Formula E returned to a normal practice and qualifying format in Marrakesh after the rain affected race day in Ad Diriyah but the qualifying session was anything but straightforward. Sam Bird took pole for his Envision Virgin team in a damaged car after missing much of practice with a water pump issue, season 4 champion Vergne and season 2 champion Buemi complete the top three on the grid.
After the deluge in Saudi Arabi caused the cancellation of much of practice and an abridged qualifying session (except for Dillmann in the NIO who received a penalty for lapping too many times), the race weekend in Marrakesh reverted to the familiar format. Practice 1 and 2 took place in the morning, with practice 1 starting in near darkness as the low sun slowly crept above the Atlas mountains. The low sun meaning that track and air temperatures were in single figures for much of the early running.
Problems with the Audi powered cars meant that both Sam Bird and Lucas Di Grassi required new water pumps ahead of the qualifying session, and could only manage 18th and 21st in practice. The Venturi of Formula E rookie Felipe Massa suffered a power shut down as he started his 250kW practice lap in P2, Massa was able to reset the car and go again but could only manage 20th. As with the first race of the season the DS Techeetah and BMW iAndretti cars were performing well but it was Robin Frijns and Mitch Evans who topped the sessions for Virgin and Jaguar respectively.
Like with practice, qualifying reverted to the normal format with 4 groups of 5 or 6 cars allowed 10 minutes of track time, each driver allowed 3 laps, an out lap, a 200kW lap, and a 250kW lap. The groups running in championship order, meaning Saudi winner Da Costa and last season's champion Vergne were in the first group, and debutant Wehrlein was in the last group. The fastest six drivers from all the sessions would then take part in the super pole session, with each driver going out in reverse order from 6th to 1st for an out lap and a 250kW lap.
The lead battle from Ad Diriyah between Vergne and Da Costa was immediately recommenced with Vergne going fastest in group 1, followed by Da Costa. Da Costa impressed though by not running a 200kW lap, perhaps in practice for the super pole session, but was handed a 3 place grid penalty for exceeding power use on his outlap (drivers can only turn up to 250kW after a certain point on their warm up lap). Vergne's team-mate Andre Lotterer made a mistake into the tricky turn 7, sliding wide on the marbles and just missing the outside barrier, he only starts in 20th place.
The second qualifying group contained three past champions, Buemi, Di Grassi, and Piquet, but only Buemi could make it into the super pole session from this group, Di Grassi and Audi's poor start to the season continuing with 11th with his teammate, Abt, in 16th.
Group 3 saw Max Günther hit the wall for the second time in as many race weekends and Stoffel Vandoorne continuing his run of bad luck from F1, his Venturi drive train shutting down in the final sector as he was putting together a strong lap, he will start last. Only Sam Bird made it into the super pole from this group, with the fastest time of 1:17.851 (2.264s quicker than Rosenqvist's fastest time from qualifying last year and 2.504s quicker than Buemi's super pole lap). After the session was over there was drama in the pits as the drivers waited for the FIA weighbridge. Tom Dillmann, after an incredibly scruffy lap including multiple front and rear lock-ups, managed to hit the back of the Virgin of Robin Frijns, who in turn was thrust into the back of Sam Bird, damaging the rear impact and diffusers of both Virgins as well as the nose of Dillmann and Frijns. Dillmann blamed a lack of brakes because of overheating in the pits while waiting to move forwards.
The final session included 11 time Grand Prix winner Felipe Massa, along with former F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein, with the latter really impressing in his first qualifying session (he missed the Saudi ePrix as Mercedes would not release him from his contract) putting his car into 6th before being beaten at the line by Alexander Sims who himself was recovering from a nightmare race in Ad Diriyah after showing strongly in pre-season testing. In the end at least one driver from each qualifying group made the super pole session.
Super pole started with Mitch Evans, who ran off the track into turn 7, unlike Lotterer in the 1st qualifying group he had to go straight into the run off area before reversing back onto the track. Buemi and Sims could not quite replicate their laps from the main qualifying, and qualified 4th and 5th (moving to 3rd and 4th after Da Costa's penalty) so pole was seemingly Vergne's for the taking as Bird had a broken diffuser from the kerfuffle after the flag in group 3. However, despite the damage Bird put together a sensational lap to take pole, expertly guiding his Virgin up to the limit of the walls and kerbs taking 4 tenths out of his previous best (2.626s quicker than last years fastest qualifying lap).
|6*||Da Costa||BMW iAndretti||+0.099||1||+0.137||0|
|11||Di Grassi||Audi Abt||+0.744||2||-||0|