Alexander Sims, BMW, Formula E, Diriyah, 2019

Sims sees off Mercedes challenge for Diriyah pole

Formula E

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Alexander Sims will start the first race of Formula E’s 2019-20 season on pole position after seeing off a stern challenge from championship newcomers Mercedes.

The silver cars of Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries took second and third on the grid for their first race in the championship.

Whereas last year heavy rain masked the Diriyah track’s dust problem, the extent of dirty track was obvious this year. The running order for the group qualifying format was decided by the finishing positions in the previous championship season. It was clear the track would likely develop to the advantage of later groups here – potentially offering opportunities to newcomers such as Mercedes and Porsche, each with one new driver to the championship in their squads.

Group one

PositionDriverTeamTime
1Jean-Eric VergneDS Techeetah1’16.139
2Robin FrijnsEnvision Virgin1’16.200
3Sebastien BuemiNissan e.Dams1’16.243
4Mitch EvansJaguar1’16.532
5Lucas di GrassiAudi1’17.213
6Antonio Felix da CostaDS Techeetah1’18.613

The first group had the most severe case of ‘chequered-flag chicken’ affecting qualifying, with no car willing to be the first out. Antonio Felix da Costa suffered a brake failure in the garage just before the session but was sent out anyway, and told to go straight to a 250kW lap rather than risk an install.

His lap resulted in both an unimpressive time and a brush with the barriers while Mitch Evans led a train of the rest of the group across the line. Buemi, at the back of the order, looked at risk of not making the chequered flag for a hot lap and although Evans managed to slip back behind Di Grassi before going to 250kW, this bunched the cars rather than giving him any advantage and left them in a nose-to-tail squeeze.

Vergne topped the group but none of the times – four seconds slower than those set in practice – looked set to trouble the Super Pole.

Group two

PositionDriverTeamTime
1Sam BirdEnvision Virgin1’14.946
2Jerome D’AmbrosioMahindra1’15.273
3Andre LottererPorsche1’15.518
4Oliver RowlandNissan e.Dams1’15.653
5Pascal WehrleinMahindra1’16.200
6Daniel AbtAudi1’16.264

With a slightly improved track, Sam Bird was able to put together a significantly better lap time than the group before. His 1:14.946 was more than three tenths clear of Jerome D’Ambrosio but both looked indicative of Super Pole standards.

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Group three

PositionDriverTeamTime
1Stoffel VandoorneMercedes1’15.151
2Edoardo MortaraVenturi1’15.254
3Alexander SimsBMWi Andretti1’15.255
4Maximilian GuentherBMWi Andretti1’15.680
5Oliver TurveyNIO 3331’16.018
6Felipe MassaVenturi1’16.583

Group three saw the strongest overall performances, with only a mistake by Felipe Massa and the NIO 333 car’s uncompetitive pace significantly marring times. Both Alexander Sims and Edoardo Mortara put together strong laps, separated by a thousandth but only to be beaten by a tenth by Stoffel Vandoorne, all three straight into Super Pole contention.

Group four

PositionDriverTeamTime
1Nyck de VriesMercedes1’15.027
2Brendon HartleyDragon1’17.074
3Neel JaniPorsche1’17.745
4Ma Qing HaNIO 3331’21.701
5Nico MuellerDragon1’23.017
6James CaladoJaguar1’23.792

The fourth group, being largely populated by rookie or less experienced drivers, was always likely to be the most disrupted. Add in a dirty track that had seen even experienced drivers making errors, this became something of a group of attrition without necessarily showing true pace.

Nyck de Vries was sent out early, in what turned out to be a strategic stroke of luck for Mercedes. Despite the potential disadvantage in track development, it meant he could put together his lap cleanly while the other drivers were left tangled together. Somewhat literally, in the case of debutants Mueller and Calado, who both parked up at turn 17 during their hot laps, bringing out the yellow flags and preventing anyone else from improving.

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Super Pole

Sam Bird had taken the fastest time of group qualifying – which now earns a single championship point – and following his strong times in free practice he looked a strong bet for pole. However Sims put together a charging lap, which coincided with an apparent reversal in the improvement of track conditions.

In the end, Sims’ time was unbeatable despite the Mercedes’ best efforts. An off-line error took Sam Bird out of contention during his hot lap. Mortara’s lap made three of the top four cars Mercedes-powered, in a very convincing debut showing on single lap pace.

Qualifying – Full result:

Super Pole:
1. Alexander Sims – BMW Andretti – 1:14.563
2. Stoffel Vandoorne – Mercedes – 1.14.839
3. Nyck de Vries – Mercedes – 1:14.929
4. Edoardo Mortara – Venturi – 1:15.131
5. Sam Bird – Virgin – 1:15.350
6. Jerome D’Ambrosio – Mahindra – 1:15.539

Groups:
7. Andre Lotterer – Porsche – 1:15.518
8. Oliver Rowland – Nissan EDams – 1:15.563
9. Maximilian Guenther – BMW Andretti – 1:15.680
10. Oliver Turvey – NIO – 1:16.018
11. Jean-Eric Vergne – DS Techeetah – 1:16.129
12. Robin Frijns – Virgin – 1:16.200
13. Pascal Wehrlein – Mahindra – 1:16.200
14. Sebastien Buemi – Nissan EDams – 1:16.243
15. Daniel Abt – Audi Abt – 1:16.264
16. Mitch Evans – Jaguar – 1:16.532
17. Felipe Massa – Venturi – 1:16.583
18. Brendon Hartley – Dragon – 1:17.074
19. Lucas di Grassi – Audi Abt – 1:17.213
20. Neel Jani – Porsche – 1:17.745
21. Antonio Felix da Costa – DS Techeetah – 1:18.613
22. Ma Qing Ha – NIO – 1:21.701
23. Nico Mueller – Dragon – 1:23.017*
24. James Calado – Jaguar – 1:23.792*

*Times set without using 250kW

Formula E


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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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  • 10 comments on “Sims sees off Mercedes challenge for Diriyah pole”

    1. The last corner at Zandvoort is going to have an 18-degree banking, similar to Michigan International Speedway for instance. Impressive.

    2. Very wierd track and it is quite dirty off line with a boring race.

    3. I don’t really understand the format yet, but it’s strange that
      there are 4 groups of 6, and there are 24 drivers, but
      I can not see Felipe Massa’s name on the Group 1-4 lists, and
      for example only one Porsche car in che groups too,
      maybe its some kind of paradoxon :)

        1. Fair play, I seemed to have forgotten Lotterer moved teams in the group table but Massa is definitely there in Group 3?

    4. Hang on what?
      The first race of the season is in a monday???

      1. I mean Friday! That’s how surprised I am!

        1. Friday is a holiday in many Muslim countries.

        2. 2nd race is tomorrow. Also it seems like a shortened single day format.

    5. I don’t understand the track layout. They start and they go straight into turn 18 and not turn 1?

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