Formula E

How ABT plans to convert Berlin coup to Monaco success: "We hope to fight for points in every race from now on!"

Tobias Bluhm

Tobias Bluhm

After taking pole position and scoring their first points, ABT Cupra is enjoying a strong tailwind coming from the Berlin E-Prix to Formula E's next event. In Monaco, the racing team hopes to build on its success and is once again setting its sights on a top 10 result. But the good pace in Berlin qualifying could have been just an exception, notes Tobias Bluhm.

The phoenix must have been a majestic animal. If one is to believe the Greek mythology, the bird with its red-gold plumage was said to be able to survive more than 500 years before burning up spectacularly as a fireball at the end of its life. All this, only to emerge anew from its own ashes a short time later. To this day, people still speak of "rising like a phoenix from the ashes" to describe something already thought lost that reappears in new splendor.

Decide for yourself whether or not there's any truth attached to the myth. But to this day - and especially in sports - events reminiscent of the legendary bird myths take place again and again. The comeback by Tom Brady's New England Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl springs to mind, when the team overturned a 25-point deficit within a few minutes,. Or Manchester United's two stoppage-time goals that sealed their 1999 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich.

Thank the weather? ABT surprises with pole position in Berlin

Formula E experienced, so much pathos must be allowed, its first "phoenix from the ashes" moment of the Gen3 era at the 2023 Berlin E-Prix. The backmarker team ABT Cupra, which had returned to the series only a few months earlier after a more or less involuntary sabbatical year, surprisingly secured both places on the front row of the grid on a wet Tempelhof Airport circuit. Not once had Robin Frijns and Nico Müller finished in the top 10 in the previous races - and now they were next to each other at the front of the grid.

Many observers of the series looked on with amazement as Frijns and Müller locked out the front row. What was it that made the ABTs so strong in the rain? "We simply have superb drivers," team boss Thomas Biermaier confidently told 'e-Formula.news' after qualifying.

Wet tests in England leading to tire pressure discovery?

The fact drivers make a big difference in adverse weather conditions is well known. But as is so often the case, the reason for the Mahindra customer team's good performance also seemed to have another, deeper explanation. "We had very good tests in England," Biermaier explained almost casually, "maybe that helped as well."

The crucial detail: When testing on the disused Abingdon Airfield, a mere 45-minute drive away from Mahindra's Banbury headquarters, ABT would have faced wet conditions much more often than the teams that had moved their testing programmes to Spain or Italy. In the typically British rainy weather, the German squad seem to have found a setup quirk.

Our colleagues from 'Motorsport-Magazin.com' made a similar assumption last week: ABT is said to have taken an unusual approach in Berlin, particularly with regard to tire pressures. The pressure in the tires is said to have been over 3 bar, more than twice as much as the minimum pressure mandated by Hankook (1.2 bar). While all the other drivers were desperately trying to get their tires up to temperature for qualifying laps, Frijns and Müller likely reached the rubber's temperature working window far more quickly, according to the report.

Whether the tire decision alone was responsible for the good ABT performance in Berlin, however, is rather unlikely. As is so often the case, an interplay of several factors is believed to have been decisive. The rainy weather was one of the most important of them. So could the qualifying pace of Berlin remain just a flash in the pan?

Espinos: "Couldn't have dreamed of a worse start to the season"

"Bringing different factors together", that's what you've been hearing in motorsport for years. Not only with regard to individual races, team managers like to emphasize how important it is to find a balance between setup, driving skills, engineering and that certain bit of racing luck. Over the course of an entire season, too, mistakes must be minimized so as not to upset the balance of racing factors. And that's best done from the start of a year.

Fittingly, ABT's Sporting Director Frederic Espinos told 'e-Formula.news' just two days before the qualifying session in Germany, "Personally, I couldn't really have dreamed of a worse start to the season. But we're all working like crazy. There were some problems that were out of our hands - for example the battery and brake problems for Kelvin (van der Linde) in Hyderabad or the things that happened in Cape Town. But the good thing is: There is an explanation for everything, and we understand it."

From "nowhere" to regular points contender?

In terms of race pace, the Frenchman observes progress at ABT. "If you look at our pace in Mexico - quite honestly - we were nowhere. We were fighting against ourselves at the back of the field. In Sao Paulo, we already made it into the top 10 in practice and proved our potential in the race." And then he says it again, the familiar phrase: "Now it's just a matter of bringing all the elements together and having a bit of luck.

"So far, the season has been going very frustratingly. Actually, it couldn't have gone any worse. But we want to take that frustration and make sure the second half of the championship is better. We want to be able to fight for points in every race from now on!"

The second part of the 2023 Formula E season kicks off next weekend. Many a racing team has experienced its "phoenix from the ashes" moment on the legendary street circuit in Monaco before. ABT, however, will be hoping not to have to crumble to ashes before success. If the team needs support "from above" to achieve good results, though, the race could unfortunately take place a day too early. Rain showers are not forecast until the Sunday after the E-Prix.

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