A few weeks after a deluded person etched his name into Roman history in too literal a sense, Formula E’s best hopes to do the same in a more appropriate way.
Having started season nine with three wins and five podiums in the first five races, fans could be forgiven for thinking Porsche had closed the championships early: clearly clear in the team standings and Pascal Wehrlein flying at the top of the drivers’ standings .
Heading to Italy for the double-header in rounds 13 and 14, that didn’t quite work out. Wehrlein is now third, while Porsche remain top of the teams, but their lead has faded and is now just six points, with four races to go.
After an exciting first third of the season, the watchword heading for Sao Paulo was “consistency”; the team wanted to make small improvements to make sure they went from boom-and-bust between one driver and another to regularly making sure both could fight for positions and points. Again, that didn’t all go quite according to plan. From the seventh round in Berlin to the last timeout in Portland, both Wehrlein and Antonio Felix Da Costa managed to finish in the top five just once – although in five of the last seven races, both drivers are roped some points at least.
So a mix of improvements in some respects and not quite maximizing the opportunities available to them. But heading into the 2023 home stretch, the TAG Heuer Porsche team principal has laid out exactly why that’s no surprise, as well as why there’s still so much cause for optimism given how far the team has come this year.
“It’s a very exciting title race! We had the lead and we recaptured it. Pascal also in the drivers’ championship. Our goal from the start was to have a good functioning in the team and a competitive car,” said motorsport director Florian Modlinger. the independent ahead of the Rome E-Prix this weekend.
“When you look at where we’ve come from, seventh and eighth in the last three seasons to fight for the championship, it’s very satisfying.
“That means everything is going according to plan. In the final races, you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to set a preference [between the titles], we are in the championship battle for both. The goal and attitude is ‘we want both’.”
In the early months of the year, Porsche’s home-built powertrain was cited as one of the main reasons for their exceptional start.
Avalanche Andretti also uses the same hardware as a customer team and it was they who kept pace with Porsche early on, thanks mainly to the efforts of British driver Jake Dennis. Later on, the Jaguar powertrain proved just as effective and reliable – but rather than fundamental changes to the equipment, Modlinger believes this was simply an extension of life in the sport: sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t.
“We collected the points quickly from the garage, where others had incidents, breakdowns, other problems. We had our problems midway through the season when we didn’t collect the points we could have.
“This means we are still fighting with Jaguar in general and their powertrain. We have made different steps for them, but we are on the same level and have different strengths and characteristics. If one had made a bigger step by a tenth, or a tenth and a half, the car would dominate. We can’t see this at the moment, so it’s level — and the pure seasonal stats we should be happy with. No other team has achieved four victories after twelve races.”
An extra win may prove vital in the end.
The gap at the top is now just six points in the teams’ championship, while as Modlinger points out, combining the points between Porsche-powered and Jaguar-powered cars on the grid gives a difference of just one point, an incredibly level playing field for the frontrunners to fight against.
But in the drivers’ standings, Wehrlein’s lead vanished two laps ago after his most recent win was three in Jakarta. Dennis, who finished in second place three times in a row, has propelled him to the top, just one point ahead of Nick Cassidy who won in Portland. He, in turn, is just 15 points off Porsche’s own big hopes, while Jaguar’s Mitch Evans – another 16 points back – can’t be ruled out either.
To take victory in Rome, and later in the season finale in London, qualifying will become all the more important on circuits where overtaking may not be as common. The quest for pre-race pace is one that has occasionally plagued Porsche this year, and Modlinger knows they have to do it now if they want to celebrate on multiple fronts. Indeed, he set a minimum target for both Wehrlein and Da Costa.
“We had to improve and look for the last bits and pieces, how to race in races without overtaking too much.
“On some circuits like Monaco, Berlin, Portland there are qualifying sessions that we cannot be satisfied and happy with. In Portland the starting position was not key, but in the last races it will be very important. In Rome and London, both drivers must be in the top ten of the grid.
“The key will be for the driver to get the best out of the car during qualifying: understanding and performance of the tyres, set-up, balance. These are the factors that we need to bring together and fully optimize. Qualifying will have a big impact on the result of the race.”
A season of progress is undeniable for Porsche. But the line between progress and success is thin; it takes a perfectly executed plan to write contemporary history in the Eternal City.
Season nine calendar, 2023
- Round 13, Rome – July 15, 2:03pm BST
- Round 14, Rome – July 16, 2:03pm BST
- Round 15, London – July 29, 5:03pm BST
- Round 16, London – July 30, 5:03pm BST
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