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Finally the month-long wait is over and we can see what’s changed since last time… in Formula E’s own Albert Park – the consisting of both permanent track and public roads, three kilometers long Moulay El Hassan track! I’m thinking how Morocco has re-emerged in the past decade in motorsport!
The first of two practice sessions kick in sunrise – a great view for the spectators… almost Le Mans-like, some would say… The Gen2s go out of the pits in the morning dusk, with the human beings inside being glad to be in the warm hug of their cars. Morning in the desert is harsh – it’s about five degrees, and everyone else are shivering in their jackets. In reality, this is the first real practice session of the season, taking into account the flood few weeks back in Saudi Arabia. Cars continuously revolve around Marrakesh, doing both long and qualification runs. Certainly, they are thoroughly testing not to exceed the maximum power output, as last time it didn’t go too well for some! Felix Rosenqvist is away to find his luck over the Atlantic, and his seat is taken by the talented, yet unlucky, former-F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein.
Noticeable in qualifying was the terrible middle sector of Andre Lotterer, put him back to twentieth place – he’ll have an interesting race, trying to get his fast Techeetah to the points. The Audis’ rears were all over the place, like a belly dancer’s butt. Stoffel Vandoorne was on a great lap, until his HWA decided that it had enough and shut down… During the pre-group 4 break (so the marshals can deal with the halted on track Penske of Maxi Günther), I was enjoying an interview with the not very happy Lucas di Grassi (to start 11th), who was interrupted by the clattering sound of a crash in pit-lane entrance (not far away behind the operator). Unfortunately, the chain collision was omitted by the cameras, but was soon visible that Tom Dillman decided to play the “Bob Cramer” role (note: Michelle Vaillant’s enemy), putting nose in Robin Frijns’ Virgin, who damaged the diffuser of his team mate just in front! No way for the team to fix it before the Super Pole session – parc fermè sucks sometimes and Sam Bird will have to deal with an ill car in Super Pole! Total rookie Pascal Wehrlein was in the group to go to fight for top spot, but was demoted to seventh by the one-race-more-experienced Alexander Sims! In the end, the fastest guys in the groups got to the top four places of quali, all in a tenth of a second!
Super Pole was opened by Mitch Evans, who tried to stop for the 90 degree turn 7 as if it was Suzuka’s 130R – didn’t go well. Next was Jean-Eric Vergne, who was as precise as a surgeon, apart from the last turn and even more – too careful in the seemingly hardest turn where the Aussie before him lost it. The Frenchman still improved his best time with half a second! Last time winner da Costa was careful, too careful maybe, but still got around a tenth behind JEV. His teammate Alex Sims started as if at a drifting competition and continued with a messy lap. Seb Buemi had his hands full with the Nissan, but still his talent and experience lead him to a decent lap, though a tenth behind Antonio Felix. Last, but never least – Sam Bird attempted to grab pole, with his broken diffuser. Still I’m not certain how is possible to be that close to the barriers without crashing, but he put on a clinic, and took a spectacular first starting place with a damaged car! Well done, Sam – you should get a bonus for that! Top four are in quarter of a second!
Stoffel Vandoorne will start dead-last with his Mercedes… pardon, HWA. Mr. Massa’s experience probably has not been much better – getting 15thspot. Audis qualified as a mid-card team – 11thand 16thplace for di Grassi and Abt – hopefully, experience will allow them to finish further, as the car probably won’t! Jerome d’Ambrosio got out-qualified by his rookie teammate, and will start 10th(Wehrlein – 7th). Antonio Felix da Costa got demoted 3 places for basically the same thing that got 4 cars having cancelled their quali laps last time in Saudi Arabia. The reason for this difference is that he exceeded it during non-flying lap… Why is this even a punishment – it is not a competitive lap??? In all cases – pole-man Bird with Vergne behind is promising an interesting start.
They show Attack Mode – situated in Turn 3 – this time better visible. During the ongoing interview with Jean-Eric Vergne, I’m thinking about his new haircut – he removed the whole “James Bond aristocratic villain” out of it, and now has the “James Bond former-prisoner villain”. Loveya, JEV!
After some funny with their awkwardness interviews with celebrities (followed by some with actual value), everyone on the grid tries to warm tires in the 10 meters to the starting spots.
Pole-man Sam Bird does a good start, while 3rdplaced Buemi gets to the outside of the car in second – his old time rival Vergne. First corner comes and JEV tries to take it as if he had a much better break system than anyone else… He tries putting it to the inside of the leader, touches Bird and spins! Everyone else seem to know that this will happen, and manage to go around the spinning Techeetah! Lucas di Grassi uses few cars in front for emergency break, destroying Pascal Wehrlein’s diffuser in the process…
It’s half in the first lap and last time’s winner da Costa has already gotten into the podium, while Buemi has gone from 3rdto mid-field, trying to go around the spinning car in T1 – lost the places by no fault of his own! Again – a lot of trying and passing – Robin Frijns has gotten from 8thto 4thin less than a lap! BMWs seem fast… Lap one ends with Bird leading, followed by Sims, da Costa and Frijns. Will the BMW rookie be fast enough to not be asked to let championship leader da Costa through? Jerome d’Ambrosio is going strong from 10thto 5th! Lotterer is passing front, left and center, going up to 14th! Watching Lucas Di Grassi’s onboard review from turn 1, I’m thinking how is actually quite suitable for the Gen2s to have stuff around the tires – it allows more rubbing – sometimes needed in those tight street courses (unless you’re at the receiving end, probably).
Five minutes haven’t passed and Wehrlein puts himself out of his misery, retiring into the pits, taking it out to an innocent hose hanging from the garage’s ceiling. The inevitable happens and da Costa “passes” Sims for second place. He’ll have much more trouble doing the maneuver to Sam Bird though – always a tough customer! Toto Wolff is shown, watching how his driver Garry Paffet retires. He is presented by the graphics as the husband of Susie Wolff (team principal of Venturi) – quite funny! I hope someday you’ll get your chance to go out of your wife’s shadow, Toto!
Lap 5 and the top six start breaking away from the pack, da Costa is glued to the leading Virgin’s back!
Fifteen minutes into the race and the top six are so close to each other – if they were without the cars, it would be quite awkward… Leader Bird is slowing them down, but his Gen2 is at least as wide as the track! For how long? Just as the question passes through my brain, Antonio Felix goes inside of turn 4 and takes the lead! His teammate uses the situation greatly, and passes Sam Bird three corners later… The BMWs are rapid!
We are shown a glimpse of the spectators, with too many of them of them looking at their phones – what’s wrong with you, people???
Jose Maria Lopez goes through Attack Mode from eighth (properly from first try this time). Cool, but please don’t break my heart again (random vision of Elton John’s song from the seventies – I don’t know how it appeared, as I’m not a fan…).
The BMW teammates in the first two positions pull away from Sam Bird, and Alexander Sims looks faster than the leader!
Twenty minutes pass and is mentioned that the stewards are looking at da Costa and Bird’s scrap for the lead – hopefully they won’t go all-F1 and ruin the race! Jerome d’Ambrosio finds some power and is at the back of fourth-placed Sims, who is scared and passes his teammate to try get some distance from the Mahindra.
Fan Boost poll results come out – again won by Stoffel Vandoorne, who will be able to use it on his way to the hotel, as he’s out of the race. Other winners are the other F1 refugee – Massa, and race leader da Costa, who may need it till the finish.
D’Ambrosio and di Grassi pass the struggling former leader Bird effortlessly, and set off to try and do the same to his teammate, while the BMWs are 3 seconds in front. Not long after they manage to do it, the Brazilian using Attack Mode, and the Belgian looking as he doesn’t need one! Surely they can’t catch the two leaders, who have two AMs in their pockets… tanks… batteries? Teammates-and-leaders pass through the AM in formation – they’ve built a good 4-5 second gap.
While we’re on the Attack Mode topic – this time it’s taken much more seriously than round one. They’ve done estimations how much time is lost taking it, and everyone seem to use it wisely, and not just get rid of the compulsory two passes through the zone. The Safety Car hasn’t come yet to the track too.
Twenty laps into the race, and 3rdto 6thare in a battle royal for the last podium place. The two Virgins are chasing, as in a teenager’s wet dream! Fourth-placed di Grassi’s front looks like it’s been knocked out in a boxing match, but keeps pushing Jerome d’Ambrosio nevertheless! Somehow Jean-Eric Vergne is in seventh place, only eight seconds behind the started from pole position Sam Bird! Again – a stellar performance – he didn’t take the title by luck last year!
Thirty minutes mark passes and rookie Alexander Sims continues to do more than great, following in formation race leader Antonio Felix da Costa. Jerome d’Ambrosio and Lucas di Grassi are behind, but I cannot imagine they’ll get too near the leaders. I wasn’t convinced by the many praises after pre-season testing that the BMWs are fastest, but it looks so…
The Virgins get Attack Mode and pass the Brazilian, demoting him to sixth. The third-placed Belgian in front of them is the only not to have used any AMs yet, so I wouldn’t put money they’ll get near, even more – pass. He almost loses the place while getting AM – that was too close, mister d’Ambrosio and you got a bit lucky! JEV passes for sixth place – he was nineteenth after the first corner!
Ten minutes before finish and I’m stunned by the fact that Jerome is only a second behind the second place! Where did the margin of the leaders go – eaten by the smart late usage of Attack Mode by the guy that’s chasing them!
At some corners there are a lot of tire marbles on the track – Michelin, please take a note.
AAAAARGH! Sims goes for the lead, locks up the breaks together with his teammate and they both miss the corner! D’Ambrosio’s Mahindra takes the lead! That’s why motorsport is great! We get pictures of one team boss looking as a flat earther, staring at our planet from outer space; and another – happy as a clam at high tide! D’Ambrosio retires and kisses his short-lived championship lead goodbye, while Alex Sims returns in fourth position.
Seven minutes plus a lap till the chequered flag, and the safety car is deployed! Makes sense as the BMW of Antonio Felix da Costa is stopped in the tire wall. If I was the leader, I would be actually glad seeing race time ticking away with an Attack Mode left, in difference with the Virgins behind me. They will probably be eaten alive by the guys behind them with one more power-punch in their pockets, if the race is restarted before the finish…
The BMW i8 returns to the pits with precisely one lap left in the race! A dash for the cash, as some would say! Everyone with AMs left took them too early, and have no time left to use them, apart from Alex Sims in 4thplace and Lucas do Grassi – in 7th. Can they make something out of it?
Frijns is glued to the leader’s diffuser, but without result – even with a lock-up in the last corner, Jerome d’Ambrosio wins the Marrakech ePrix!!! His team boss is jumping around like crazy, while the driver shouts, and drifts on every corner, with the engineer telling him to watch the tires in the same time! Donuts! Almost hits di Grassi on his way back to the track! The emotions in Mahindra’s garage are escalating, and now everyone is jumping and shouting – they deserve it! A lucky win is a win no less!
Fun Fact: This is the third win in Formula E for Jerome, but the first one that he can actually enjoy on the podium. The previous two (in the first two seasons) were after disqualifications of Lucas di Grassi. Certainly this is the one he’ll be most happy about – even more, he came from tenth to first to take the lead of the championship!
The winner jumps and screams in the pit lane – a rarely seen sight nowadays… which again puts emphasis on the importance of this win, after few very hard seasons! He’ll be joined by a couple of Virgins on the podium (pardon the continuous pun), who were lucky to finish there. They are followed by crash-survival Alex Sims and the two Techeetas – proved their mighty pace again, after a terrible quali for Andre Lotterer and T1 for JEV.
Everyone on the podium is happy even without champagne spray (this is Morocco, a Muslim country, no alcohol.)
The curtain falls.