After losing in the Final at Diriyah, Mitch Evans bounced back to claim pole position for the inaugural Hyderabad E-Prix, with the New Zealander having put on a sensational qualifying performance at the fourth round of the 2022/23 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. The session, though, was incredibly controversial, with several drivers having had lap-times deleted after certain segments of qualifying for exceeding track limits.
The opening qualifying group was packed-full of incredibly fast drivers, with Championship leader Pascal Wehrlein having been joined by Free Practice One pacesetter Sébastian Buemi, rookie phenomenon Jake Hughes, Lucas di Grassi, Mitch Evans, António Félix da Costa, Sacha Fenestraz, reigning World Champion Stoffel Vandoorne, Maximilian Günther, Oliver Rowland and Sérgio Sette Câmara.
The drivers in the first group all quickly got on to the circuit to set their initial laps, which are typically considerably slower than their final time in the session. It was rookie Fenestraz who sat at the top following each drivers first lap, with the Frenchman having been joined in the all-important top four by Evans, Rowland and Sette Câmara. Evans, though, managed to go fastest with five minutes remaining, before the majority of the drivers dived into the pits to prepare for a final big push to make the duels.
As the opening group moved into the final minute, all the drivers prepared for a final push, with Günther having been the first to make a move into the top four. However, he was immedietly dumped out of the duels, as was Rowland, as Hughes jumped to the top whilst Buemi snatched fourth, to just about make it into the duels. It meant championship leader Wehrlein was out in the group stage, with the German also set to be investigated for blocking Sette Câmara.
There was a huge late change, though, after the session had been completed, as Hughes’ two best times were deleted due to having breached the minimum pit-stop time by five seconds, meaning Günther was promoted into the duels.
Into the duels: Evans, Fenestraz, Buemi, Günther
Featuring in the second qualifying group hoping to join the four successful drivers from Group A were Jake Dennis, Free Practice Two pacesetter Sam Bird, René Rast, André Lotterer, Nick Cassidy, Jean-Éric Vergne, Edoardo Mortara, Dan Ticktum, Norman Nato, Nico Mueller and Kelvin van der Linde.
With Wehrlein starting eleventh in the race after finishing sixth in his group, Dennis had a great opportunity to seize an advantage over his championship rival, as he set out on-track for the second qualifying group. After each driver set their first respectable lap-time, it was Vergne who led the way from Rast, Bird and Mueller, with the Swiss driver having posted an excellent first time.
Whilst it was a strong start for Mueller, it was misery for van der Linde, who brought out a red flag after suffering an obvious failure. The South African’s front-wheels both locked and failed to turn at Turn Sixteen, meaning he went straight on into the run-off area. The session finally restarted roughly ten minutes later, with five minutes remaining on the clock.
As the session moved towards the final two minutes, Cassidy jumped into fourth ahead of Mueller, whilst Mortara demoted Mueller a further place after moving up to fifth. With only the top four spots guaranteeing a place in the duels, though, several key drivers had plenty of work to do on their final lap, as the session moved towards its close. As the chequered flag was flown, Rast moved to the top whilst Mortara snatched fourth from Cassidy, with the New Zealander having been unable to improve. Dennis could only manage sixth, meaning he’ll start the race from the sixth row, alongside Wehrlein.
Into the duels: Rast, Vergne, Bird, Mortara
The opening Quarter-Final of the duels saw the incredibly experienced Buemi against the incredibly inexperienced Fenestraz, with both having shown strong pace throughout the weekend. Halfway round the lap and Buemi was just over a tenth faster than Fenestraz, with the Swiss driver having managed to maintain his advantage throughout the second-half of the lap, to claim yet another Semi-Final spot.
Quarter-Final number two saw Günther up against Evans, with the Maserati MSG Racing driver hoping to make the most of being promoted into the duels following Hughes’ error. Günther simply didn’t have anywhere near enough pace to challenge Evans, with the New Zealander having gone 1.1s faster than the German, to safely move into the Semi-Finals.
Next up was Bird against Vergne, with both of the Formula E veterans having been towards the top of the timesheets all weekend. The British driver boasted an advantage of three-tenths halfway round the lap; however, Vergne posted a rapid second-half of the lap. Unfortunately for Vergne, his first-sector massively let him down, as Bird pipped him by just over three-hundredths of a second to move into the Semi-Finals.
The Final Quarter-Final saw Mortara against Rast, with the German in particular having been exceptional all weekend. The NEOM McLaren Formula E Team driver was sideways through the first corner but posted a huge middle sector; however, he threw away his advantage after going over the kerb at Turn Thirteen, losing him half-a-second. It meant Mortara remarkably made it into the Semi-Finals, with his time having been almost six-tenths quicker than Rast’s.
However, there was huge late drama following the conclusion of the duels, as Bird’s, Mortara’s and Rast’s lap-times were deleted for exceeding track limits at the first corner. It meant that Vergne moved into the Semi-Finals instead of Bird, whilst neither Mortara or Rast were given a spot in the Semi-Finals.
When the delayed Semi-Finals finally got underway, the only real match-up saw Buemi against Evans, with both being Jaguar-powered, making for a fascinating duel. Halfway round the lap and Evans boasted a two-tenths advantage over the Envision Racing driver, an advantage that he maintained for the remainder of the lap to set-up another appearance in the Final.
Semi-Final two would’ve seen Mortara against Bird had it not been for track limits; however, Vergne was given the spot due to Bird exceeding track limits. The Frenchman was effectively given a bye into the Final, with Mortara and Rast having also both exceeded track limits during their Quarter-Final duel.
So it was Evans against Vergne in the Final, with both targeting their first pole position of the season and the Gen3 era. The duo were incredibly close, but halfway round the lap it was Evans who led by just three-hundredths of a second. Across the line and Evans maintained his advantage to claim pole position by two-hundredths of a second, at the team’s title partner’s home E-Prix.
It means Evans is on pole with Vergne alongside him, whilst Buemi will start third. There’ll be plenty to watch out for during the race later on, with the big question being if Dennis and Wehrlein can fight through the field once again.
Full Results to follow…