Formula E: Vergne claims win in inaugural Hyderabad E-Prix

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DS Penske driver Jean-Éric Vergne claimed victory in the first-ever ABB FIA Formula E World Championship race in India after a close fight with Envision Virgin racer Nick Cassidy. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó reports on Round 4 of the 2023 Formula E season.

Following a thrilling qualifying session, Mitch Evans did everything at the start to maintain his pole position, fending off the attacks from Jean-Eric Vergne. The opening lap was relatively smooth with drivers avoiding significant contacts on the dirty surface of the Hyderabad track.

On Lap 2, Edoardo Mortara lost his front wing following a contact with Nyck Cassidy. The Swiss driver stayed out on track, but he was constantly dropping down the field on a day when both Maserati drivers secured a top ten starting position following a difficult start to the year.

When Evans went for his first attack mode on Lap 7, he lost the lead. At the very same time, Sebastien Buemi jumped up the inside of Vergne and grabbed the lead. Two laps later, the Swiss driver also went through the activation zone, and managed to rejoin the racing line in P2 just ahead of pole-sitter Evans.

The next lap saw Vergne activate his first power boost, and he also managed to stay ahead of Evans with the Kiwi losing two places after the first round of attacks modes.

In the meantime, championship leader Pascal Wehrlein had got a decent amount of energy, but he was unable to make any advances forward.

On lap 13, Jaguar team boss James Barclay could not believe his eyes when Sam Bird went for a move on the inside at the hairpin, and took out Evans. The drama also took out Nissan racer Sacha Fenestraz and Maserati driver Maximilan Guenther, who wanted to activate his first power boost and found himself at the centre of the incident and had nowhere to go.

The following lap saw Vergne hit the front while Buemi went for his his second attack mode. The Swiss driver’s decision to use his second power boost promoted his team mate Cassidy up to P2. The big winner of the previous collision was Jake Dennis, who managed to make his way up to third following a low-key qualifying session.

Shortly afterwards, the Avanlanche Andretti driver got past Cassidy when the latter opted for his second attack mode, but he was able to regain P2 due to the higher power mode on the next lap.

With nine laps to go, Jack Hughes crashed into the wall on his own at the exit of the hairpin, parking his McLaren down on the apex of the next corner. The safety car was deployed with Bruno Correia spending three laps with the Porsche Taycan on the track. As a result, Race Director Scott Elkins decided to extend the race by a single lap.

At the restart, the second McLaren driver also go into troubles with Rene Rast crashing into the back of the Avalanche Andretti of Jack Dennis. The German lost his front wing and dropped down the order while Dennis was forced to dive into the pits and retire from the race.

At the front, Cassidy started to put immense pressure on race leader Vergne with the Kiwi having over three percent more energy than the Frenchman. Usually, such a power deficit means that there is no way to defend a position, but Vergne, miraculously, managed to fend off every single attack from Cassidy and held on to win inaugural Hyderabad E-Prix in stunning fashion, despite the massive deficit in energy.

Cassidy came home second with his team mate Buemi stealing P3. However, an overpower infringement saw him demoted to 15th spot via 17-second penalty, equivalent to a drive-through. The penalty promoted Porsche's da Costa onto the podium in his 100th race with championship leader Pascal Wehrlein crossing the line fourth from a 12th starting position.

Commenting on his victory, Vergne said: “I’m very, very happy. It was a tough race – I had to defend quite hard at the end but we somehow managed to win it. It was a clean race, no mistakes. Very happy with the win today. It’s good for everyone’s heart in our team. For the first few races it’s good to boost it with a good race like that so couldn’t be happier.

“I like new tracks - I think it’s cool. Especially this one – it’s a lot of fun. When there is a lot of little secrets to find on the track, I probably find them quickly enough.”

After taking his first podium of the season, Cassidy added: “I mean I had a really good car today - huge thanks to all my guys. I think at the races this year we’ve been pretty good. I really feel for Mitch and Jaguar today because they’re a great partner and they’ve started the season very strongly. I think the package we have is really strong and so I’m super sorry to see them go out the race like that.

“(On reason behind having no duels this season but getting on the podium). Apart from we’re good in races? Honestly, we’re there in quali as well. Riyadh, Mexico and here, the difference between P1 and being in the duals and being P5 has been two-tenths. There’s not a big margin between 5th and starting 10th or potentially pole. That day will come.”

Following a day on which he completed his 100th Formula E race, da Costa said:“It felt like it meant to be. The race actually started really well and then I got squeezed by Dennis and I lost a lot of positions. But we stayed calm and worked our way back to the front slowly, and managed our energy. It hasn’t been an easy start for me. It was an emotional day for me looking back at the now 100 races or the 99 races before and where I am and things not working out like I want them to be.

“I can’t be satisfied with the way I am qualifying at the moment. Having said that, I have an amazing team behind me, always pushing me and giving me the tools. So I know it’s only a matter of time before we do a better job in qualifying and obviously the car can race really well. And yeah I’m really happy I came all the way to India and got a podium in my 100th race.”

After the fourth race, Pascal Wehrlein has a 18-point advantage on Dennis, with Vergne leaping to third in the Drivers' standings. TAG Heuer Porsche has taken a 23-point lead over Avalanche Andretti in the Teams' World Championship.

There is not much time to rest as the field now heads to South Africa that gives place to the Cape Town E-Prix, Round 5 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, marking the first time Formula E has raced in South Africa.