BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Max Guenther crossed the line just a tenth of a second ahead of Robin Frijns (Envision Virgin Racing) to take a narrow victory in the Berlin E-Prix Round 8 — home turf for both team and driver — while pole man Jean-Eric Vergne brought his DS Techeetah home third.
Guenther’s second win of the season was enough to boost him from ninth to second in the Drivers’ standings, while a fourth-place finish for Vergne’s DS Techeetah teammate Antonio Felix da Costa kept his advantage, now up to 68 points.
Polesitter Vergne launched well off the line, as did the pair of Mahindras, Jerome D’Ambrosio surprising Guenther, slipping up the inside of the iFE.20 at Turn 1, with teammate Alex Lynn looking to follow. Elbows out from Guenther kept the Brit at bay, however, and within a lap he’d retaken second from D’Ambrosio.
Mercedes-Benz EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne was the big loser in the opening laps – falling from fourth to seventh after overcooking a stop into the hairpin, allowing Frijns, then Lynn, past. The Envision Virgin Racing driver made good progress from there and with Lynn quickly dispatched for fourth, he made a move stick on his teammate for third.
Track and air temperatures had climbed since the middle of the week as a heat wave swept across Europe, tires and batteries requiring a little more care to be kept within their ideal operating windows. Vergne managed things well, and with the scrap going on behind in the opening laps, was able to check out and pull away.
Once Guenther had clear air, however, he put the hammer down and reduced the DS’ lead gap to less than a second – a massive uptick in performance overnight from the Bavarian squad which had struggled at the nine-day/six-race season finale prior to today’s action.
At the 15-minute mark, a coming-together between Alex Sims (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) and Sergio Sette Camara (Geox Dragon) left James Calado (Panasonic Jaguar Racing) and Neel Jani (TAG Heuer Porsche) all tangled up through little fault of their own and forced the BMW i8 Roadster safety car into the fray.
On the restart, with 22 minutes to run, Vergne and Guenther leapt away. The BMW driver opted for Attack Mode, which boxed him in back in the pack and allowed the Frenchman to hit the activation zone on the next tour while retaining his lead.
The battle for fourth was about as intense as it gets a little further back between D’Ambrosio, Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.dams), Felipe Massa (ROKiT Venturi Racing), Lynn, da Costa and Vandoorne. A puncture, though, soon halted Vandoorne’s charge and effectively ended his race.
Massa’s early move on Lucas di Grassi was adjudged to be overzealous by race control, which penalized the Brazilian with a drive-through penalty, dropping him way down the order to 20th.
Round two of Attack Mode saw Vergne able to narrowly retain his advantage, though the tables had turned with Guenther now counting an extra percent’s worth of energy in reserve.
Vergne had the BMW strapped to his diffuser from there, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce. The DS driver fended Guenther off at Turn 1 heading into the final five minutes. But halfway around the same lap, the BMW man got the run up the inside of Turn 7 to snatch the lead.
From there, Guenther pulled clear. Behind, having spent most of the race minding his own business in no man’s land a second clear of the battle for fourth and a second behind the lead pair, Frijns found himself able to slice past Vergne’s DS for second and in with a shout of the race win.
Guenther held firm to take the checkered flag, though, with the Dutchman a close second. Vergne staved off the attentions of his teammate who tore through the pack to an eventual fourth, with Lotterer for company. Rowland rounded out the top six.
“It was important to qualify on the front row near the top guys,” said Guenther. “It was a tough race and we managed it well and kept cool – taking the Attack Mode early on both occasions.
“We made the move on JEV (but then) Robin (Frijns) was able to get a bit of a run on us. But we held on. I knew the guys behind had slightly more energy than us, so I had to make the pass on Vergne as early as I could.
“I was never going to give the win up on the last lap!”