Sam Bird, Virgin, Marrakech, Formula E, 2019

Bird takes Marrakech pole position despite damaged car

Formula E

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Sam Bird took pole position for the Marrakesh Eprix, narrowly beating the reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne to the fastest time despite damaging his car earlier in the session. Meanwhile another former champion, Lucas di Grassi, continued to struggle with Audi’s factory team.

Qualifying at the first race of the season last month had been badly disrupted by rain. That meant Marrakech was the first opportunity to really assess the competitive order of Formula E’s new generation, at a track where a direct comparison to Formula E’s previous cars was possible.

Track evolution is especially critical at the Marrakech circuit. First practice occurs as the sun rises, the track still in twilight for most of the session and the Sahara having cooled Tarmac to icy degrees overnight. The secon session saw the track reach just 11C – still considerably cooler than a typical Formula E session, and well become that the first group of qualifyiers encountered.

Group 1: Antonio Felix da Costa, Jean-Eric Vergne, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Mitch Evans, Andre Lotterer

Often called the “group of death,” group one (and the subsequent groups) is decided by championship order, sending the leaders out first. With the coldest track of the session, as the sun slowly mounts hoardings to reach the track, it was just 20C on the surface at the start of the group.

There’s usually a slight game of chicken for who can be out last (and therefore on the most advantageous track) but round one winner Antonio Felix da Costa set a full-power 250kW time well before the other drivers in his group, His 1’17.950 was unmatched by the rest of the group, all other times over 1’18 and third sector error seeing Andre Lotterer at the bottom of the times on a 1’19.633.

Vergne and Mitch Evans came within a couple of tenths of Da Costa but with a developing track, even the BMW’s time was no guarantee of Super Pole.

Following the session, Di Grassi’s engineer informed him via radio that Da Costa had set his 250kW lap straight out of the pits, without a warm-up 200kW lap – an extremely unusual strategy not followed by any subsequent car.

Group 2: Sebastien Buemi, Oliver Rowland, Daniel Abt, Lucas di Grassi, Nelson Piquet Jr

The track temperature had risen to 21C by the time group two ventured out. last year’s pole sitter Sebastien Buemi shaved a few hundredths off Da Costa’s time, with a 1’17.906, But of the rest, only Nelson Piquet Jnr was able to trouble the bottom of the top five with a 1’18.347, slotting into the order behind his team mate.

Di Grassi had very little running during free practice, putting just four laps in during the first session and none at all in the second. A potentially grim repeat of his faulty inverter-spoiled start to last season, he could only manage a 1’18.595 in his slippery-seeming Audi. Daniel Abt struggled even worse, at 1’18.921.

Group 3: Sam Bird, Robin Frijns, Oliver Turvey, Felipe Massa, Tom Dillman, Maximilian Gunther

If the Audi powertrain was in any question, it was swiftly answered by Sam Bird who showed the same pace the Virgin team had on Ad Diriyah test day (when they topped both sessions) by putting in a 1’17.851 to beat Buemi.

Maximilian Gunther, whose first qualifying session in Ad Diriyah ended in a crash again clipped the wall here. However, this time Formula E’s youngest driver was blameless, mostly saving the car after it caught airborne on kerb – Circuit Moulay el Hassan is unusually smooth for Formula E and Dragon had lowered the floors of their cars to take advantage of the surface, some crucial millimetres too far for Gunther.

Group 4: Stoffel Vandoorne, Alexander Sims, Edoardo Mortara, Gary Paffett, Jose-Maria Lopez, Pascal Wehrlein

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Group four was somewhat delayed after Dillman, Bird and Frijns had a bizarre knock-on collision at the pit lane entrance. Dillman appeared to run into the back of Frijns, tangling the front wing of his NIO with the diffuser of the Virgin car and forcing Frijns, in turn, into the back of his teammate. The new diffusers are not trivial items to replace, with damage potentially compromising a race start during the compressed Formula E schedule, let alone Super Pole.

Stoffel Vandoorne suffered technical issues again, with his car shutting down before it was possible to run a full 250kW lap. Fellow newcomer Pascal Wehrlein fared considerably better, putting in a 1’18.126 to briefly enter the now six-car Super Pole (as of HWA’s entry expanding the grid to 22) before Alexander Sims put together a 1’17.953 to push the Mahindra just out of top-six contention.

Super Pole: Sam Bird, Sebastien Buemi, Alexander Sims, Antonio Felix da Costa, Jean-Eric Vergne, Mitch Evans

First-out Mitch Evans looked set to put together an almighty lap, until a last-second off saw him wreck the time, recording a 1’29.379. Vergne – one of Formula E’s most successful qualifiers – had no such issues to get a 1’17.535 that Da Costa couldn’t quite match at 1’17.626.

Alexander Sims was unable to out-do his teammate this session, despite a 24C track driving Super Poles unusually faster than group qualifying. Sebastien Buemi also

Sam Bird (who has placed both second and third in the previous Marrakech races) was not to be denied, however. He put in a virtually perfect lap with the best times in every sector seeing him beat Vergne with a 1’17.48 to take Marrakech pole.

Super Pole;

1. Sam Bird (Virgin) 1’17.489
2. Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Techeetah) 1’17.535
3. Antonio Felix da Costa (BMW Andretti) 1’17.626
4. Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.Dams) 1’17.738
5. Alexander Sims (BMW Andretti) 1’18.400
6. Mitch Evans (Jaguar) 1’23.379

Group qualifying;

1. Sam Bird (Virgin) 1’17.851
2. Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.Dams) 1’17.906
3. Alexander Sims (BMW Andretti) 1’17.935
4. Antonio Felix da Costa (BMW Andretti) 1’17.950
5. Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Techeetah) 1’18.042
6. Mitch Evans (Jaguar) 1’18.106
7. Pascal Wehrlein (Mahindra) 1’18.126
8. Robin Frijns (Virgin) 1’18.200
9. Nelson Piquet Jr (Jaguar) 1’18.347
10. Jerome D’Ambrosio (Mahindra) 1’18.440
11. Lucas di Grassi (Audi) 1’18.595
12. Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.Dams) 1’18.604
13. Jose-Maria Lopez 1’18.612
14. Oliver Turvey (NIO) 1’18.624
15. Felipe Massa (Venturi) 1’18.780
16. Daniel Abt (Audi) 1’18.921
17. Edoardo Mortara (Venturi) 1’19.133
18. Tom Dillman (NIO) 1’19.338
19. Gary Paffett (HWA Racelab) 1’19.516
20. Andre Lotterer (DS Techeetah) 1’19.633

Gunther and Vandoorne did not set 250kW lap times.

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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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12 comments on “Bird takes Marrakech pole position despite damaged car”

  1. Say what you will about Formula E’s competitive pool not being upto the mark of F1 – that was an impressive lap.

  2. It’s weird to see so many familiar names up there especially Vandoorne considering it hasn’t even been two months since he was still a full-time F1 driver, LOL.
    To put it simply: FE = A series for F1-refugees.

    1. Well F1 got to make room for paydrivers so its great the skillfull drivers got more series they can go to.

    2. @jerejj

      everyone outside the top three F1 teams are refugees. Especially when driver contracts allow them to veto other drivers. The driver situation is pathetic in F1. The boldest move in years has been LeClerc to Ferrari and it’s likely it might have to give way to Vettel..

  3. I tell you what, no matter what your thoughts on Formula E or the race, there is nothing more refreshing than Jérôme d’Ambrosio’s reaction to winning!

    That was a pleasure to watch in itself!

  4. Formula E on screen graphics was very informative. They showed full last name and personal best section indicator.

  5. BTW, what is ‘super pole’?

    1. It gives you the ultimate spot on the grid

      1. Basically the top 5 posistions in qualifying go again.

        1. @rethla I didn’t see the difference with ‘normal’ pole.
          @glynh Go again? Like Q for the best 5?

          1. @ruliemaulana Yes, it’s actually the top 6 but they all go again to set the their final order.

          2. @glynh Noted. Thanks

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