Formula E

ABT remains without points with weak Mahindra drive also in Diriyya: "Season will be big challenge".

Timo Pape

Timo Pape

The Formula E comeback of ABT Cupra has so far not gone as the team from Kempten had hoped. After a difficult start to the season in Mexico, the German squad was also the only team left without points in Saudi Arabia. Kelvin van der Linde finished 16th and 18th on his debut in formula racing, while teammate Nico Müller retired early on both Friday and Saturday. One of several reasons is the inefficient Mahindra powertrain from ZF.

Much did not go together for the Mahindra factory team and the customer team ABT Cupra at the Diriyya E-Prix. Although on Friday still both Mahindra drivers - Oliver Rowland and Lucas di Grassi - moved into the quarter-finals of qualifying. In the two races, however, it was only backwards for the Indians. ABT Cupra even moved to the rear of the field for the entire weekend.

"We are disappointed with our performance here in Saudi Arabia, as we had hoped for a clear upward trend movement after the season opener," said team boss Thomas Biermaier. "The list of issues and tasks we need to work through is getting longer, but the short gaps between races remain. It is becoming increasingly clear that this season will be a big challenge. Not only for us, but also for the two sister cars of the Mahindra team, as we have seen here once again."

In fact, the ZF-developed powertrain of the M9Electro lacks performance in every important respect. Our performance analysis for the Diriyya E-Prix shows: even in qualifying trim, the Mahindra was the worst car of all six manufacturers. Almost two tenths of a second slower was the weekend best time of Lucas di Grassi compared to the fastest lap of Maserati/DS (Edo Mortara), the second slowest manufacturer. The M9Electro was almost eight tenths of a second off Jake Hughes' absolute best time.

In the race, things didn't look any better. Even apart from incidents that more or less took Rowland and Nico Müller out of the race on both days, the M9Electro only made it to the back. That's because Mahindra also seems to have the worst car in the field in terms of efficiency. Even Nio 333 managed to stay in the top 10 on Saturday. In fact, it could be two difficult seasons for Mahindra and ABT before the Indians are allowed to homologate a new power unit. However, there are other track characteristics to come as the season progresses. Hope dies last.

Rising curve for debutant van der Linde

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While Nico Müller slid into the track barrier during an overtaking maneuver on the 25th lap on Saturday and had to retire, Formula E rookie Kelvin van der Linde brought his car back to the pits without a scratch, just like the day before. The 26-year-old South African joined the team at short notice and replaces regular driver Robin Frijns, who injured his hand in an accident in Mexico, for the time being.

After a difficult start on Friday, van der Linde improved over the course of the weekend. Proof of this: while he was still more than four tenths of a second off the second-worst time in his group in the first qualifying session, it was "only" one tenth on Saturday. Nevertheless, he brought his ABT Cupra to the finish line on both days and gained valuable experience. It should be added that Van der Linde completed the very first race of his career in a Formula car on Friday, and that directly on a fairly demanding circuit. Nevertheless, the Diriyya E-Prix was not a whiz-bang start to his Formula E career.

"I would like to thank the whole team for their trust and patience," says van der Linde. "Even if we don't see any countable results, we have created a good basis for our next race weekend on which we can build." Team boss Biermaier agrees, "Compliments to Kelvin - not only for his performance here in Diriyya, but also for his diligent preparation over the past week and a half."

Müller: "The most difficult weekend in a long time"

Nico Müller experienced a used day even before the first race. In the 2nd free practice, the Swiss touched a wall easily after a mistake. A small slip with big consequences: The car was indeed ready for the race after a show of strength by the ABT team, but Müller had to skip qualifying and thus start the race from last place.

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Already on the way to the starting grid, Müller reported strange noises via radio and had to retire in the race after 13 laps due to consequential damage. On Saturday, Müller also landed in the TecPro barrier during an overtaking attempt in turn 18 and retired again. "I feel particularly sorry for the two slip-ups for the guys who worked so hard," said the Formula E returnee. "And of course the missing laps hurt us, too."

In a tweet, he gets even more explicit: "The most difficult weekend for us in a long time. No performance, problems, frustration, a momentous mistake on my part in free practice and the abrupt end of a recovery on Saturday. This is a bitter pill for us, but it will make us stronger. Thanks to the team for all the effort and your support."

There is not much time left for ABT and Mahindra until their next Formula E appearance: after intensive data analysis and the all-important preparation in the simulator, the team is already off to India at the beginning of next week, where Formula E will hold a race for the first time. The financial metropolis of Hyderabad will be the venue for the fourth of a total of 16 rounds in the ninth season on February 11.

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