Porsche driver António Félix da Costa, the two-time Formula E champion, took a thrilling victory in the inaugural Cape Town ePrix. South Africa's second-largest city hosted the electric series for round five of this season’s championship, with a daunting circuit running through the waterfront district under the shadow of Table Mountain.
In qualifying, there were surprises everywhere, with the duel for pole coming down between Nissan’s Sacha Fenestraz and Maserati's Maximilian Günther. The French-Argentinian Fenestraz edged out the German to take his first Formula E pole position. Meanwhile, championship protagonists Pascal Wehrlein and Jake Dennis would go on to start the race in P6 and P14, respectively.
Unfortunately, there were a few absences from the race. Due to rear suspension safety concerns, Mahindra withdrew their own cars and those of customer ABT CUPRA from the weekend’s action. Also, following a crash in qualifying, Jaguar's Sam Bird was unable to start the race due to the extent of the damage caused by the incident.
At the race start, Fenestraz kept the lead, with Günther and Envision's Nick Cassidy close behind. However, before even finishing the opening lap, Wehrlein saw his day end early as he locked up into Turn 10 and careered into the rear of Sébastien Buemi. This spun the Swiss driver around, causing him to drop down to P15.
A full-course yellow came out shortly after, but just as it did, the race lead swapped. Günther caught Fenestraz napping and sneaked ahead of the Nissan driver before the arrival of the yellow flags. On Lap 5, the race resumed under green flag conditions, now with Günther leading Fenestraz.
Both drivers then took turns to use their first Attack Mode, handing the lead to Cassidy, as Günther was able to hold off Fenestraz and keep second place. At this point, Jaguar's Mitch Evans had to serve a drive-through penalty which he received for an overpower violation. The Kiwi would have been in the running for victory as he was fourth when the stewards handed out their sentencing.
By Lap 18, Cassidy still held the lead, but Fenestraz had finally passed Günther for P2. Meanwhile, the fast-charging Da Costa and Jean-Éric Vergne began to close the gap to those at the front. Further down in ninth place, Andretti’s Jake Dennis became the second driver of the day to receive a drive-through penalty. The Brit’s crime was 'Not respecting minimum tire pressure' .
With less than ten laps remaining, only Cassidy (P1), Fenestraz (P2) and Da Costa (P4) had an Attack Mode left to activate. This setup should have given the advantage to Günther in third, but the German made an error going wide at Turn 1 and hit the barrier on entry. The resulting suspension damage forced him to retire, leaving Günther scoreless from this campaign's first five rounds.
Another full-course yellow led to more chaos in the fight for the win. Cassidy could activate his last Attack Mode and stay ahead, but Fenestraz lost out to Da Costa and Vergne when he tried the same. Fenestraz’s loss placed Da Costa and Vergne behind race leader Cassidy with eight laps remaining, but the two champions had 2% more energy than their Kiwi rival.
Going into Turn 9 on Lap 24, Da Costa saw his opportunity to create a gap to use his final Attack Mode, overtaking Cassidy in a flash for the race lead. He would then grow his advantage, pulling 1.2 seconds ahead of Vergne, who had also overtaken Cassidy. Unfortunately, when Da Costa tried to use Attack Mode, he missed the activation zone and lost his margin to Vergne while still having to trigger his energy boost.
Finally, Da Costa took Attack Mode, dropping to second with just two laps remaining and possessing less power than Vergne ahead. Due to the Safety Car period earlier in the race, race control added two laps to the existing 30. The struggling Cassidy tried to hang on to a podium, but Fenestraz passed him for third.
However, on the final lap, the Nissan driver could not secure a top-three finish, as he slid into the wall at Turn 7, finishing the race as 'not classified'. This retirement allowed Cassidy to retake third and score a second consecutive podium after finishing second in Hyderabad last time out.
In the fight for the win, Da Costa had rapidly closed up to Vergne. After putting the Frenchman under immense pressure, Da Costa sent a risky yet controlled dive down the inside of the fast sweeper of Turn 9, repeating his previous overtake on Cassidy. Despite almost zero room to complete a move, the Portuguese driver somehow exited the corner intact and ahead of his DS Penske rival.
With Vergne unable to repass, the Porsche crossed the chequered flag first for Da Costa’s eighth victory in Formula E and the first with his new team.
Since Wehrlein and Dennis didn't secure any points in Cape Town, those behind in the standings were able to catch up. The German remains ahead of his British rival by 22 points; however, the three podium-sitters – Da Costa, Vergne and Cassidy – all closed the points margin to Dennis in second.
Next up is another first-time event on the Formula E calendar, the São Paulo ePrix, on 25th March. The circuit will use a similar layout to that which hosted a round in the IndyCar championship between 2010 and 2013.