Alexander Sims storms to Diriyah ePrix pole after Bird’s error

by Nathan Hine

Alexander Sims has taken pole position for the 2019 Ad Diriyah ePrix by over two-tenths of a second from the Mercedes-Benz duo of Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck De Vries for the first Formula E race of the season.

The top five drivers from last season went out in the first qualifying session as Mitch Evans led all five drivers out onto the racetrack. All of the drivers appeared to go out on their warm-up lap, with Evans backing off to allow Lucas Di Grassi to lead the pack going onto their full-power laps. But under the radar, Antonio Felix Da Costa went full-power straight away on the advice of his DS Techeetah team after problems this morning. But he only managed a 1.18.5 s lap time, and was almost 2.5 s down on his team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, who set the benchmark time at the end of the session, with a suspected brake failure only adding to Felix Da Costa’s misery.

Lucas Di Grassi was first to complete a lap with the drivers nose-to-tail as they completed their laps, followed by Evans, Vergne, Robin Frijns and Sebastien Buemi last over the line. Reigning champion Vergne set the pace from Frijns, Buemi, Evans and Di Grassi who just over a second slower than the Frenchman.

The second qualifying group saw Oliver Rowland head out onto the track first with the drivers in the second session leaving a lot more margin than those in the first session. But in his eagerness on his timed lap, Rowland hit the wall at turn seven, and despite escaping visual damage, he lost a lot of time on the outside of the corner to be 0.7 s slower than fastest man in the group. Andre Lotterer was next to cross the line to be a 0.2 s quicker than the Nissan e. dams driver, with Jerome D’ Ambrosio and Sam Bird going even faster to be the quickest man in group qualifying overall. But there was disappointment for both Pascal Wehrlein and Daniel Abt to be over a second slower than the British driver.

Qualifying group three got underway with the two BMW i Andretti Motorsport cars heading out first with Sims going fourth at the time and ended fifth at the end of group qualifying. His German team-mate Maxmillian Gunther meanwhile could only manage ninth-fastest. Vandoorne was next over the line and set a time good enough to secure a Super Pole slot on Mercedes-Benz Formula E debut. Edoardo Mortara made it at least two Mercedes-powered cars into the shoot-out session. Oliver Turvey will start tenth on the grid, while veteran racer Felipe Massa made an error at turn four which saw the Brazilian go completely off-track so went faster only than Di Grassi and Felix Da Costa.

The final group qualifying was a session of two halves as first of all, De Vries made an early gamble in the Mercedes as the Dutchman went out just after the session began but his early risk paid dividend to be only 81-thousandths slower than group qualifying pace-setter Bird. But the rest of the rookies were not so fortunate as Brendon Hartley slotted into eighteenth place for GEOX Dragon Racing before his team-mate Nico Muller and Jaguar racer James Calado both crashed at turn 16 and will start at the rear of the grid. But that brought out yellow flags which slowed both Neel Jani in the Porsche and Ma Qinghua in the NIO car and will start 20th and 22nd on the grid respectively.

The Super Pole session began in earnest with D’Ambrosio heading out first and despite no visual errors and set a 1.15.539 for what appeared to be a reasonable benchmark at the time, but ended up slowest at the end of the session. Sims soon upped the ante as he produced a mighty lap to be almost a second faster than the Belgian’s effort with a 1.14.563 to be only a few tenths slower than Bird’s Free Practice Two lap time. Mortara went next and despite the only visual error coming at turn one, the Swiss/Italian racer lost most of his time in the final sector and ended 0.5 s down on the BMW driver.

Vandoorne managed to put together a consistent lap despite having to fight the car all the way around to be the best part of 0.3 s slower than his British rival, and the other Mercedes of De Vries failed to beat Sims’s time despite a faster sector one time, losing 0.5 s in the final sector to be slower even than his team-mate. But after topping group qualifying, surely Bird would top the times. But a catastrophic error at turn one soon disproved that theory as the Brit lost 0.8 s in that single error and will start from fifth on the grid in this afternoon’s ePrix.

Alexander Sims take Diriyah ePrix pole
Credit: ABB FIA Formula E

So after qualifying, Sims claimed three points for pole position but Bird also claimed a single point for topping group qualifying following the introduction of a new rule for the brand-new season. The race will follow later this afternoon.

Position#DriverTeamTimeGap
127Alexander SimsBMW i Andretti Motorsport1.14.5630.000
25Stoffel VandoorneMercedes EQ Formula E Team1.14.839+0.276
317Nyck de VriesMercedes EQ Formula E Team1.14.929+0.366
448Edoardo MortaraVenturi Formula E Team1.15.131+0.568
52Sam BirdEnvision Virgin Racing1.15.350+0.787
664Jérôme d'AmbrosioMahindra Racing1.15.539+0.976
736André LottererPorsche Formula E Team1.15.5180.000
822Oliver RowlandNissan e.dams1.15.653+0.135
928Maximilian GüntherBMW i Andretti Motorsport1.15.680+0.162
103Oliver TurveyNIO 333 FE Team1.16.018+0.500
1125Jean-Éric VergneDS Techeetah1.16.629+0.611
124Robin FrijnsEnvision Virgin Racing1.16.200+0.682
1394Pascal WehrleinMahindra Racing1.16.200+0.682
1423Sébastien BuemiNissan e.dams1.16.243+0.725
1566Daniel AbtAudi Sport Abt Schaeffler Formula E Team1.16.264+0.746
1620Mitch EvansPanasonic Jaguar Racing1.16.532+1.014
1719Felipe MassaVenturi Formula E Team1.16.583+1.065
186Brendon HartleyGEOX Dragon1.17.074+1.556
1911Lucas di GrassiAudi Sport Abt Schaeffler Formula E Team1.17.213+1.695
2091Neel JaniPorsche Formula E Team1.17.745+2.227
2113António Félix da CostaDS Techeetah1.18.613+3.095
2233Ma QinghuaNIO 333 FE Team1.21.701+6.183
237Nico MüllerGEOX Dragon1.23.017+7.499
2451James CaladoPanasonic Jaguar Racing1.23.792+8.274

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