Four things we learned from a wild 2023 Mexican E-Prix

16th January 2023
Damien Smith

It had a pass for the lead, a tense fight for the podium places, a change of position on the final lap – and for the most part a decent level of reliability that defied fears of a potential farce. Yes, the first Gen3 Formula E race, held at a packed Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City, passed off on Saturday in a manner that should be judged a success. Although it has to be said, the opener fell quite some way short of offering up a great motor race, despite that heady mix of ingredients. Somehow it all seemed a little flat.


Jake Dennis dominates as Porsche shows pace

He had three safety car interruptions to negotiate, but British racer Jake Dennis still managed to win by nearly eight seconds for Avalanche Andretti, as the American-owned team showed a clean pair of heels on its first weekend with Porsche power. To cap a strong race for Porsche – which has clearly started the new era with a performance edge – factory driver Pascal Wehrlein followed up his win in Mexico last season with a strong second place this time, rising from sixth on the grid.

Dennis started on the front row beside a surprised Lucas di Grassi, who hadn’t expected his first pole position in 68 races to come on his first weekend with the Mahindra team. Di Grassi led the field away, only for the race to be neutralised twice within the first ten laps. Then on lap 12, once the race had finally gone green, Dennis pulled a peach of a move on di Grassi at Turn Three to take a lead he would not lose. A third safety car interlude stripped him of the lead he’d built, but once the race ran through without further interruption, he was simply untouchable in front of a 40,000-strong crowd.

“The fans here have been sensational,” said a delighted Dennis. “In that final lap I could really hear them cheering. To start on the front row and then win by that much, with a Porsche one-two, big shout out to my team.

“It was such a physical race. These cars are so hard to drive physically and with the lower grip as well, it makes everything more challenging. But it’s even more rewarding, especially when you win by five seconds. Time for some tequila with the team, an incredible race.”


Wehrlein and di Grassi show their class

Four Porsche powertrains in the top ten said much about how Formula E stands right now, with Wehrlein working his way up the order and demoting di Grassi with ease. But the Mahindra driver deserved credit for how he clung on to his podium, as a train of four cars formed up behind him in the closing stages to keep the race alive. He used all of his considerable experience to deliver Mahindra a podium.

"It was a very tough race,” di Grassi said. “We know in this race that the Porsches are really fast, remember last year they won P1, P2 and disappeared. It was impossible to hold Jake and Pascal, I was running low on energy but I tried to defend as much as I could. In the end a podium is like a win for us with only three or four days in this car, there is so much potential to take it out further, so I am very happy.”

Behind him André Lotterer – having switched from the Porsche works team to partner Dennis at Andretti – nicked fourth place on the last lap by demoting the other British Jake – Jake Hughes – who ran third early on. A maiden Formula E podium proved just out of reach for McLaren, but still this was a highly promising entry into the category.


Familiar faces complete the top ten

Sébsatien Buemi was part of the train chasing di Grassi in his first race for Envision Virgin. He finished sixth as Antonio Felix da Costa took seventh on his debut as a Porsche driver. Mitch Evans made up a couple of places to come home eighth for Jaguar, with Nick Cassidy ninth for Envision Virgin and reigning Formula E world champion Stoffel Vandoorne rounding out the top ten on his first appearance as a DS Penske driver, now Mercedes EQ has withdrawn.


Frijns injured in crash

The first of the three safety car interruptions was caused by an accident for Robin Frijns, who this year is driving for Cupra-sponsored Abt, which has returned to the series after a year away. Frijns ran into the back of Nissan’s Norman Nato on the opening lap. The impact seemed innocuous as Frijns nudged into a barrier, but the Dutchman picked up a nasty wrist injury and had to undergo immediate surgery. It makes him a serious doubt for the Saudi Arabia double-header in Diriyah on 27th-28th January.

The second interruption was caused by Sam Bird pulling off in his Jaguar with a suspected broken driveshaft, while Edoardo Mortara made a mess of Turn One on lap 18 when he spun his Maserati and backed into the barrier with a hearty whump.

The enthusiastic crowd made plenty of noise, but somehow despite everything this race didn’t really capture the imagination. It could have been worse – much worse given some of the doomsday predictions on reliability. But the much-vaunted Gen3 didn’t quite sparkle in Mexico. It’s early days, of course. Perhaps on a more traditional Formula E street circuit the promised leap in spectacle might become a reality. As it is, this was a steady rather than spectacular start to this highly-anticipated new era.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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