Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans blew the title race wide open in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship with victory in the first of the 2023 Hankook Rome E-Prix double-header.
Evans broke Formula E records by taking his fourth ever victory and third in a row at the Circuito Cittadino dell’EUR. No driver has won more often, nor so many trotting on a single course.
The Kiwi is also the first driver in Formula E history to win from light to flag in Rome, having secured pole position from Julius Bär earlier in the day.
Lap 13 was literally a race of two halves after a long stoppage following a massive multi-car shunt on lap 9 involving Evans’ teammate Sam Bird and several others. A total of six drivers were forced out of the race, but fortunately, despite the high-speed collisions, they all escaped without serious injury.
The interruption could have brought Evans back, but the 29-year-old used all his trickery and track experience to take victory and move up to third in the drivers’ world championship with three races to go this season.
“It was almost two races we had today,” he said afterwards. “First of all, it was good to see everyone okay after that shunt, it was pretty big and of course Sam had a pretty scary moment, so good to see everyone okay. After that I had a little bit less energy compared to Nick and Jake so I had to try to equalize that, the energy targets dropped a lot after the safety car so it became much more of an energy race than we expected. But I managed well, and the team helped me through it as always and left the rest to me.
“A little scare was missing the ATTACK, I missed it on the last loop, I went super slow and I still missed it! I have to practice that tomorrow. But a huge result today, maximum points, that was what I needed. Just a small dent in Nick’s lead, but it’s better than nothing.
“We hoped to break that curse [becoming the first driver to win from pole in Rome]. Four wins here is great, I’m not sure what it is about this place but I love the track. We have another day tomorrow of course and I think people will take another big step, Nick was also fast in the race. It’s up for grabs tomorrow, but we have to take the right steps and hopefully we have a good balance like we had today.”
Major drama unfolded on lap 9 on the fastest part of the track where several cars got caught in a shunt, which started when Bird lost the rear of his Jaguar on the tricky, fast and undulating section between turns 6 and 7.
Sébastien Buemi (Envision Racing) made his way through the rear of the Jaguar as the Swiss narrowly missed a head-on collision, although Buemi still sustained serious damage to his car which ended the race.
Edoardo Mortara (Maserati MSG Racing) flew into the side of Bird’s I-TYPE 6 when it was hit mid-track, while several other drivers made their way and escaped with minor damage, including championship contender Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E -team).
That meant major ramifications for the teams and drivers, as well as the potential final destination of the title, although championship leader Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) himself avoided a race-ending crash by inches.
Fourteen cars made the restart, with Sacha Fenestraz (Nissan Formula E Team) leading the pack with Evans in tow. From there, Dennis took the initiative and passed Evans with a quick move around the outside of the Jaguar driver into Turn 5 before passing Fenestraz for the lead on lap 13.
Evans and Nick Cassidy (Envision Racing) followed the Nissan in quick succession and after Evans missed his second ATTACK MODE activation, it looked like Dennis’s race was a losing one.
However, Evans set the TAG Heuer fastest lap of the race twice in a row to pass Dennis for the lead on lap 22. Dennis had no energy and exclaimed that he was a “sitting duck” to those around him, and the ease with which Cassidy squeezed second away from him confirmed his fears.
Evans started in pole position from Julius Bär and comfortably reached the flag to lead Cassidy home, while Maximilian Günther (Maserati MSG Racing) was able to steer Dennis to finish third. Günther was cheered to the podium by fans as the legendary Italian automaker raced at home for the first time since 1957.
Dennis had to use all his defensive driving skills to hold off Jean-Éric Vergne (DS PENSKE) who smelled blood but couldn’t pass the Andretti to finish fifth. JEV itself was under heavy pressure in the closing stages from Nico Müller, who achieved his best result of the season and that of ABT CUPRA with sixth place.
Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) eventually recovered to seventh, despite a pre-restart in the pit stop and additional damage in that mid-race crash, with a drive that could prove key in the title fight.
All that drama on the first day of the double-header leaves Cassidy as the new leader of the Drivers’ World Championship with 171 points, five ahead of previous table topper Dennis. Evans gained ground to fall 20 points behind the lead, while Wehrlein is now 27 points behind. Envision Racing leads the teams with 243 points.
Sérgio Sette Câmara (NIO 333 Racing) earned the ABB Driver of Progress award for the most positions gained in the race, having climbed 12 places to finish ninth after starting last on the grid in 21st.