The BMW i Andretti team once again turned in a successful weekend at Round 5 of the 2019-2020 Formula E championship in Marrakesh, Morocco, with Max Guenther showcasing the speed of the BMW iFE.20 all weekend on his way to his second podium finish of the season.
It was a mixed bag of fortunes for Alexander Sims, however, who drove a brilliant comeback race but retired from 5th place on the final lap of the race with a mechanical issue.
The result sees young Max Guenther promote himself up to a sterling 4th place in the drivers’ championship, but the BMW i Andretti team slide down to 2nd in the constructors’ championship after a weekend of excellence from the DS Techeetah team saw the Chinese / French team score pole, victory, and a double podium finish.
The track in Marrakesh is located some ways away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Marrakesh, but its close proximity to the nearby African desert leaves the track vulnerable to sand getting blown onto the circuit — a similar issue faced by all the Formula E teams in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. This undoubtedly meant that track conditions would be tricky at the start of each session, presenting an additional challenge to the top championship contenders who would have to participate in Group 1 of qualifying.
The track itself was unchanged from the previous season, but several bumps on the circuit, especially on the run down into Turn 7, seem to grow larger every year and this would present a two-fold problem. For one, hitting a bump in the braking zone for a turn would make the perfect braking point even more difficult to find, and for another, teams would have to be careful to avoid “energy spikes” that result from hitting such bumps.
Exceeding the available 200 kW of power at any point of the race, no matter how tiny the duration of time, results in a slam dunk disqualification from the race. The same is true during qualifying sessions, except that the maximum available power is 250 kW.
The race was expected to be a long and tough one once again, as Formula E continues its welcomed transition from artificial tracks laden with unnecessary chicanes to circuits that boast more free-flowing corners and straights. With much of the race spent at full throttle on the straights of Marrakesh, energy management was once again expected to play a large role in this race.
Speaking before the first free practice session on Friday (moved forward a day to accommodate the earlier race time of 14:45 local time), Alexander Sims predicted that patience would be rewarded during the race. Such a philosophy was similar to the approach that Sims put to good effect in the previous race a fortnight ago.
Sitting in second place in the drivers’ championship, just one point behind leader Mitch Evans of Jaguar, Alexander Sims once again had the duty of being one of the first six cars to take to the track in qualifying. Due to the dusty track conditions that plague the beginning of each session, teams generally try to send their drivers out as late as possible when it comes to Group 1 qualifying, in the hopes that other cars will go out before they do and “clean” the track for them. This, however, comes with the risk of not making it to the start line in time to start a timed lap.
The BMW Andretti team elected to send Sims out early, just as they had done in Mexico City, and he would be the first car on track. Despite this, he would set a very competitive lap time that ended up being the second-fastest in the group, topped only by DS Techeetah’s Antonio Felix da Costa.
Disaster struck for championship leader Mitch Evans, whose team sent him out too late. A miscommunication then ensured that Evans was not able to make it to start his timed lap in time as he crossed the start line less than a second after the clock hit 0:00. He would have to start the race from the back of the grid, having not been able to set a time.
Max Guenther took to the track in Group 2. He set a blistering time, immediately rising to the top of the timesheet above da Costa and Sims. In fact, the time he set was so quick that Guenther would finish the entire group stage of qualifying with the fastest time, thereby earning himself and the team 1 extra point, and the privilege of heading onto track last during the Super Pole session.
Sims, in the meantime, would see his place in the standings fall (as is common for drivers in Group 1), but his qualifying time in the end would be good enough for a solid 8th place on the grid.
The fastest six cars from the qualifying group stages would advance to the Super Pole shootout. Da Costa, the third driver out, would set the benchmark time. Guenther’s turn finally came around and he headed out onto track. After a fantastic Sector 1 and Sector 2, Guenther would actually be about a tenth and a half of a second up on da Costa’s time.
However, a huge lock-up approaching Turn 13 at the beginning of Sector 3 would cost him around two tenths of a second, and his final time would be 0.069 seconds off da Costa’s pole-winning time, good for 2nd place on the grid.
The race began at 14:45 local time, with track conditions quite warm but not unbearably hot. The drivers pulled forward into their grid slots in lieu of a formation lap as is customary in Formula E. Max Guenther would start from 2nd, and Alexander Sims from 8th — both of them on the inside line for the long left-hander of Turn 1.
All five lights came on, then off. Da Costa made a superb getaway from pole position, leaving Guenther with no chance of catching him on the run down to Turn 1. Guenther himself had made a strong start as well though, and would easily maintain his second position.
Sims, meanwhile, made his start from further back, where there is generally a lot more jostling for position going on. Last year’s winner, Mahindra’s Jerome d’Ambrosio, made a brave dive down the outside of Turn 1, while Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara lunged up the inside of Turn 1 in a bid to make up positions. These two cars both started ahead of Sims, and their actions would throw the midpack into a bit of a disarray.
Choosing the best racing line at the start can become quite a matter of luck and instinct, and Sims would lose out by being on the inside line this time, getting impeded by Mortara, who had to recover back onto the racing line following his overtaking attempt. Sims would drop to 10th immediately, then lose two further positions on the first lap in the chaos of the midfield to sit in 12th place.
Da Costa and Guenther, running in 1st and 2nd, would start to gap the rest of the field as a fierce battle began for 3rd place behind them. Sims, in the meantime, would pass Audi’s Lucas di Grassi for 11th. Following this, the race calmed down significantly, undoubtedly due to the need to conserve energy for the latter half of the race. There was no point in overconsuming energy now, only to lose all the positions that one had gained, at the end of the race.
The battle for 3rd place behind Da Costa and Guenther would receive a twist — Mercedes’ Nyck De Vries, running in 3rd, would receive a drive through penalty for regenerating too much energy, dropping him to the back of the field. It was an unfortunate blow to the young Dutch rookie, who has definitely had his fair share of energy consumption-related penalties during the season. This opened up an even larger gap behind the two leaders, and they would both activate their first Attack Mode with about 29 minutes (+1 lap) left in the race.
Behind them, Sims, running in 11th, would activate Attack Mode as well. He would lose positions to di Grassi, who had not yet taken Attack Mode, and Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, who had taken Attack Mode one lap prior. Sims would make his strategy work though, using his extra power to quickly repass the Audi of di Grassi.
Then when Bird’s Attack Mode had run out, Sims would pass him as well. He would follow by passing d’Ambrosio as well, moving into 9th place, then nabbing Jaguar’s James Calado with mere seconds of Attack Mode left!
The second DS Techeetah of reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne would start to make significant inroads on the race at this time. Having started from 11th on the grid, he gradually carved his way up the field, using a timely Attack Mode activation to pass both Nissan cars and former teammate Andre Lotterer’s Porsche to move into 3rd place. Lotterer would repass Vergne when the Frenchman’s Attack Mode ran out, but the scene was set and the DS Techeetah car’s pace was sending a strong message through to the frontrunners.
Around the midway point of the race, Guenther had a fraction more usable energy left than da Costa, a result of having managed his energy consumption brilliantly. Da Costa, in turn, was actually doing quite well on energy himself, as the two leaders of the race had the most remaining energy out of all the cars in the top ten.
But da Costa was only worried about Guenther, and was concerned that Guenther was able to save more energy by running in his slipstream. He began to relax his pace a bit, basically inviting Guenther to attack him. Guenther obliged, getting close on the run down to Turn 13. Then with 24 minutes (+1 lap) to go, Guenther would make his move down the start-finish straight, sweeping around the outside of the DS Techeetah to move into the lead!
This season so far, Guenther has demonstrated not only his quick raw pace but also his excellent awareness and intelligence. He was immediately privy to the plans of da Costa and the DS Techeetah team, telling his race engineer on the radio that he suspected da Costa had intentionally let him by, and asking for advice from the team on how to best handle the situation. The team responded confidently, urging Guenther to look forward.
Guenther would remain in the lead of the race, while da Costa enjoyed the benefits of running in Guenther’s slipstream. With 18 minutes (+1 lap) to go, da Costa would activate Attack Mode and immediately made the pass on Guenther for the lead at the end of the lap. Guenther would arm Attack Mode the following lap, but the die was cast and da Costa was scampering away at the front of the field.
Sims was having an eventful race further back in the pack, having passed Oliver Rowland’s Nissan for 7th before arming Attack Mode and losing the place again. It was a popular time for the second Attack Mode activation, with all cars running from 6th place to 11th place in Attack Mode with about 15 minutes (+1 lap) remaining in the race. Vergne would pass Lotterer once again, and Sims would get his 7th position back from Rowland.
With 12 minutes (+1 lap) to go, Vergne would activate Attack Mode without losing position to Lotterer. With an extra 35 kW of power at his disposal, Vergne would gain quickly on Guenther in 2nd. Then with 9 minutes (+1 lap) to go, on his last legs of Attack Mode, Vergne would make the pass on Guenther for 2nd place — a clean move up the inside of Turn 1. But Guenther had more usable energy remaining than Vergne did and would stay on the reigning champion’s tail as his Attack Mode stint ended.
This race report would not be complete without a mention of the impressive drive of Jaguar’s Mitch Evans. Starting from 24th on the grid, he gradually picked off his competitors one by one as he inched closer and closer to the top 10. Somehow, while doing so, he was still able to maintain a high SOC (state of charge), meaning a high amount of remaining usable energy relative to the field. With just a few minutes left in the race, he was up into 8th place, right behind the BMW Andretti of Sims! It was imperative that Sims keep the New Zealander behind him, as they were direct championship rivals.
Sims would respond strongly to this challenge. With 1 minute (+1 lap) remaining, he took 6th place from Lotterer. Then on the final lap, he would battle with Mortara, moving into 5th place! However, the ever-robust Mortara would not lose out without a fight, and he and Sims would make contact in an incident that was not broadcasted on TV. What seemed like a fairly minor and innocuous hit would result in terminal damage for Sims, as he was forced to pull to the side of the track to retire with an unspecified mechanical issue. It was a tragic end to what had been a strong comeback drive from the reserved Brit.
In the meantime, Guenther had been biding his time running in 3rd behind Vergne. Knowing that he was doing better on SOC than the DS Techeetah car in front of him, Guenther was content to push Vergne into using more energy and refrained from any brash overtaking attempts. Da Costa had disappeared down the road in front of the pair and there was almost no point in fighting for victory at this point.
On the final few laps of the race, Guenther began his attack, but Vergne defended stoutly. On one particular attempt, Guenther went down the inside of Vergne for Turn 1, but Vergne swerved to the inside under braking in a move of dubious legality, forcing Guenther to lock his tires up twice as he avoided careening into the back of the DS Techeetah. Finally, on the final run down to Turn 13, Guenther dummied to the outside, then dove down the inside of Vergne, who was then struggling with energy usage and was unable to put up too much of a fight.
It was a scintillating overtaking move that promoted Guenther into 2nd place, hailed by the official Formula E Twitter account as possibly one of the best overtaking moves in the history of the sport.
— ABB Formula E (@FIAFormulaE) February 29, 2020
We still celebrate @maxg_official for this manoeuvre. Best overtaking ever in @FIAFormulaE? Leave a comment. ⬇️#RacingBeyond #BMWi #BMWiMotorsport #ABBFormulaE #MarrakeshEPrix pic.twitter.com/U3vAEENqUX
— BMW Motorsport (@BMWMotorsport) March 2, 2020
It would be 1st place for da Costa, 2nd place for Guenther, and 3rd place for Vergne on the podium. Da Costa’s third consecutive podium finish would put him at the lead of the drivers’ championship, while Guenther’s second podium finish of the season would see him move into 4th place in the championship, just 2 points behind his teammate Sims.
In the constructors’ championship, DS Techeetah now leads the way with 98 points, just ahead of BMW Andretti with 90 points. The two teams have built up a sizable gap to Jaguar, Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz below them with 66, 57, and 56 points respectively.
Following the postponement of the Sanya ePrix amid coronavirus concerns, the next round of the Formula E championship will not be until April 4th, in R
ome. This gives teams a full month to consider how their seasons have been going and to make any necessary improvements. It has been a strong start to the season for the BMW i Andretti team, with two victories, two pole positions, one fastest lap, and three total podiums to their name in five competitive races.
However, the DS Techeetah and Jaguar teams have showcased their dominant race pace in the previous two races, and the development back in the factory must never stop in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive series in motorsport.