e-Prix in Brazil.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Formula E

  • E-Prix

  • Cape Town

  • Antonio Felix da Costa

  • Jean-Eric Vergne

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