Formula E

Jean-Éric Vergne Tops Frantic First Free Practice of Gen3 Era

4 Mins read
Credit: Eric Alonso / DPPI

Double Formula E Champion Jean-Éric Vergne took the honours of topping the first Free Practice session of the new ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season, as the third era of the all-electric series got underway in Mexico City. Rookie Jake Hughes claimed second spot, whilst Sérgio Sette Câmara claimed third, as five teams featured in the top six of the timesheets at the end of the first completed session of Gen3.

It was the NEOM McLaren Formula E Team duo of rookie Hughes and the returning René Rast who led the entire field out to kick-off Gen3 and Season Nine of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, as twenty-one drivers got onto the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez Circuit as quickly as possible. It was Rast who set the first lap-time of the new season in Free Practice One, as Hughes entered the pits at the end of his out-lap. Sam Bird was the sole driver who didn’t exit the pits at the start.

Vergne quickly replaced Rast at the top of timesheets, briefly, before André Lotterer suddenly shot to the top, as it quickly became apparent that the times would tumble throughout the first practice session of the new season. Being the first session in Mexico, the Full Course Yellow system was trialled momentarily five minutes into the session, to ensure that all the systems were working as they should. A key thing that was identifiable at the start of the session was just how quick the Gen3 challengers were down the main straight, with a clear speed difference over its predecessors being visible in regard to acceleration.

As the session returned to green flag running, Vergne and reigning World Champion Stoffel Vandoorne made it a DS Penske one-two at the top, with the DS-powered drivers the early favourites going into not only this weekend, but this season in general. The timing sheets continued to change as each minute past, with former Formula E Champion Sébastian Buemi having jumped to the top with twenty minutes remaining; however, he was quickly replaced by Vergne once again, with the Frenchman looking noticeably quick.

It was then Pascal Wehrlein‘s turn to hit the top, though, with the German targeting back-to-back wins in Mexico City. Bird finally joined the circuit as the session reached it’s halfway point, with the Brit having lost crucial running. Another new feature of Season Nine is the tyres, with Hankook having replaced Michelin as the championship’s tyre manufacturer. It was clearly evident at just how hard the new rubber is, with the sound of tyres squealing having been deafening, with a lack of grip being very obvious.

As the session moved into its second-half, it was Vergne who remained at the top with a 1:14.051, with Dan Ticktum in second and Jake Dennis in third, sealing a British two-three for the time-being. Heading into the season opener, a key concern was brake failures, something which has been an issue during pre-season. The drivers were clearly struggling with finding the correct brake balance for Turn One, with a number of drivers having run-off the circuit, with Ticktum and one of the Jaguar TCS Racing drivers having come incredibly close to colliding, as one tried to re-join the circuit, whilst the other was running wide.

With ten minutes remaining of the first session of the season, Mitch Evans hit the top by becoming the first driver to break into the 1:13s, whilst Edoardo Mortara hit third. It was then the turn of Hughes to go top, with the McLaren driver certainly proving why he is viewed as one to watch for his rookie season. As the clock ticked to five minutes remaining, Vergne returned to the top of the timesheets on a 1:13.294, as the times began to look more and more respectable as to what could be expected throughout the weekend.

Whilst drama was commonly seen at the first corner during the afternoon session, Rast had a huge moment at the final corner, which is, of course, flat out. Rast entered the corner slightly wide and appeared to hit some marbles, resulting in a half-spin. He then opted to cut across the circuit and into the pit-lane; however, he entered it illegally after going across the white entry line.

As the drivers began their final lap of the session, Vergne remained in first, with Hughes just behind in second, whilst Sette Câmara was in a brilliant third for NIO 333 Racing who looked considerably better than they did in Gen2. As the clock hit zero, Nico Mueller complained of no grip, hailing his ABT Cupra as “undriveable” over the team radio.

Most of the field failed to improve on their final lap which left Vergne at the top, with Hughes and Sette Câmara rounding off the top three. Oliver Rowland was at the other end of the timesheets and came last, after hitting a tyre barrier and damaging his front-wing in the process on his final lap. A noticeable factor of the first session of the season was how jumbled the order was, as five teams had a driver in the top six. DS Penske were the only side with two drivers in the top six, with Vandoorne having claimed fifth. There is clearly much more time to be found by the drivers, who’ve only scratched the surface of the Gen3 cars capabilities.

Mexico City E-Prix Round 1: Free Practice One Full Results

125Jean-Éric VergneFRADS Penske1:13.294
25Jake HughesGBRNEOM McLaren Formula E Team+0.092
33Sérgio Sette CâmaraBRZNIO 333 Racing+0.438
494Pascal WehrleinGERTAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team+0.439
51Stoffel VandoorneBELDS Penske+0.547
648Edoardo MortaraCHEMaserati MSG Racing+0.549
79Mitch EvansNZLJaguar TCS Racing+0.601
827Jake DennisGBRAvalanche Andretti Formula E+0.606
933Dan TicktumGBRNIO 333 Racing+0.610
107Maximilian GüntherGERMaserati MSG Racing+0.684
1158René RastGERNEOM McLaren Formula E Team+0.787
1210Sam BirdGBRJaguar TCS Racing+0.853
1311Lucas Di GrassiBRZMahindra Racing+0.931
1413António Félix da CostaPORTAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team+1.065
1536André LottererGERAvalanche Andretti Formula E+1.165
1637Nick CassidyNZLEnvision Racing+1.477
1716Sébastian BuemiCHEEnvision Racing+1.631
1823Sacha FenstrazFRANissan Formula E Team+1.636
1917Norman NatoFRANissan Formula E Team+1.713
2051Nico MuellerCHEABT CUPRA Formula E Team+1.836
214Robin FrijnsNEDABT CUPRA Formula E Team+1.860
228Oliver RowlandGBRMahindra Racing+2.096
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