Formula E returned to fine form last Saturday around the well manicured streets of Monte Carlo. Amidst the glamorous ambience and richness the Principality is well known for (and we aren’t just talking about the exorbitant berthing costs at Port Hercules), it produced one of the best Formula E races in recent memory, offering a genuinely enthralling E-Prix that proved relentless on action and high on drama.
Here are our five takeaways from the Monaco E-Prix.
LAP TIME COMPARISONS ARE POINTLESS
Let’s address the elephant in the room right off the top. This year’s E-Prix made use of the full, extended “Grand Prix” layout that resembles closely to the one Formula One had been using for decades. Even Jean Todt, the FIA President said during the pre-race show how exciting it was that Formula E was finally racing on the full “Grand Prix, Formula One” track. However, that description obfuscates the subtle, but important differences to Formula E.
While it is correct that the layout includes all of the corners as in the Grand Prix circuit, the FIA and Formula E have made several modifications, namely at Ste Devote and the Chicane to better tailor to Formula E’s racing style. The kerbing is bespoke to Formula E track standards and the Chicane has been made tighter to allow for better regen during braking. Measured at the centre line, the Formula E circuit is 19 metres shorter than the Grand Prix circuit.
Those changes, however minor, have differentiated the circuit in such a way to avoid an identical, apples to apples comparison to lap times.
“It’s such an iconic circuit and such a special moment,” explained Venturi FE team principal Susie Wolff. “I was very pleased when it was [announced that it was] the full circuit with a few amendments because I was not in favour of a direct comparison.
“I think if you are in motorsport, you understand the reasoning why it’s not a direct comparison. But for the wider audience there would always be that direct comparison of a Formula 1 lap time to a Formula E lap time, which I think is unfair once you come into the more, let’s say details of why it’s different. To have the change in the chicane means it’s not a direct comparison. We’ve got all the iconic parts of the track we need.”
When asked about the lap time comparisons, Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans said while Formula E’s time will inevitably be slower, the trade-off is ultimately worth the difference.
“We’ve not been able to fairly compare Formula E to other categories let’s say F1 or other categories that race on similar tracks because we always race on very bespoke Formula E circuits,” said Evans after the race. “I’m sure everyone is wanting to compare the lap times. We know it’s way off F1 times. But the return is you get incredible racing.
“I guess the main proving point for Formula E to do this longer layout was to show that on a track where other categories struggle to have good races. I’m glad it turned out that way and it put a really positive light on the championship.”
EVERYBODY GETS TO OVERTAKE
On paper, the Monaco E-Prix seemed like a predictable affair. The top 6 drivers in the race result (Da Costa, Frijns, Evans, Vergne, Guenther and Rowland) finished exactly in the same order as they had qualified.
However, unlike other series where the polesitter leads every lap from start to finish, Antonio Felix da Costa, who did start from pole and eventually won the E-Prix, only led 7 out of the 26 laps.
Because Formula E cars have a narrower track than cars in other categories, overtaking at parts of the circuit once thought impossible or unlikely were now possible. The Gen2 chassis was also built tough, which meant they could take quite a beating even after robust contact.
“I don’t think you’ve seen as many lead changes as that in a Monaco race ever,” mused Da Costa, and he would be right. The race saw no fewer than six changes for the lead during the 26 lap long race. It also featured some pretty memorable passes that audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing and afforded drivers some unorthodox overtaking opportunities, the most spectacular being this pass by Evans on Da Costa at Beau Rivage.
Da Costa got his own back on Evans and made this daring pass on the Kiwi at the Chicane with half a lap to go and went on to cement victory.
“You start setting it up a few laps before,” Da Costa said, explaining his audacious move. “The team was great in giving me the right information. I knew track position is still key here and although he did have less energy than me, he was in front, so I still had to pull off the move. I could have easily gone straight [through the chicane] and had to give the position back. I’m glad it worked out.”
DS Techeetah, JAGUAR REKINDLE CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT
It was a slow and tepid start for DS Techeetah at the beginning of Season 7. But after the team introduced its new powertrain in Rome, progress has been steady. At the same time, the dominance that Jaguar Racing showed earlier in the season has receded somewhat.
Evans’s third place and teammate Sam Bird’s solid drive to 7th place after starting from 16th meant another double points finish for the British team, but it was no match for DS Techeetah’s gargantuan points haul. Da Costa’s pole position and win, combined with teammate Jean-Eric Vergne’s 4th place finish and fastest lap meant that DS Techeetah were able to round out the weekend with 41 points, the most of any team in a single round so far this season.
This has narrowed the teams championship title fight considerably. Mercedes still leads in the standings, but with neither of their drivers scoring any points in Monaco, they now hold a slim 2 point lead over Jaguar, with DS Techeetah just 5 points behind in third.
Energy Saving can Produce Good Racing
It might not have been immediately obvious, but there was a lot energy saving going on during the race.
Just like what happened at the second race in Valencia between Jake Dennis and Alex Lynn, Da Costa was able to cozy up to to the back of Frijns when he assumed the race lead. This proved crucial as he was able to deploy the energy he saved towards the second half of the race, giving him the cushion he needed for the race winning move on Evans on the final lap.
“Winning a Formula E race these days is so hard, especially this year,” said Da Costa. “I don’t think any team has an edge on anyone, and we all have such a big understanding of how to race and how to manage all our energies.
“I was able to sit behind Robin a little bit when he tried to break the tow. There were so many details that led into me being the lucky one to be in that situation at the end. So, yes, Mitch had the track position but I had a little bit more energy than him and I knew on the last lap that difference was going to grow and I just waited for it.”
When Rene Rast stopped on track with 14 minutes + 1 lap remaining, it triggered the one and only safety car period for the race. Rast’s car came to a stop on the uphill section at Beau Rivage, and marshals had no choice but to reverse his car back down to the bottom of the hill. This meant an 8 minute long safety car period, an eternity by Formula E standards.
Once the race got going again at the 6 minute + 1 lap mark, Race Control announced an 8kWh reduction, slashing allowable energy usage from 52kWh to 44kWh.
This became a problem for Evans, who led the restart and had less usable energy than Da Costa.
“I had track position so I thought, OK. Let’s try to ride it out to the end,” said Evans, “But Antonio was too strong and was good at dummying me, so I had to consume more to try to keep him behind. I was already on the backfoot. I knew it was coming so I was trying to delay as long as possible, but unfortunately we couldn’t make it work.”
In the end, Da Costa won the race by a 2.8 second margin, with second through sixth place separated by only 1.3 seconds.
As for remaining usable energy? The margins were even closer.
CUSTOMER TEAM OUTSHINES FACTORY TEAM – AGAIN
With two podium finishes in 7 races, better scoring consistency coupled with a woeful double DNF weekend from rivals Mercedes EQ FE, Envision Virgin’s Robin Frijns has propelled himself to the top of the drivers championship standings, a fact that gave the Dutchman little comfort as Formula E goes on a 6 week long hiatus before resuming racing in Puebla, Mexico.
“In Season 5 I had exactly the same moment that I was leading the championship, and then I had 3 or 4 DNFs,” explained Frijns. “So I just hope I can keep on scoring points. We just need to maximize our potential each weekend.”
His teammate Nick Cassidy also fared well around Monaco, finishing 8th and earning the team another double points finish, putting the Audi customer team now 4th in the standings.
In contrast, the Audi factory team fared much poorer. A less than ideal group qualifying meant Rene Rast and Lucas di Grassi were starting from 11th and 17th respectively, putting both cars squarely in what BMW’s Jake Dennis titled “The War Zone”. The inevitable concertina effect at the Hotel Hairpin on the first lap put them even further back from the leaders.
While Di Grassi was able to move steadily up the field to finish 10th, scoring the team’s one and only point of the weekend. Rast was not so lucky. In an incident that laid bare the cruelty and irony of Formula E, Rast was pinched by none other than Cassidy at turn 1. He then understeered and brushed the guardrail at the exit of Ste Devote, ending his race and triggering the consequential safety car.
“I think we do have pace,” said Audi Sport team principal Allan McNish of the team’s performance so far in the season. “We’ve made some good steps forward with our powertrain, as well as generally within the team and the structure, the driver lineup. So overall I think our package is very good. We just have to convert that into results.
“We had a team meeting before coming here and there was a slideshow which showed a skateboarder falling off many times and that one time he lands, and then it goes off and it’s just beautiful, and at the moment we are just needing that landing. We thought we had it in Rome with Lucas. We were close in Riyadh as well with Rene at one point. So there’s been big high points. We just need to land that one perfectly and then we will be rocking and rolling.”
It seems then the Audi factory team will have to look further afield in the calendar for that elusive perfect landing.