Six talking points from a scintillating Sao Paulo E-Prix

27th March 2023
Damien Smith

A thrilling three-way battle to the flag capped the first e-Prix in Brazil, as Jaguar bounced back from its sticky start to the year to lock out the Formula E podium in Sao Paulo. Mitch Evans yelled in sheer joy as he crossed the finish line to claim his maiden win of the season, as fellow Kiwi Nick Cassidy chased him home in his Jaguar-powered Envision Virgin. Evans’s works Jaguar team-mate, Sam Bird, has been reduced to the brink of despair by his recent poor run in the electric-powered series, but the British driver put all that behind him as he finished a close-run third to complete a near-perfect day for the British manufacturer.


Is Formula E coming of age?

The introduction of the more powerful Gen3 racer was billed as the big step Formula E needed in what is its ninth season – and on the evidence of its new Brazilian round, following excellent first races in India and South Africa, the new package is smashing its targets. This was a gripping motor race that had it all: wheel-to-wheel action, plenty of overtaking, tactical jeopardy, some fine driving and the odd blooper. It all added up to make the Sao Paulo e-Prix truly compelling.


No one wanted to lead the Sao Paulo e-Prix

Admittedly, much of the early overtaking at the front of the field was triggered by a reluctance by the frontrunners to actually hold the lead for any length of time. Such is the energy management aspect that’s baked into Formula E, it’s almost impossible for anyone to build a big gap out front and dominate the race. This time, reigning world champion Stoffel Vandoorne headed the pack from his pole position, but then inevitably found he’d consumed more energy than his rivals. He actually chose to give up the lead and he wasn’t alone in that. It meant the race took on a character that had echoes of a cycle race, with each of the top four taking their turn at the front of the peloton.


Jaguar power comes to the fore

The lead quartet through most of the action was made up by DS Penske’s Vandoorne, Evans, Cassidy and Porsche’s António Félix da Costa, who scored a brilliant win last time out on the streets of Cape Town. Porsche has been the pacesetter this year, its powertrain having won four of the previous five rounds. But as the race in Sao Paulo evolved, it was clear that Jaguar had the edge on the fast 1.82-mile circuit that encouraged decent racing (which hasn’t always been the case in the past on Formula E’s tight city street circuits).

After the second and final safety car interruption, it was still anyone’s race. But then da Costa outbraked himself at Turn One, overshot, came to a complete halt (as was mandatory in such circumstances) and knew his shot at victory was effectively blown. Meanwhile, Vandoorne’s challenge also faded as Bird came into contention, having saved crucial energy from his starting position of only tenth – the result of a five-place grid penalty for the embarrassing collision with his team-mate in India (he didn’t start at all in Cape Town, after crashing in practice). Cassidy and Evans had opened a 2.5-second gap once Bird had passed Vandoorne for third, but the second Jaguar quickly caught the leading pair to make it a three-way fight to the flag.

Evans made his decisive move on Cassidy with a beautifully executed pass into Turn One three laps from home, then put up his defences as the Envision driver came right back at him. On the last lap Cassidy edged along wheel to wheel, but Evans had the inside line for the next turn and just clung on, as Bird couldn’t quite use his energy advantage to progress further.

“This has come at the perfect time,” said Evans. “We had a tough start [to the year] but the car has been quick, so to finally get the victory and some points is incredible. A Jaguar 1-2-3. Nick pushed me all the way – we pushed each other – and both teams executed brilliantly. I wouldn't have wanted it much closer than that.”


More damage limitation from Wehrlein

Da Costa finished fourth for Porsche, as Hyderabad e-Prix winner Jean-Éric Vergne demoted his DS Penske team-mate Vandoorne to claim fifth. Meanwhile, and not for the first time in recent races, championship leader Pascal Wehrlein put in a well-crafted comeback from a lowly grid position to score solid points in seventh.

The German still has a healthy lead at the top of the table, but he isn’t having an easy time of it right now. Last time out in Cape Town he failed to add to his tally by crashing into Sébastien Buemi early on, while in India he’d climbed from 12th on the grid to fourth following a heavy shunt in practice. Here in Sao Paulo he slumped to a disastrous 18th in qualifying, but then showed his guile by climbing through the pack and saving his double dose of Attack Mode power boost until the closing stages. He made it as high as fifth and looked set to be a factor in the race-deciding climax – only to find himself on the receiving end of someone else’s bad luck. That someone else just happened to be his closest title rival.


Dennis riled by Ticktum

Jake Dennis’s dominant win in the Mexico City season opener in January suddenly seems like an awful long time ago. Like Wehrlein, he’s been having a bad patch and in Sao Paulo found himself punted out for the second time in three races. The villain this time was NIO 333’s Dan Ticktum, who completely missed his braking point into Turn One and made contact with the rear of Dennis’s Porsche-powered Andretti entry. Dennis continued, but at Turn Three found his handling was off and he then made contact with the right-hand side of Wehrlein’s Porsche.

The points leader at least was able to race on, even if he reckoned the damage he incurred slowed him up. As for Dennis, he was forced to park on the exit of Turn Three, which triggered the second safety car. That’s three races in succession he’s failed to score.


Wehrlein still heads the way

In the standings, Wehrlein now has 86 points, Dennis remains on 62, while Cassidy has shot up to third on the back of a hat-trick of podiums and is just one point adrift of the Andretti driver. Bird and Evans are just sixth and ninth respectively, so title challenges appear to be a long shot. But with ten rounds still to go before the London finale in July there’s still plenty to play for. Is this the start of something big for the Jaguar pairing? We’ll find out more at the next rounds, a double-header in Berlin on 22nd-23rd April.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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