Vandoorne retakes Championship lead in dramatic E-Prix weekend
It was a weekend of unpredictable rain showers, mixed-up grids and few full-car rebuilds on the streets of Brooklyn as the double header New York City E-Prix delivered drama on all fronts.
Whilst it wasn't Formula E that had Sinatra singing, "If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere", the phrase itself certainly rings true to the sports arrival in the Big Apple. Those who can safely navigate the dusty surface of the Brooklyn Street Circuit may be able to steal a few unexpected points, but put one wheel wrong and there's a handy advertising board just waiting to be torn from the wall. Going into the New York E-Prix double-header, the Top 4 had good reasons to expect a decent haul of points in order to keep their title hopes alive, but a dramatic twist of events left Mortara trailing to returning Championship leader Stoffel Vandoorne.
A rainy qualifying on Saturday brought the first shock of the weekend when an unexpected shower mid-way through the second group quickly ruined the lap times for contenders Evans & Vergne. Both would start outside the top 10 (14th & 16th) with rivals higher up the pack (9th & 2nd). Nick Cassidy brought home his 2nd-ever pole position after a difficult season so far for the Envision driver who clearly has an affinity with the New York track. With threat of rain the race got underway, and a stellar performance from Cassidy throughout meant victory was looking good. Vandoorne, looking to capitalise on his rival's poor qualifying, had a poor start off the line and was battling to keep 5th place by the time the first Attack Mode was underway. The poor qualifying was costly for both Vergne & Evans who had a brief collision early on. Both would finish outside of the points.
A well deserved win looked to be cruelly snatched away from Cassidy who, alongside Di Grassi & Vandoorne dramatically crashed out just 7 minutes before the end after another unpredictable downpour caught everyone out. The Full Course Yellow was deployed, but just moments later the top 3 piled into one another after aquaplaning through what was later described as a river. Footage from the crash showed the shunts as both Di Grassi & Vandoorne collided into a beached Cassidy. They would all walk away from the crash, and the race would not resume. Cassidy was in his garage awaiting the official result when it finally came - at last his first Formula E win was confirmed.
Double-headers offer the chance at redemption, but it isn't always guaranteed either. Vergne, after failing to score for the first time all season would repeat the pattern again on Sunday. He now sits 4th in the Driver's Championship and after the disappointment of losing a sure-fire win in Marrakesh to Evans just a few weeks earlier, will want a strong end to the season to keep his hopes of a third Title alive. Elsewhere Mortara who was leading going into New York pulled of a remarkable recovery drive on Sunday to claim points after starting on the back row of the grid. He trails new leader Vandoorne by 11 points. Evans' Sunday was a significant improvement on the previous day, finishing on the podium and now sits just 16 points away from Vandoorne. He had the strongest weekend of his main rivals and after losing the lead of the Championship to Mortara, the Mercedes EQ driver now looks to be in the strongest position going into London.
Spare a thought for Nick Cassidy who looked to claim his win in as many days after an excellent double pole position. The damage after Saturday's crash however, was too much. Cassidy took an extraordinary 30-place grid drop to start from the back of the grid, and couldn't recreate the fairytale of the previous day. He left the weekend feeling lighthearted though, stating on his Instagram that it was his "best weekend" in Formula E.
DS Techeetah, who have yet to win this season, at last put that thought firmly to bed with a dominate victory in the (rather surprising) form of Antonio Felix Da Costa. In a season where Verge has been the prolific chaser to the title, Da Costa has just one podium this year. Now a victorious and no doubt relieved team will look to harvest what they can from the remaining 4 races in aid of Vergne's fading campaign.
Final shoutouts from the long weekend falls to Sundays phenomenal climber Sam Bird, who started 16th and finished 5th and surprise front-rower Alex Sims. Sims was expected to drop further back after just missing out on the pole-position shootout but managed to defend hard to keep both himself and his team's best result of the season.
With just 4 races to go it looks like the fight will go down to the wire. Vandoorne will have a tough job holding off the likes of Mortara, who, after just missing out last year, won't want to lose the title to another Mercedes EQ driver.
London's calling for the penultimate stop on the calendar. Catch the race on 30th & 31st July at The ExCel.