Following an unexpected podium at the Ad Diriyah E-Prix last month, Jerome d’Ambrosio once again silenced any of his doubters, claiming a spectacular victory at the third running of the Marrakesh E-Prix for Mahindra Racing as Formula E’s second generation of racing continued with drama in the desert.
While it was Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird who powered to pole position despite having a broken wing in qualifying, for d’Ambrosio it was a tough session, with the Belgian racer not only missing out on a spot in the top six Super Pole shootout but also getting out-qualified by his debutant Mahindra team-mate, ex-F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein.
Starting in 10th spot on the fifth row of the grid, d’Ambrosio would arguably have one of the best starts to a race in his career while for reigning Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne it would be one of the worst, with the Frenchman spinning his DS Techeetah car in Turn 1 after making contact with Bird, attempting to pull-off an overly opportunistic maneuver on the British racer from second on the grid.
With Vergne’s golden DS E-Tense FE19 machine facing the wrong way in the middle of the racing surface, when the field of 22 charged into Turn 1, it would lead to a chaotic affair, with drivers darting both left and right to avoid the reigning champion. Amidst this commotion, it was d’Ambrosio who would be able to extract the benefit, moving into fifth place in the overall running order while Bird maintained his lead, despite being struck by Vergne.
Following Bird in formation was the BMW i Andretti Motorsport pair of Antonio Felix da Costa and Alexander Sims, with the prior Portuguese successfully finding a way past his team-mate in the left-hand hairpin of Turn 3 after only five minutes of racing. Having demonstrated its pace in Ad Diriyah, BMW’s performance maintained its consistency, with da Costa keeping Bird’s Audi-powered Envision Virgin machine in check, stalking the purple and silver machine corner by corner before pouncing into Turn 4 with 30 minutes + 1 lap of racing remaining.
With Sims following da Costa through, it was a seemingly unshakeable 1-2 for BMW, with the German manufacturer once again appearing to be the ones who would reign in the desert. Meanwhile for d’Ambrosio, fifth became third place, with the Belgian chipping away at his rivals to clear Lucas di Grassi, Bird and Robin Frijns to progress into the podium positions.
For the first part of the race, use of Attack Mode inside the top six was sparse, with di Grassi becoming the first user of the device inside the lead group while both da Costa and Sims would follow in swift succession, arming the overtaking tool on the same lap to get a 25kW power increase, allowing the pair to escape down the road from d’Ambrosio.
While it was da Costa who was leading, it was Sims who was closing in, with the British rookie slowly slicing away at his team-mate’s already narrow advantage out in front. On the approach to Turn 7 and with time running out, it was an all-or-nothing attack from Sims that would lead to disaster for BMW, with the rookie darting to the outside of da Costa only to lock-up his front tyres while the Portuguese driver on the inside would make the same mistake, with the pair making contact.
Sims escaped the incident lightly but for da Costa, it was game over, with the winner of the Ad Diriyah E-Prix climbing out of his car to accept his retirement from the second round of the season.
While eyes were diverted to the on-track implosion of BMW, the safety car was deployed, collecting d’Ambrosio who had taken the lead, followed by both Envision Virgin cars who completed the podium positions. As the field continued to lap under controlled conditions and with da Costa’s stricken car still in the barriers, the prospects of a race restart were looking more and more unlikely before it was announced that the safety car would return to the pits, leaving a one lap sprint to the finsih.
With 30 races separating d’Ambrosio from his most recent win in Formula E, it was inevitable that the Belgian would play it safe on the final lap and what was originally a battle of speed ultimately became a battle of sheer nerve, with Frijns pressing the Belgian to make a mistake.
Taking the chequered flag, d’Ambrosio was victorious taking 25 points, which, when combined with his 15 from Ad Diriyah, would hand him the lead in the Drivers’ Championship. Frijns followed the former Dragon Racing man across the line to front a double podium for Envision Virgin, with pole sitter Bird taking the final spot on the podium.
For BMW, what could have been a haul of 36 points ended up as a haul of 12, with Sims recovering to fourth following his collision with da Costa – an accident that the now former championship leader would take the blame for:
“First of all, I would like to apologise to the team because I’ve never been in this situation before,” said a visibly upset da Costa post-race. “I’m sorry. Alex [Sims] was amazing today. I made a mistake. We fought for it, I locked up, I couldn’t make the corner and as a consequence, he lost out as well.
“I think I should have given him the race earlier to be honest. We won round one, I should have been more than happy with P2 today. It’s a long year and clearly the outcome of today is not how we’re going to win this championship so we’ll learn from it, it will make us stronger and we’ll go for it.”
For Acronis technical partner NIO Formula E Team, the drivers missed out on a points finish, with Oliver Turvey and Tom Dillmann taking the chequered flag in 16th and 17th. With the team scheduled to field renowned British single-seater driver Jamie Chadwick in Formula E’s second of three in-season group test sessions, the team will once more take to the track in Marrakesh to gain further data to research, understand and develop its 004 Season Five Gen2 challenger to bolster the manufacturer’s in the Teams’ Championship.
Formula E’s fifth season of competition will continue on January 26, where the revolutionary single-seater series will take to the streets of Santiago, Chile!
Top Image: Jérôme d’Ambrosio of Mahindra Racing during the Marrakesh E-Prix at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Morocco. © Alastair Staley / LAT Images.