Formula E

Lucas Di Grassi Claims Shock Pole Position For Formula E Season Opener

6 Mins read
Credit: Sam Bloxham courtesy of FIA Formula E

Formula E veteran Lucas Di Grassi will start the season-opening Mexico City E-Prix on pole position, after shocking the entire paddock in the first qualifying session of the third era of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. Jake Dennis had to settle for second after suffering substantial front-wing damage in his Quarter-Final, which cost him dearly in the final against Di Grassi. Rookie Jake Hughes claimed third on his Formula E debut, as several big-hitters missed out on even making it out of the Group Stage.

Group A

Kicking-off qualifying in Group A was Robin Frijns, André Lotterer, Friday’s fastest driver Jean-Éric Vergne, Sébastian Buemi, Sam Bird, Di Grassi, Maximilian Günther, René Rast, Sérgio Sette Câmara, Sacha Fenestraz and António Félix da Costa. It was Bird who led the first group out onto the circuit, as the sun beamed against the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. It was a miracle for Bird to even get out on the circuit, given that he missed the majority of Free Practice Two following a suspected MCU issue.

It was the Jaguar TCS Racing driver who hit the top early on; however, all the drivers set initial lap-times that were far from competitive. It was quickly evident that the drivers were going to build into the session, given how hard the new Hankook tyres are. Buemi suddenly set the first real competitive time, with the Swiss driver having hit the top after breaking into the 1:13s, as did Günther and Sette Câmara. As the first group session hit the halfway mark, the times began to tumble, as Lotterer and Di Grassi broke into the crucial top four, with only four drivers from each group moving on into the duels.

As the session entered its final minute, Sette Câmara saw an improved lap ruined by Vergne, who blatantly blocked the Brazilian driver. All eleven drivers pushed incredibly hard on their last lap as they fought for a spot in the duels, with Da Costa having been the first to end his last lap, enough for second momentarily. Di Grassi suddenly replaced Da Costa in second, before the Portuguese driver suddenly found himself outside the top four following a super lap from rookie Fenestraz and Buemi. Both Vergne and Sette Câmara remarkably failed to break into the top four, marking a disappointing session for the pair of them.

Into the duels: Lotterer, Buemi, Di Grassi and Fenestraz.

Group B

Attempting to make it out of Group B and into the duels were the returning Nico Mueller, Dennis, reigning World Champion Stoffel Vandoorne, Nick Cassidy, Mitch Evans, Oliver Rowland, Edoardo Mortara, Hughes, Dan Ticktum, Norman Nato and Saturday morning’s fastest driver Pascal Wehrlein. Group B arguably boasted a much faster field of drivers based on Free Practice One and Free Practice Two, making it impossible to predict who’ll make it through.

Mortara led the drivers out onto the circuit, presumably all knowing that their final lap would likely be their fastest. As seen in the first group, the drivers all built into the session, with the initial lap-times having been several seconds off the expected pace. Again, as seen in the first group, the times suddenly improved dramatically halfway through the session, as Hughes suddenly set a 1:13.3, only to be beaten by Ticktum who edged ever closer to the first 1:12 of the weekend. As the session moved into the final five minutes, Vandoorne and Evans both broke into the top four, dropping Wehrlein to fifth.

Less than two-tenths staggeringly separated the top five, highlighting just how close the field is. It was then Dennis who set the fastest lap of the weekend so far with a 1:13.0, two-tenths faster than Ticktum’s time. As the push for the top four continued, Hughes set the timing sheets on fire, only to lose a lot of time in the final sector. As the clock hit zero, the timesheet was showing an array of colour, with improvements being made across the top eleven. Only Wehrlein, though, managed to do enough to steal a spot in the duels, at the expense of Evans. Vandoorne, Evans and Mortara all missed out on the top four, meaning no Jaguar, DS Penske or Maserati MSG Racing driver would feature in the final eight.

Proceeding to the duels: Dennis, Ticktum, Hughes, Wehrlein.

Quarter-Finals

The first Quarter-Final duel of Gen3 and 2023 saw former rivals Di Grassi against Buemi, with the duo having previously been formidable title rivals. Both, of course, are with new teams for Season Nine, likely leaving both drivers pleased with their qualifying performance before setting back out onto the circuit.

Di Grassi was the first to set his lap-time in the duel, but was narrowly slower than Buemi through the first sector, with the Swiss driver having looked solid behind the Brazilian. Both drivers set very impressive times through the stadium section, with Di Grassi having managed to overhaul his deficit to his former rival, securing him a spot in the semi-finals.

The second duel saw Lotterer against Fenestraz, with the rookie having been two-tenths faster than the experienced German in the first sector alone. Lotterer suddenly showed sensational pace in the second sector and managed to beat the rookie driver by just four-hundredths of a second, setting up a great semi-final against Di Grassi.

Quarter-final number three was an all-British affair, as Hughes went against Ticktum. The McLaren rookie was the first to set his lap-time and incredibly became the first person to break into the 1:12s, the fastest lap of the weekend. Ticktum came very close, though, to beating Hughes’ time, but couldn’t quite post a time quick enough to beat the McLaren driver.

The final quarter-final saw Wehrlein against Dennis, with the British driver being the clear favourite to make it through to face Hughes. Halfway round the lap and Dennis was four-tenths ahead of the German driver; however, the time between the two suddenly dropped towards the end of the lap, as a result of the British driver smashing into a bollard. He just about did enough, though, to set-up a semi-final match-up against Hughes, with both Avalanche Andretti Formula E driver’s having made the final four.

Semi-Final

The first semi-final was one that boasted an unbelievable wealth of experience, as Lotterer went up against Di Grassi. It was the German driver who posted his lap-time first, with his out-lap having been less than ideal, after locking-up massively going into the stadium section. Lotterer locked-up again on his actual lap and ran extremely wide, which effectively handed the place in the final to Di Grassi. The Brazilian went over 1.5s faster than the Avalanche driver, after setting a 1:13.0. It meant that Lotterer wouldn’t claim back-to-back pole positions in Mexico City, purely through his costly error alone.

The second semi-final was the battle of the Jake’s, as Hughes went against Dennis. Dennis was the first to set his lap but was hugely impacted by a broken front-wing, as a result of his collision with the bollard in his quarter-final against Wehrlein. Dennis somehow, though, put in a sensational lap despite his heavy front-wing damage and posted a 1:12.5, two-tenths faster than what Hughes could manage. It meant that it was a wounded but spirited Dennis in the first final of the year, against the incredibly experienced Di Grassi.

Final

So the first final of Gen3 and 2023 saw a still wounded Dennis against Di Grassi, who nobody expected to even make it into the duels, let alone the final. It was the experienced Brazilian who ventured out onto the circuit first, knowing that a front-row start was secured no matter what he did.

Di Grassi was remarkably faster in the first sector before he suddenly slid into the wall, at the same moment, though, Dennis went really wide at consecutive corners. It handed Di Grassi an incredible pole position by over three-seconds, with Dennis having no option but to cross the line for second. It meant that the Brazilian claimed pole on his first appearance for Mahindra Racing, putting the former Formula E Champion in the best spot for the first race of the Gen3 era.

Mexico City E-Prix Round 1: Qualifying Full Results

POS.NO.DRIVER.NAT.TEAM.TIME.
111Lucas Di GrassiBRZMahindra Racing1:13.575
227Jake DennisGBRAvalanche Andretti Formula E1:16.516
35Jake HughesGBRNEOM McLaren Formula E Team1:12.721
436André LottererGERAvalanche Andretti Formula E1:14.551
533Dan TicktumGBRNIO 333 Racing1:12.922
694Pascal WehrleinGERTAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team1:13.031
716Sébastian BuemiCHEEnvision Racing1:13.100
823Sacha FenestrazFRANissan Formula E Team1:13.220
913António Félix da CostaPORTAG Heuer Formula E Team1:13.504
109Mitch EvansNZLJaguar TCS Racing1:13.405
1125Jean-Éric VergneFRADS Penske1:13.563
1237Nick CassidyNZLEnvision Racing1:13.415
133Sérgio Sette CâmaraBRZNIO 333 Racing1:13.613
141Stoffel VandoorneBELDS Penske1:13.450
1558René RastGERNEOM McLaren Formula E Team1:13.635
1648Edoardo MortaraCHEMaserati MSG Racing1:13.618
177Maximilian GüntherGERMaserati MSG Racing1:13.742
1851Nico MuellerCHEABT CUPRA Formula E Team1:13.776
194Robin FrijnsNEDABT CUPRA Formula E Team1:14.125
2017Norman NatoFRANissan Formula E Team1:13.785
2110Sam BirdGBRJaguar TCS Racing1:14.145
228Oliver RowlandGBRMahindra Racing1:14.043
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