Antonio Felix da Costa, BMW Andretti, Ad Diriyah, Formula E, 2018

Da Costa on pole as rains disrupts qualifying

Formula E

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Antonio Felix da Costa took his first Formula E pole position as heavy rain at Saudi Arabia’s Ad Diriyah circuit disrupted practice and qualifying for the first round of the new Formula E season.

Practice sessions were delayed and then cancelled due to the conditions. With activities running behind schedule the qualifying format was change, to the confusion of at least one team.

Though rain is relatively rare in Saudi Arabia, showers had been forecast for race day. Sure enough, it started late on Friday and by the early hours of the morning had become a torrential thunderstorm.

First practice was cancelled. Second practice was initially postponed, then also cancelled after the track failed to drain. Although local organisers had taken steps to improve drainage at the UNESCO world heritage site, and marshals were out in force with brooms, there seemed to be no way to clear pools of standing water in the lower areas of the track until vacuum trucks arrived.

A 35-minute practice session was run, with only minor interruption, immediately before qualifying but with so little track time and under pressure not to crunch the pre-race schedule any further, race organisers chose to alter the qualifying format.

Instead of four groups followed by a Super Pole session with the top five drivers, qualifying was split into two groups for fifteen-minute sessions, with times combined to directly decide the grid.

Groups for qualifying had originally been decided by the championship order of the previous season, where applicable – which is to say, the order of the cars currently occupied by each driver, whether or not that was the car they had ended the season in. This already complicated system was confused further when the groups were combined so that one and three became group A, and two and four became group B, as follows:

Group A: Jean-Eric Vergne, Lucas di Grassi, Sam Bird, Sebastien Buemi, Daniel Abt, Edoardo Mortara, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Antonio Felix da Costa, Tom Dillman, Robin Frijns

Group B: Felix Rosenqvist, Andre Lotterer, Mitch Evans, Nelson Piquet Jr, Oliver Turvey, Stoffel Vandoorne, Maximilian Gunther, Gary Paffett, Felipe Massa, Oliver Rowland, Alexander Sims

It was assumed the first group would be at a disadvantage for, with water still clearing from the track, each run on the all-weather Michelin ridged tyres would help improve the track surface. Despite no need to save tyres, due to the almost-total lack of running earlier in the day, teams entered a game of chicken to see who could wait for other drivers to clear the track the longest.

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With one exception: new full-season signing Tom Dillman was out first and alone for nearly ten minutes, circling on 200kW laps after confusion over the format had led NIO to believe drivers were allowed to run more laps.

Formula E qualifying only permits a driver to run an out-lap, a hot lap (at a maximum of 250kW power, this season) and then a cool-down lap. With an extended session, this had turned into a grey area Dillman looked to be taking advantage of – and then was potentially penalised for as he came under investigation without even starting his 250kW lap.

With minutes to go, other drivers appeared on-track – actually creating some traffic when Dillman’s Halo LEDs finally let up with the magenta flash that indicates full qualifying mode. A crowded final few laps ended cleanly – with fastest man at pre-season testing Antonio Felix da Costa taking the top time at 1:17.728.

Audi suffered a disaster, with both drivers at the back of the session in ninth and 11th, only split by Edoardo Mortara, driving carefully following a practice session crash.

Group B emerged to what should have been improved track conditions, rain no longer falling. HWA’s new-to-Formula E driver Gary Paffett went out first, for a somewhat scrappy lap where he only hit 250kW extremely intermittently, following a heavy slide in the first sector.

Not-quite-rookie Oliver Rowland also went out early, managing to slightly improve on Paffett’s time to grab tenth place but unable to match teammate Buemi after hitting a wall.

Stoffel Vandoorne, in his first ever Formula E qualifying, managed a superb hot lap to set a 1’18.490 that saw him displace Sam Bird from the top five but the rest of the session was dogged by red flags.

Lotterer was on for a potentially decent lap, despite a couple of mistakes before the session was red flagged due to new driver Maximilian Gunther’s Dragon car stopping on track. On the restart several drivers still had to set a time, only for a confusing finish when Felix Rosenqvist hit the wall at turn 18.

The session was red-flagged for a second time, though on this occasion it seemed to be because a marshal had waved the flag before getting an instruction from race control. Alexander Sims’ time, in particular, might have been affected.

Final classification has not yet been released, pending a decision on the investigation into Dillman’s session. However, with no challengers to his time, it seems as though Antonio Felix da Costa has claimed his first Formula E pole and the first for Formula E’s second generation.

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Group A

DriverTime
Antonio Felix Da Costa1’17.728
Tom Dillman1’17.893
Jose-Maria Lopez1’18.113
Sebastien Buemi1’18.269
Sam Bird1’18.511
Jean-Eric Vergne1’18.571
Robin Frijns1’19.036
Jerome D’Ambrosio1’19.077
Lucas di Grassi1’19.527
Edoardo Mortara1’20.330
Daniel Abt1’20.385

Group B

DriverTime
Stoffel Vandoorne1’18.490
Andre Lotterer1’19.317
Mitch Evans1’19.712
Oliver Rowland1’19.755
Oliver Turvey1’19.912
Gary Paffett1’19.929
Alexander Sims1’20.367
Felipe Massa1’20.407
Nelson Piquet Jr1’21.489
Maximilian Gunther1’21.883
Felix Rosenqvist1’23.037

Combined times

DriverTime
Antonio Felix Da Costa1’17.728
Tom Dillman1’17.893
Jose-Maria Lopez1’18.113
Sebastien Buemi1’18.269
Stoffel Vandoorne1’18.490
Sam Bird1’18.511
Jean-Eric Vergne1’18.571
Robin Frijns1’19.036
Jerome D’Ambrosio1’19.077
Andre Lotterer1’19.317
Lucas di Grassi1’19.527
Mitch Evans1’19.712
Oliver Rowland1’19.755
Oliver Turvey1’19.912
Gary Paffett1’19.929
Edoardo Mortara1’20.330
Alexander Sims1’20.367
Daniel Abt1’20.385
Felipe Massa1’20.407
Nelson Piquet Jr1’21.489
Maximilian Gunther1’21.883
Felix Rosenqvist1’23.037

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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  • 22 comments on “Da Costa on pole as rains disrupts qualifying”

    1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      15th December 2018, 11:20

      Rosenquist is in instead of Wehrlein?

      1. @fullcoursecaution

        Wehrlein is still in contract with Mercedes until the end of this year, so Rosenqvist is subbing for him in Race 1.

        1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
          15th December 2018, 11:33

          Ah I see, handy for Mahindra that Felix was available. Thanks @okeptl

        2. Is that one of the cases where the Mercedes program helps their drivers?

          Couldn’t they have released him for a race?

          1. @johnmilk – two words: “Toto Wolff”

          2. @johnmilk I’m not sure about the details, but probably similar to the situation between Daniel and RedBull, that they are not alowed to drive for another team before the contract ended

            1. @okeptl Ricciardo at least will keep in F1 so that is somewhat understandable. They failed to find a place for Pascal to race, even though they have a team in FE (which btw has Vandoorne in the line up, that makes sense) and enforce a contract that makes him miss the first race. Seems very poor

            2. @johnmilk
              Yeah it wasn’t really graceful from Merceeds. I’m not surprised if George ended up getting the Merc seat over Esteban next year, seeing how they deal with their drivers.

              It will be interesting seeing Pascal in that Mahindra, he might have an outside chance for a race win this season

    2. Rain in the Middle East.

    3. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      15th December 2018, 11:58

      I had thought attack mode would mean the end on fanboost. Seems I was sadly mistaken.

      1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        15th December 2018, 12:28

        Haven’t heard it mentioned so seems BBC were as confused as I was

        1. The entire thing is confused – and confusing… And so amateur…!

          1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
            15th December 2018, 15:02

            Yeah whole thing was too convolutef. Turned out there WAS fanboost in the end. Totally redundant. Some good racing at times but marred by terrible execution and pathetic gimmicks. Less said about Stoffel the better

        2. I heard the commentators mention it a couple of minutes before the end.
          @ Could they get Dario in there with Krusty next year ?
          Guy’s a smart class act. Seems very at peace with life.

    4. Qualifying was peacful and enjoyable. Massa should have come out sooner. Waiting for the track to dry backfired.

    5. I’d sooner watch a go cart race on Hollywood Blvd, truly pathetic, what’s paying for this, carbon taxes.
      Are big overblown salaries attracting drivers who could be competing in other ‘serious series’ ?
      Notice if they make side by side wheel contact during passes in turns, they are so slow the cars are barely affected.
      @ Yeah I got up at 3.30 am to watch this sad spectacle.

      1. Go watch a go kart race then. There are 10s of thousands of race fans that have better things to say about this series than what you just said. The race was good!

    6. @ Perhaps they should have the ‘Energizer Bunny Boost On’ displayed on the side of Shark Fins ?

      1. And get digital advertising barriers like in some other sports, so they could have the bunny running next to the car down the straight…

    7. Was there a better way to watch the race than the youtube broadcast on FE’s channel? They made a 6.5/10 race look 4/10… And the “Attack mode” activation zone is such a great idea… LOL
      I feel bad for the teams, drivers and fans wanting to take this seriously… They would have something decent but I guess a couple of people just can’t stop having “great ideas” to “improve the show”.

      1. Too many negative nellys, let them try new things, it’s a new racing concept, for obvious reasons they don’t want processions like f1, and f1 relies on Dr’s for overtaking. Don’t like it, don’t watch it. I’ve watched f1 since 1994, but this year I didn’t like it, so only watched half the races.

    8. It was on Fox sports 1 or 2 here on the US West Coast.
      @ Some hilarious comments on the BBC Sports site….”glorified milk floats.” :)

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