Rookie Sacha Fenestraz claimed pole position for the inaugural Cape Town E-Prix, with the Frenchman having beaten Maximilian Günther in the Final of the duels at the fifth round of the 2022/23 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. Whilst Fenestraz secured a well-deserved pole, question marks were raised over the drivers safety, after a huge crash at Turn Nine saw Sam Bird smash into Edoardo Mortara, after no yellow flags were flown in what was a crazy qualifying session at the fastest circuit on the calendar.
Heading out in Group A to start qualifying were all the drivers occupying an odd spot in the Drivers’ Championship, meaning it included championship leader Pascal Wehrlein, former double Formula E Champion Jean-Éric Vergne, Free Practice Two pacesetter Nick Cassidy, rookie sensation Jake Hughes, António Félix da Costa, André Lotterer, Sérgio Sette Câmara, Norman Nato, rookie Fenestraz, Dan Ticktum and Nico Mueller.
Halfway through the session and it was Da Costa who topped it, with his team-mate Wehrlein in second. Also in the all-important top four at the halfway point were Vergne and Fenestraz, whilst Cassidy sat in sixth with time to find to get into the duels places. Hughes sat in tenth after a small collision with the wall at Turn One, whilst Mueller didn’t even go out on the circuit as a result of a suspected issue.
With two minutes remaining and Cassidy made his move to the top, with the New Zealander having looked good all weekend in South Africa. His strong lap dumped Fenestraz outside the top five, meaning the rookie needed to post a faster time to make the duels. As the clock hit zero there were plenty of changes, as Wehrlein and Vergne both set great times, whilst Fenestraz stormed to the front. Hughes and Da Costa both missed out on the duels as did both NIO 333 Racing drivers, leaving them all with plenty of work to do.
Into the duels: Fenestraz, Cassidy, Wehrlein and Vergne.
It was then the turn of the drivers who are in an even spot in the Drivers’ Championship to try and qualify for the duels, with Jake Dennis having been joined in Group B by Sébastian Buemi, Bird, René Rast, Lucas di Grassi, Mitch Evans, Oliver Rowland, reigning World Champion Stoffel Vandoorne, Mortara, Günther and home hero Kelvin van der Linde.
There was immediate drama, though, as di Grassi, Rowland and van der Linde, all remained in the garage following a suspected issue with the Mahindra-powered cars, with it also being why Mueller stayed in the garage during Group A. As the session moved into its final half, Evans topped the group from Buemi, Günther and Bird, meaning three Jaguar-powered cars featured in the top four. A special mention should also be given to Envision Racing, who did a sensational job to repair Buemi’s car following his heavy high-speed crash in Free Practice One.
As the timer hit zero, the timing screen was showing an array of green and purple sectors, demonstrating that significant time was still on-hand to be found. However, no driver was able to improve as the session was red-flagged following a big crash for Mortara, who crashed at Turn Nine, before Bird then went into Mortara as a result of no yellow flags having been flown. Bird crashed on purpose to avoid hitting Mortara at high-speed, due to having not known that the Swiss driver had crashed. To make matters worse, Bird has a five-place grid penalty for the race, due to the collision he caused in Hyderabad.
Amongst all the late drama, Mortara’s and Bird’s team-mates both made the duels, whilst the likes of Vandoorne and Dennis were eliminated.
Into the duels: Rast, Evans, Buemi and Günther.
After a short delay to clear Mortara and Bird’s wreckage, the first Quarter-Final saw championship leader Wehrlein against Cassidy, who has looked strong all weekend. Halfway round the lap and Cassidy was just over two-tenths ahead, with the New Zealander having held on to his advantage in the second half of the lap to make the Semi-Finals.
Quarter-Final number two saw Vergne against Fenestraz, in what was an all-French matchup. Halfway round the lap and the rookie had an advantage of around two-tenths, but Vergne had an excellent second half of the lap to get within five-hundredths of his fellow Frenchman. Fenestraz just about held on, though, to progress to the Semi-Finals.
The third Quarter-Final saw Buemi against Evans, with Buemi being the only driver this season to make the duels at every event so far. It was an all-Jaguar powertrain affair which Evans won with ease, after Buemi hit the wall on the outside of Turn Ten. The New Zealander progressed to the Semi-Finals.
The final Quarter-Final was an all-German affair, as Günther went against Rast. It was Günther who aced the match-up and went almost three-tenths faster than Rast, to progress to the Semi-Finals. For Rast, he will start tenth due to a three-place grid penalty for hitting Dennis in Hyderabad.
The opening Semi-Final saw Cassidy against Fenestraz, with both drivers having been towards the top all weekend. Halfway round the lap and the rookie led by almost two-tenths; however, the gap closed to a tenth as they entered the final sector. Fenestraz held on, though, to make his first appearance in the Final of the duels, with the Frenchman having looked really quick. Fenestraz’s Semi-Final time was a 1:08.357, with the Frenchman having actually gone three-tenths quicker during Free Practice Two.
Semi-Final number two saw Günther against Evans, with the New Zealander bidding for a third consecutive appearance in the Final and a second consecutive pole position. Halfway round the lap and less than a tenth separated the two drivers, with Evans having just had the edge. It was Günther, though, who made it into the finals after going three-tenths faster than the Jaguar TCS Racing driver, following a mistake by Evans in the final sector. The German set a strong 1:08.212, perhaps making him the favourite for pole.
So it was Fenestraz against Günther in the final, with both hoping to claim the first-ever pole position in Cape Town. Through the first two sectors and the Nissan Formula E Team driver held an advantage of almost four-tenths of a second, with the rookie having gone on to claim a brilliant pole position for the Japanese manufacturer in just his sixth Formula E race.
The Frenchman claimed pole with the fastest lap of the weekend, after being the first driver to dip into the 1:07s, after setting a magic 1:07.8. His lap was actual a new Formula E record for the fastest lap in the history of the sport, with his average speed having been an incredible 154.987km/h.
Full Results to follow…