Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra, Formula E, 2018

Rosenqvist rules Rome in gladiatorial qualifying

Formula E

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At the inaugural Rome ePrix, qualifying was always going to be unpredictable. A track that’s never been run before, with mixed surfaces, is the kind of thing Formula E action thrives on; add in dramatic elevation changes, including into and out of the unusual pit lane and anything could happen.

Formula E qualifying, with its group format, is a tricky business at even the most familiar track. Getting out in the wrong group (usually the first but it can flip round, on a changeable circuit) can ruin your opportunity to make super pole and the six-minute sessions mean that someone else’s incident can eat into your lap time, not to mention you only get one shot at a hot lap.

This season, crashes in group qualifying have got more frequent as drivers, including this season’s rookies, push the absolute limits of the first generation car and lap times fall. By the start of group qualifying only 8 drivers putting in a decent 200kW time during FP2 and times seemingly having the potential to fall even from the fastest.

Group One saw the air temp up to 22C, from 13C during FP1 and yet again, despite random allocation, the bottom five drivers in the championship going out first. Home racer Luca Filippi, Tom Blomqvist, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Nico Prost and Maro Engel all seemed to be playing similar strategies, trying to cross the line last before the chequered flag to maximise their chances.

It worked for Blomqvist, Prost and Engel who put together decent enough laps – and was disastrous for Filippi and D’Ambrosio. As with Jaguar in Hong Kong, they mistimed the lap (again, on a course where the start and finish line aren’t the same) and both drivers were excluded from setting a time, falling to the back row.

Group two saw the opposite end of the standings go out – Jean-Eric Vergne, Felix Rosenqvist, Sam Bird, Sebastien Buemi and Nelson Piquet Jnr. All extremely strong qualifiers, four drivers managed to beat Blomqvist’s P1 but championship leader Vergne slid and knocked himself out of Super Pole contention almost immediately.

Group three was the front of the midfield; Mitch Evans, Daniel Abt, Oliver Turvey, Edoardo Mortara and Lucas di Grassi, three of whom knocked Vergne firmly out of the top five. Edoardo Mortara hit a wall hard, foxing his steering and only managing to get round slower than Jerome D’Ambrosio’s outlap, fighting an 880kg car that had taken on the sideways qualities of a wayward supermarket trolley, while Abt just didn’t quite get the lap together to beat JEV, albeit by less than a tenth of a second.

Jose Maria Lope, Dragon, Formula E, 2018
Lopez was looking good until he was hit
Group four saw the back of midfield content with Nick Heidfeld, Andre Lotterer, Alex Lynn, Antonio Felix Da Costa and Jose-Maria Lopez contending. Lopez had put in competitive times in free practice and looked set to take a good, if not super pole position – until, that is, he was taken out five metres from exiting the garage when a disastrous release of Da Costa led to him ploughing into the side of the Argentinian’s car, ending both their qualifying.

Da Costa seemed immediately apologetic, leaping out of his car to push it back from the Dragon but the damage was definitely done to both (drivers have to pick a car that is scrutineered for qualifying, so jumping into the other was no option) and Lopez was visibly furious about the retirement.

Heidfeld and Lynn managed to make the top ten but Andre Lotterer, who did a similar thing in also-new-this-season circuit Santiago, found four tenths of a second in the technically trying third sector of this track and took an impressive top time, removing former Audi teammate and reigning Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi from the Super Pole.

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Super Pole itself seemed set to play out the usual results of slower times than in group qualifying; there’s less chance to warm up a lap in Super Pole and the track will have already changed, as the time heads towards 1pm. Sebastien Buemi, qualifying king of the past two seasons, continued to struggle and slid his way to P5 while Mitch Evans dropped back from his group pace.

Sam Bird took a convincing provisional pole, however Felix Rosenqvist put together a monstrous lap that saw him 0.7 seconds up on the DS Virgin driver, one of the biggest margins to pole ever in Formula E.

Lotterer was unable to respond, managing a decent time but unable to beat the Swede, who took the lap record for this first Rome Eprix, extremely unusual in Super Pole. After a torrid few races in South America, Mahindra – at a semi-home Eprix via partners Pininfarina – look set to re-mount their title challenge.

Super Pole results:

  • Felix Rosenqvist – Mahindra – 1:36.311
  • Sam Bird – DS Virgin – 1:36.987
  • Mitch Evans – Panasonic Jaguar Racing – 1:37.199
  • Andre Lotterer – Techeetah – 1:37.235
  • Sebastien Buemi – Renault e.Dams – 1:37.817

Super pole eligible group qualifying times:

  • Andre Lotterer – Techeetah – 1:36.593
  • Felix Rosenqvist – Mahindra – 1:36.683
  • Sebastien Buemi – Renault e.Dams – 1:36.732
  • Sam Bird – DS Virgin – 1:36.901
  • Mitch Evans – Panasonic Jaguar Racing – 1:36.911

Group qualifying classification:

  • Lucas Di Grass – Audi Abt Schaeffler – 1:36.973
  • Oliver Turvey – NIO Formula E – 1:37.045
  • Jean-Eric Vergne – Techeetah – 1:37.055
  • Daniel Abt – Audi Abt Schaeffler – 1:37.117
  • Nick Heidfeld – Mahindra – 1:37.365
  • Alex Lynn – DS Virgin – 1:37.546
  • Tom Blomqvist – MS&AD Andretti – 1:37.561
  • Nelson Piquet Jr – Panasonic Jaguar Racing – 1:38:066
  • Maro Engel – Venturi – 1:38.212
  • Nico Prost – Renault e.Dams – 1:38.410
  • Jerome D’Ambrosio – Dragon – 1:42.003
  • Edoardo Mortara – Venturi – 1:47.802
  • Luca Filippi – NIO Formula E – 2:09.820
  • Jose Maria Lopez – Dragon – No time
  • Antonio Felix da Costa – MS & AD Andretti – No time

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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  • 4 comments on “Rosenqvist rules Rome in gladiatorial qualifying”

    1. … but then he clipped the wall, and the god of racing gave him the thumbs down.

    2. Well, Mahindra bottled it. Normally, I would say that Felix is well and truly out of championship condition, but miracles can happen *ahem* Di Grassi 2016-17

    3. Rosenqvist is THE man!

    4. If Mahindra manages to win the title, it will be a historic achievement not just for Indian but also global motorsports – the first time an Indian constructor has won in any global motorsports event! I guess MRF has won the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) a few times and Team India has probably won the Formula Asia title with Karun Chandhok back in 2002 or 2003, but they were regional championships and not global ones. It would really put India on the global motorsports map if Mahindra manages to clinch the Formula E title.

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