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Wehrlein wins in Diriyah ePrix

Tyler F 1/30/2023
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Pascal Wehrlein wins; Porsche stays on top at Diriyah ePrix

 

The Porsche 99X Electric powertrain has dominated the races so far this season. After Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis claimed victory to open the season in Mexico City, Porsche’s Pascal Wehrlein achieved back-to-back wins under the lights of Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah street circuit; highlighting the strength of Porsche under the third generation in Formula E.

Friday’s action saw Sébastien Buemi earn his first pole position since the 2019 New York City ePrix, after beating NEOM McLaren’s Jake Hughes in the final of the duels. Early Championship protagonists, Dennis and Wehrlein, were both unable to make it to the duels. This contributed to the grid for the opening race being somewhat unpredictable.

As the lights went out, the top four of Buemi, Hughes, Sam Bird, and Dan Ticktum got away cleanly. In the battle for fifth, René Rast and Mitch Evans both went deep into the Turn 18 chicane. They recovered quickly but caused others to slow up behind them in response. This domino effect led to Porsche’s António Félix da Costa rear-ending Mahindra’s Oliver Rowland before landing in the barrier and pitting to replace his damaged front wing. As a result, the Safety Car was deployed for a single lap.

Pascal Wehrlein wins; Porsche stays on top at Diriyah ePrix

 

Buemi was able to maintain his lead at the restart, while Bird overtook Hughes for second place. This early pace from the Jaguar driver continued as he took the lead of the race on Lap 7, with a clean move into Turn 18 on the 2015-16 Formula E Champion. In the battle for fifth, a mistake from Rast on Lap 9 opened the door, and Wehrlein overtook his compatriot. Meanwhile, Championship leader Dennis had made some progress in the midfield after starting from P11. Comfortably winning the Mexican ePrix the week prior, the Brit was on a mission and overtook Lucas di Grassi for ninth place with the use of Attack Mode.

A poor strategy saw Ticktum drop from fourth to 14th, failing to score points after a promising start. Another Evans error saw him repeat his offense from the opening lap, for which he received a five-second time penalty, losing three more places in the process. By Lap 15, Wehrlein had made it up to fourth from his starting spot of ninth. As Hughes took his first Attack Mode a couple of laps later, Wehrlein was able to make his way up to third and had additional energy to burn. Hughes was unable to recover the two spots he lost and would struggle with overconsumption for the remainder of the race; The McLaren rookie finished in eighth.

At the halfway stage, Bird led from Buemi and Wehrlein, with the McLaren duo of Rast and Hughes keeping the rapid Dennis at bay. However, it was clear that just like in Mexico, the combination of the pace and energy consumption of Wehrlein and Dennis would make the duo favorites to challenge for the win. On Lap 23 Buemi used his first Attack Mode, dropping to third, while Bird was able to keep the lead after activating his final Attack Mode. Nevertheless, the extra energy of Wehrlein meant that Bird was now under constant pressure. A couple of laps later, the German eventually made a move on Bird; Despite having it almost done, he locked up and had to relinquish his brief lead.

Pascal Wehrlein wins; Porsche stays on top at Diriyah ePrix

 

All the while, Dennis’ energy advantage was beginning to make a difference, and on Lap 27, he made it into the top five by overtaking Hughes. After some solid defending, Lap 30 finally saw Porsche’s Wehrlein take control at the front with a pass into the chicane on Jaguar’s Bird. At the same time, Dennis made his way by Rast with a similar move; the Andretti driver didn’t have to wait long before he was occupying the podium place. Polesitter Buemi took his final Attack Mode and dropped to fourth.

With five laps remaining, Wehrlein retained the lead after activating his final Attack Mode. However, his gap to those behind had reduced to under a second, as Jake Dennis completed his epic drive from 11th to second. The German Porsche driver would go on to claim his first victory of the campaign and the second of his Formula E career. Between himself, and Dennis, the pair made up 17 places in the race as they crossed the finish line in a class of their own. Meanwhile, Bird would score his first podium since the New York City ePrix in 2021.

On Saturday, it was Hughes’ time to shine when the McLaren rookie took his maiden Formula E pole position for the second race of the weekend. After Bird’s performance in Round 2, his Jaguar teammate, Evans, bounced back and qualified P2. Championship heavyweights Wehrlein and Dennis couldn’t stay out of each other’s path; they qualified on the third row together.

Pascal Wehrlein wins; Porsche stays on top at Diriyah ePrix

 

Despite an even getaway, Evans stole the lead from Hughes and scampered away ahead of the two McLarens. The Kiwi was instructed to be aggressive early with an Attack Mode on Lap 9. As Hughes and Rast followed suit, Evans ended up slotting in between the papaya pair. However, just as on Friday, Hughes fell backwards, allowing Wehrlein to enter into the fray. Just a lap later, Wehrlein caught and passed Evans with relative ease.

With Friday’s winner on the charge to catch race leader Rast, Wehrlein took his first Attack Mode. Despite the McLaren driver using his own Attack Mode, Rast was unable to return to the front. Having secured the lead, Wehrlein extended the gap before taking his second Attack Mode on Lap 20 and remained ahead.

Meanwhile, Dennis began to close in as he overtook both Edoardo Mortara and Hughes in a matter of two laps. On the following lap, the Andretti man passed Evans with ease. To make it four overtakes in four consecutive laps, Dennis rose from sixth on the grid up to second behind his title rival.

Pascal Wehrlein wins; Porsche stays on top at Diriyah ePrix

 

In the battle for P3, Bird passed his teammate following team orders and went on to overtake Rast. Nico Müller created a spicy ending by finishing his race in the wall; causing the Safety Car to enter.

With just nine laps remaining, the race restarted, and the battle for the win was a shootout between Wehrlein and Dennis; The Brit used his final Attack Mode but could only hold onto second. Meanwhile, Rast secured P3 despite Bird’s best efforts to squeeze past in the final moments. His great defensive display saw the German hand McLaren their first Formula E podium. Meanwhile, at the front, Wehrlein grabbed his second win in as many days, with Dennis repeating his performance on Friday with a P2.

Excluding Wehrlein and Dennis, no other Formula E driver has finished in the top two in any of the three rounds so far this season. The two drivers are a cut above the rest. Wehrlein sits atop the standings with 68 points, six ahead of rival Dennis. The dominant pair have scored the same number of points [130] as the next best five drivers combined. The dramatics return on February 11th as the series makes its debut at the Hyderabad street circuit, India.


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