Quick. Calm. Composed. Talented. Mature. These are all adjectives that I have used to describe young Maximilian Guenther this season in his first full season of Formula E. He demonstrated that all again in a fiercely determined drive to victory in Race III on the standard Berlin-Tempelhof configuration where his offensive driving, defensive driving, and energy conservation skills were all put to the test. Part II of my season summary will focus on Guenther, firstly this piece on his magnificent win on home turf in Berlin, then on his season as a whole and his outlook going forward in Part IIb.
Berlin Race III Recap
As detailed in Part I, the first two races in Berlin on the reverse configuration track had not gone well by any means for the BMW i Andretti team. The team’s Qualifying woes and lack of race pace to make up for that meant that Guenther and Alexander Sims walked away with an abysmal sum total of 2 points from the two races. If there was any silver lining in this cloud, it was that both drivers dropped so much in the drivers’ championship standings that they were now both slated to participate in Group 2 qualifying. Sims in particular had spent almost the entire season in the Top 6 of the drivers’ championship, meaning that he had had to participate in Group 1 qualifying for almost the entire season thus far.
But it was Guenther who would make the most of this opportunity, as he had done in Santiago and in Marrakesh. Guenther squeaked into the Super Pole session in sixth place, just 0.011 seconds ahead of Porsche’s Andre Lotterer who had also been in Group 2. As the first car to take to the track during the Super Pole session, Guenther would set a highly competitive time that was even quicker than his time during the group stage of Qualifying.
No one would be able to touch his time, until it came to the turn of Jean-Eric Vergne, last on track due to his being quickest in the group stage. Vergne absolutely smashed Guenther’s time, finishing his lap nearly half a second quicker. As seen during the previous two races at Berlin, the DS Techeetah cars were just on another level in Qualifying. The gap between Vergne’s time in Super Pole and Guenther’s time in Super Pole was larger than the gap from Guenther’s time during the group stages to the 22nd-quickest time during the group stages, set by Daniel Abt in the NIO.
Guenther would line up second on the grid on a warm sunny afternoon in Berlin, on the outside line of the track. It would prove to be a disadvantage, as he made a decent getaway at the start but allowed the third-placed Mahindra of Jerome d’Ambrosio to slip under him at Turn 1, pushing him back to third place. Sound familiar? The same thing happened earlier this season at Santiago, where Guenther qualified second but allowed the third-placed Mahindra, this time driven by Pascal Wehrlein, to go down the inside and pass at Turn 2.
At Santiago, Guenther was stuck behind the Mahindra for a good chunk of the first half of the race before finally using Attack Mode to get past Wehrlein and eventually past the race leader Mitch Evans as well. But Guenther was absolutely determined to not let this happen again, as he launched attack after attack on d’Ambrosio, forcing the Belgian driver into driving very defensively throughout the entirety of the first lap while Vergne cruised away at the front. Finally, on the second lap,
Guenther made the move stick by going down the inside of the Mahindra at the large sweeping hairpin of Turn 6. Second place was his.
At this point, I was rather worried that Guenther had overconsumed on battery power in hounding the Mahindra for a full lap. So I was relieved when the battery levels flashed on screen during Lap 3 and Guenther had the same amount of usable energy remaining as the cars behind him and a little less than Vergne (understandable since Vergne had no one to fight with on the opening laps). Guenther then immediately set a series of fastest laps in his pursuit of Vergne, getting within 0.7 seconds of Vergne in the matter of just two laps.
Guenther was then content to sit in the slipstream of Vergne, using the DS Techeetah car as a glorified windbreaker to reduce the drag of his own BMW iFE.20. This had the effect of allowing Guenther to lift the throttle earlier on straights while still maintaining similar top-end speed as Vergne, who had no one in front of him. Guenther had probably consumed more energy when setting his fastest laps to close down the gap to Vergne, but with 37 minutes (+1 lap) remaining, Guenther had only 1% less usable energy remaining than Vergne.
With 33 minutes (+1 lap) remaining, the two cars had about equal amounts of SOC (state of charge) and less than a second’s gap between them. The race was on! Vergne and Guenther were the easy favorites for the race win at this point — D’Ambrosio was the only car that was keeping up with them, and the Mahindra driver had overconsumed on battery in keeping up with the leading duo, resulting in him having 2% less usable energy remaining compared to Vergne and Guenther.
But a Formula E race is never predictable. With approximately 32 minutes (+1 lap) remaining in the race, there was carnage just past the Turn 9 hairpin. Just in front of Alexander Sims, Sergio Sette Camara tried to muscle his Dragon past James Calado’s Jaguar, but the pair collided at the hairpin. Multiple other cars were involved, but the damage was not terminal for anyone except for Porsche’s Neel Jani. The safety car was deployed to clean up the mess.
Racing resumed at full speed with right around 22 minutes (+1 lap) remaining. Interestingly, none of the frontrunners had taken Attack Mode at this point, and the race was already almost halfway over. How would this affect the strategy for the second half of the race?
The BMW Andretti team approached their strategy very aggressively, as it turns out. Guenther got a fantastic restart and was immediately right behind Vergne, having pulled away from D’Ambrosio. The team took a gamble and instructed Guenther to take Attack Mode immediately, in the hopes that he could retain his position and quickly catch up to Vergne. However, that worked out disastrously, as Guenther lost one place immediately and then two more to Robin Frijns and Stoffel Vandoorne when he got boxed in at the exit of the Turn 6 hairpin where the Attack Mode activation area is located. Guenther was now down to fifth place.
Guenther’s fight back began immediately. He passed Vandoorne into Turn 1 on the very next lap, then scythed past Frijns on the run down to Turn 6 of the same lap. In the meantime, both Vergne and D’Ambrosio took Attack Mode, allowing Guenther back into second place, just behind Vergne as he had been one lap ago. The gamble of taking Attack Mode early definitely had not paid off.
Frijns, who would really come into the picture later in the race, took Attack Mode one lap later and actually made up a place on D’Ambrosio, moving into third place behind the two leaders. With 14 minutes (+1 lap) left in the race, Guenther activated Attack Mode for the second and last time, remaining in second place as Frijns behind did the same. A close moment came the following lap — Vergne activated Attack Mode and came back onto the racing line just behind Guenther, but managed to get on the inside for Turn 7 to remain in the lead!
Following this, it would basically be a straight battle to the checkered flag. Guenther knew this and drove accordingly, planning for the long term with his team. Being behind the Techeetah car allowed Guenther to bait Vergne into consuming more energy to defend — on several occasions, Guenther moved off the racing line to pretend to be sizing up an overtake, but lifted off the throttle early to conserve energy.
On the big run down the back straight to the Turn 6 hairpin, on-screen telemetry showed that Guenther was actually lifting off the throttle a few seconds earlier than Vergne was, despite being the car behind. At this point, Guenther was about half a second behind Vergne, with Frijns another three seconds back. But Guenther had 1% more usable energy remaining than Vergne, and Frijns had another 1% on top of that.
With 6 minutes (+1 lap) remaining, Guenther began his attack. He ran his BMW iFE.20 less than half a car’s length behind Vergne, forcing Vergne to cover the inside line at almost every major braking point around the circuit. As they approached Turn 1, Guenther had a sizable pace advantage and tried to send it around the outside. Unfortunately, going around the long way is always difficult, and Vergne kept the lead. This prompted the BMW Andretti team to tell Guenther to “remember Marrakesh,” where Guenther had benefited from sitting in the slipstream of Vergne’s Techeetah for the latter stages of the race before passing him on the last lap. In effect, Guenther’s team was telling him to be patient and wait until the last lap to make the overtaking maneuver.
However, Guenther showed his remarkable maturity at this stage of the race again, demonstrating impressive analytical ability even while wrestling a car around one of the fastest circuits on the Formula E calendar. Knowing that Frijns behind in the Virgin car had more energy than Vergne and himself and was closing the gap to the dueling pair, Guenther sensed the urgency of the situation. He overrode the team’s suggestion, continuing to hound Vergne mercilessly. Then his efforts paid off — he went down the outside of Vergne at Turn 6 of the very same lap, allowing him to get the switchback and thus, the inside line for Turn 7. Just like that, Guenther moved into the lead!
It was a brilliant call once again from the young German, and one that may have saved his race win. And with just under 2 minutes (+1 lap) to go, we could see why. Frijns began to attack Vergne with much conviction, closing the gap between himself and the Techeetah to less than a second in the matter of a few corners. If Guenther had not already cleared Vergne, he might have been the one feeling the wrath of a Virgin car with significantly more SOC. As they approached Turn 1 for the penultimate time, Frijns easily cruised past Vergne, who was now forced to ramp up his energy conservation efforts.
Going into the final lap, Frijns had closed up the gap and was now just 0.3 seconds behind Guenther! He also had fractionally more usable energy remaining than Guenther did. It would be a close fight to the end. Guenther defended for all he was worth, just had Vergne had done before him. He blocked the inside going into the Turn 6 hairpin, then immediately did the same at the Turn 9 hairpin. Then Frijns basically pulled alongside Guenther at Turn 10, the final turn of the lap, but Guenther held the inside line. It would be a sprint to the finish, and Guenther would just hold on by just 0.128 seconds! All the frontrunners would cross the line with approximately 0.0% remaining in usable energy. It would be a victory on home soil for both Guenther and the BMW Andretti team!
Guenther revealed after the race that he had just enough energy left in the battery to go full throttle all the way to the finish line — there was no way he was going to lose the victory at the line! Guenther and the team were understandably delighted at their triumph at their home track. It was a shame that the following three races in Berlin did not go to plan, but this race showcased the fruitful partnership between Guenther and the BMW Andretti team as Guenther vaulted up into second place in the drivers’ championship. Check back for Part IIb, which will be available soon and will document the ups and downs of Guenther’s Formula E career so far.