Jean-Éric Vergne sat waiting at the pit lane exit, primed and ready to set a Super Pole session time that could see him start the first ever African ePrix from first on the grid. Next to him, a timer began counting down. He watched every single number, from 30 to zero. Then two red lights illuminated and his session was over.
Initially, it looked as though there may have been a problem with the car but, in fact, a “procedural error” (i.e. a disastrous mix-up in the garage) was to blame. Techeetah have been plagued by technical problems already this season — avoidable blunders like this will do nothing to reassure Vergne that they could still be title contenders.
His frustration will also be fuelled by the fact that he set the quickest time in the regular qualifying sessions, with a masterful drive free from errors and showing great promise for the race. He will now start from fifth; by no means a disaster, but costly.
Felix Rosenqvist will be the man to start from pole after an electrifying qualifying lap and then a Super Pole lap that showcased the Swede’s aggressive style. Mahindra adopted a strategy of getting out early and putting in full power laps immediately. It worked, and although Heidfeld will only start 11th, the car looked very competent.
The top six slots on the grid are taken by six different teams, an indication of how last season’s “mid-field” teams have caught-up over the summer. Sébastien Buemi’s Renault completes the front row, and the DS Virgin of Sam Bird is third. Bird, who had a big crash in the morning’s practice session, still lacks a little confidence in the new car judging by his body language. Nevertheless, he set quick times despite some errors, and his tactical abilities give him a good chance of a decent points finish.
Nelson Piquet Jr looked like he would start 5th after a very scrappy Super Pole lap, but Vergne’s bad luck sees him promoted to 4th.
Elsewhere, a mistake in sector 1 meant Lucas di Grassi only starts from 12th, but Daniel Abt will be six slots ahead of him. Ma Qing Hua was unable to set a full power lap, but won’t start last thanks to Loïc Duval having steering problems and Adam Carroll locking-up at turn one.
16:30 update: Buemi has been handed a 5-place grid penalty because the fire extinguisher on has car was found to be underweight by the race stewards (most likely due to a leak).
|2.||Sam Bird||DS Virgin|
|3.||Nelson Piquet Jr||Next EV|
|5.||Daniel Abt||ABT Schaeffler Audi|
Image: Felix Rosenqvist © Formula E