Formula E: Dennis wins entertaining Friday race in Saudi Arabia, Evans gives away podium
Formula E champion Jake Dennis has won the second race of the season in Saudi Arabia. In a thrilling Friday race at the Diriyah E-Prix, the Briton drove to the finish with a commanding 13-second lead, while behind him there was a fierce fight for every position right up to the last corner. Jean-Eric Vergne stoutly defended second place, partly because Mitch Evans made a dramatic misjudgement on the final lap. His team-mate Nick Cassidy, of all people, inherited third place on the podium.
Pole-sitter Jean-Eric Vergne got off to a good start and defended his lead. Mitch Evans was just able to fend off Sergio Sette Camara in turn 1, who was actually already past but had to let Jake Dennis pass due to an unfavourable line - so ultimately no changes in the top four. Pascal Wehrlein dropped back from sixth to ninth place. Sacha Fenestraz's Nissan suffered damage to the right front suspension due to an external contact and dropped to the back of the field. He was later to retire.
On lap 4, front-runner Vergne was the first to go into attack mode and slipped down to third place as a result. One lap later, Evans reacted and drove through the attack zone. He came back alongside Vergne on the inside lane, but the DS Penske driver fought back hard and pushed Evans towards the wall. Parts flew, but both were able to continue - Vergne ahead of Evans. Dennis now led the E-Prix.
On lap 6, Dennis also got his first attack mode, but did not manage to stay in front. Vergne was back in the lead. However, Dennis was able to overtake Evans thanks to the later activation and moved into second place. Just one lap later, Vergne had his second attack mode and dropped back to third place behind Evans. With additional power, he now put Evans under pressure and wanted to attack on the long straight. However, Evans held off.
Dennis benefits from chasing duel
Dennis capitalised on the duel between his pursuers and drove through the attack zone for the second time - and stayed in front! This put Dennis and Andretti in a very good position. Evans also activated the additional power for the second time and slipped back to third position. The new "adjusted" top 3 order: Dennis, Vergne, Evans. Norman Nato overtook Sette Camara for 4th place.
While the ERT driver bravely kept up with the leading group, Dan Ticktum's team opted for an extreme energy-saving strategy, as they had done in Mexico. After lap 12, the Briton was already 25 seconds behind Jehan Daruvala, who was in 20th place. ERT speculated on a safety car, which had been deployed in every race in Diriyah to date. This time, however, it failed to materialise.
On lap 12, Evans attacked Vergne on the long straight and overtook the Frenchman on the inside of turn 18. Evans had now tasted blood and also put pressure on the race leader Dennis. At the end of the long straight, he launched a furious attack, but slightly misjudged his braking and had to take another corner. Dennis stayed in front. Evans had to look in his rear-view mirrors instead, as Vergne was lurking behind him.
Dennis & Vergne set themselves apart
Now the Frenchman sensed his chance and chased down Evans - great racing action in the first 17 laps of Friday's race! Vergne's persistence paid off. Once again, Evans made a slight mistake under braking before turn 18, allowing the DS Penske driver to get past and reclaim second place. Meanwhile, the chasing pack behind the top three closed the gap so that the field was very close together again. Wehrlein - presumably deliberately - conserved his energy reserves for a late attack, which was not to materialise.
After a few quieter minutes, the gaps at the front widened. On lap 23, champion Dennis had a lead of almost three seconds over Vergne, who in turn was 2.3 seconds ahead of Evans. As in Mexico, the New Zealander seemed to be holding up the field behind him. Because the entire chasing pack except for Nick Cassidy drove through the attack zone, the Jaguar driver moved up to fourth position.
Cassidy now went full power and promptly set the fastest lap. Because Sam Bird had slowed for the attack zone directly in front of him, contact was made. Cassidy lost part of his right front wing, which a brave marshal collected from the track a short time later. On lap 26, Cassidy overtook his team-mate Evans and took third place, although he still had to drive through the attack zone twice (!).
The moment @NickCassidy_ lost part of his front wing ?— Formula E (@FIAFormulaE) January 26, 2024
It doesn't appear to be slowing the @JaguarRacing driver, though, who is staying close to teammate @mitchevans_ #DiriyahEPrix pic.twitter.com/U2cw6g5lBd
Position games at Jaguar
Sette Camara was gradually paying tribute to his inefficient ERT drive and had already slipped back to 8th place. Bird, on the other hand, turned up the pace and overtook Nato when he went into attack mode. The two Jaguar drivers changed positions again for the same reason. However, the extra effort meant that Cassidy overtook his compatriot just one lap later - good team strategy for Jaguar.
Wehrlein - now with a really significant energy advantage of around four per cent over his rivals - overtook Sette Camara. At this point, the Porsche driver was behind Max Günther, who had had a good but unremarkable race so far. Nato ahead of him was unable to reclaim fifth place from Bird. Vergne made a small mistake on lap 33 of 37 and lost a further eight tenths of a second to Dennis. At the same time, he now had Cassidy on his tail, who wanted to finish on the podium.
Cassidy now picked up his second attack mode and returned to the track in fourth place ahead of Bird. Evans was back on course for the podium. Vergne lost pace in the final laps, so that even Bird complained on the radio about the slow DS driver. On the long straight, however, Vergne always gave full power to be able to defend. Dennis consequently pulled away at the front. The race went into the final two laps.
Evans with a momentous braking error
While Dennis was heading for an unchallenged victory, Vergne had to tremble once more. The veteran ultimately managed to stay in front until the chequered flag. But there was drama for Evans: the Jaguar driver went on the attack against Vergne on the final lap and misjudged his braking for the third time before turn 18, forcing him into a wide arc and dropping him from third to fifth place! Team-mate Cassidy inherited his podium place ahead of Bird. Nato finished sixth ahead of Günther, Wehrlein, Sette Camara (!) and Robin Frijns.
After two rounds of the season, Wehrlein still leads the world championship, but is only one point ahead of Cassidy. Vergne is the new third ahead of Friday's winner Dennis. Among the teams, Jaguar has clearly taken the lead and is now ahead of Andretti. Porsche is only fourth behind DS Penske. Thanks to Sette Camara's two points, ERT has moved up to eighth place. That leaves three teams without points: Nissan, Mahindra and ABT.
The next race takes place in less than 24 hours. The start of the second night race of the Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday is again at 6 pm (CET).