BMW, Audi head in different directions at Saudi opener

Images by Andrew Ferraro/LAT

BMW, Audi head in different directions at Saudi opener

Formula E

BMW, Audi head in different directions at Saudi opener


For BMW i Andretti Motorsport and driver Antonio Felix da Costa, victory in the season-opening round of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship in Saudi Arabia provided a fact check that the team — now a full factory BMW program after the manufacturer partnered with the Andretti squad last year — is now a legitimate challenger.

“The last two years have just been so hard,” said da Costa (pictured above), who was only 15th in the drivers’ standings in the 2017-18 season, while the Andretti squad finished at the bottom of the teams’ standings. “I was far from giving up — I’m a fighter, after all. But it’s hard — I’m also a winner and I hate to lose,” da Costa added. “To finally do it today is just amazing… the DAC is back!”

After the team posted the quickest times in two of the three days of pre-season testing with its new Gen 2 car, da Costa took pole for the opening race on the Ad Diriyah street course. The Portuguese driver led early before being passed by reigning series champion Jean-Eric Vergne and his DS Techeetah teammate Andre Lotterer. After the Techeetah pair were hit with drive-through penalties for a technical infringement (overpowering during regeneration), da Costa regained the lead and was able to hold off Vergne for the win in a tense final lap.

Along with the challenge from Vergne, da Costa had to come to grips with Formula E’s new “Attack Mode” power boost. All 22 drivers had to pass through the activation zone — placed off the racing line on the exit of Turn 17 — twice, each time collecting an additional 25kW of power that they could engage for four minutes each time during the race. This new wrinkle required significant new real-time decision making for the drivers.

“My heart rate was a little bit higher as they (DS Techeetah drivers) got closer again,” said da Costa. “I used Attack Mode just like JEV (Vergne) did, and I managed to keep the win at the end. It was a really clever way to use it.”

Runner-up Vergne was equivocal about his day. “Well.. let’s take the positive from today, I’m really happy to finish second although the win was ours without the drive-through penalty,” mused the champion. “That’s motorsport — we learn from our mistakes and go for more success!”

Lucas di Grassi leads Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler teammate Daniel Abt.

While the BMW Andretti team was in celebration mode after the race, rival German manufacturer — and reigning Formula E teams’ champion — Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler was left perplexed after its familiar strong form went missing.

“We need to improve everything,” said team leader Lucas di Grassi after finishing a disappointing ninth, having qualified only 18th. His teammate Daniel Abt admitted he’d “prefer winning and being disqualified than only driving for P8 and being unhappy about my pace.”

Last season, the team got off to a similarly poor start after di Grassi encountered a variety of technical issues in the Hong Kong opener while Abt was stripped of the race victory for a technical violation. This time, though, the team’s frustrations weren’t the result of mechanical or procedural failures, just a lack of speed.

“We were not quick — in the race, we were struggling,” admitted Abt.