Formula E

Formula E in Cape Town: Sacha Fenestraz celebrates pole position in turbulent qualifying with serious accidents

Timo Pape

Timo Pape

Sacha Fenestraz has secured pole position for Formula E's Cape Town E-Prix - the first of his still young career. He edged out Maserati driver Max Günther in the final to not only snatch first place on the grid, but also the next three world championship points. However, qualifying produced two more big stories: a violent double crash by Edo Mortara and Sam Bird, and the final retirement of all Mahindra cars in South Africa.

Group A: Fenestraz shines, Hughes ticks off

Before the start of qualifying at 10:40 am (CET), the skies over Cape Town had largely closed in, but it remained dry. After about four minutes, the first lap times came in. Nico Müller was unable to leave his pit, apparently with a problem on his ABT Mahindra. Jake Hughes caused the first minor scare: the McLaren driver skidded on the brakes before turn 1 and hit the wall with his right flank. He tore a piece of the advertising board with him, but came to a halt in the run-off zone and was then able to continue unharmed.

After the first attempts, Porsche was able to enjoy a double lead: Antonio Felix da Costa led ahead of Pascal Wehrlein. Jean-Eric Vergne and Sacha Fenestraz followed behind. Then all the drivers came into the pits to change tires in preparation for the decisive laps. Meanwhile, the sun came out and warmed the circuit.

FP2 winner Nick Cassidy took the lead right from the first attempt - with a lead of more than four tenths of a second. Hughes initially improved to third despite another slight wall contact, but several more drivers improved and turned faster laps. The best was Fenestraz in the Nissan with 1:08.994 minutes. Cassidy's lap would ultimately be enough for second place. Third was Wehrlein, and India winner Jean-Eric Vergne also made it back into the duels.

Dan Ticktum narrowly failed to finish fifth, but again had a clear grip on his Nio 333 teammate this weekend. The other positions in Group A: Norman Nato, Felix da Costa, Hughes, Andre Lotterer, Sergio Sette Camara and Müller, who was unable to leave his garage until the end.

Group B: Heavy double crash, all Mahindra withdrawn

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Group B started with a bang, as the other three Mahindra cars also did not go on track. A little later, it was even announced: The Indian manufacturer withdraws all four cars of Mahindra Racing and ABT Cupra from the entire E-Prix, so also for the race! The reason for this precautionary measure: a problem with the rear suspension, which had already affected Lucas di Grassi in the 1st Free Practice. The safety of the drivers is above all, it was said in the TV world signal.

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Sam Bird was initially fast on the road, but misjudged slightly in turn 10 and then turned in the run-off zone. The first times were directly on a comparable level as in Group A. Jaguar maintained the double lead after the first six minutes. But then Sebastien Buemi and Max Günther slipped in between Mitch Evans and Bird before everyone went in for a tire change.

Rene Rast opened the fast laps with a best time in Sector 1 and took the lead a little later. Stoffel Vandoorne was nearly as fast, but then it crashed hard: Edo Mortara lost control of his Maserati and hit the fast left-hand turn 9 - as Buemi did in the 1st free practice session - into the wall at a 45-degree angle. The impact pushed the right front tire into the front section, causing major damage to the car. Mortara apparently remained uninjured. His Maserati slid along the wall for a bit and came to a stop in the right lane.

Despite this, no yellow flags were initially waved at the scene of the accident! Max Günther was able to avoid his teammate by a hair's breadth. But then Sam Bird came racing up, who lost his Jaguar in almost identical fashion, also slammed into the wall and then slid hard into Mortara's crashed car with his left side. He, too, was uninjured.

On the team radio shortly after the accident, Bird said he had been distracted by race director Scot Elkins on the radio. Instead, Elkins probably should have called out yellow flags. Qualifying was then interrupted for a long time with a red flag.

So the order in Group B did not change. Rast was fastest through to the quarter-finals, with Evans second. In addition, Buemi - still with 100-percent odds this season - and Günther qualified for the duel stage. The order behind them: Bird, Jake Dennis, Vandoorne, Mortara, di Grassi, Rowland and van der Linde.

Quarterfinals

VF1: Pascal Wehrlein vs. Nick Cassidy

In the first duel, Cassidy flexed his muscles: In the first two sectors, the New Zealander in the Envision was noticeably faster than his Porsche rival. Although Wehrlein was able to counter in the final section, in the end he had to submit with a gap of 1.52 tenths of a second. The world championship leader will thus start the race from the fourth row - nevertheless not a bad starting position for Wehrlein to once again score decent points.

VF2: Jean-Eric Vergne vs. Sacha Fenestraz

The second quarterfinal was a similar affair, with youngster Fenestraz grabbing the first two sectors while the third went to Vergne. This time, however, it was tighter: the Nissan driver prevailed by five hundredths of a second to advance to the semifinals. Strong performance from Fenestraz!

VF3: Sebastien Buemi vs. Mitch Evans

In the third quarterfinal, both drivers were initially on par. In the third sector, however, Buemi made the crucial mistake: he took too much risk in a corner and slid marginally into the track barrier with the front end. Although the damage to his front wing was manageable, he lost a good 3.5 seconds as a result of the crash. Evans thus confidently in the semifinals.

VF4: Max Günther vs. Rene Rast

In the German duel, Günther got off to a good start and benefited from a small mistake by Rast at the start. The Maserati driver was also faster in Sector 2. Although Rast took some time off his compatriot again in the final section, he was unable to match Günther's lap time. The latter moved into the next round with a lead of 2.22 tenths of a second - Rast eliminated early.

Semifinal

HF1: Sacha Fenestraz vs. Nick Cassidy

Fenestraz also opened the semifinals with an impressive first sector. In Section 2, both were on equal terms with a slight advantage for Cassidy. Ultimately, however, "underdog" Fenestraz held his own against the Envision driver by about a tenth of a second and advanced to the qualifying final for the first time in his Formula E career.

HF2: Max Guenther vs. Mitch Evans

Evans got off to the better start in the second semifinal. Sector 2, on the other hand, went clearly to Günther. In the final section of the track, the German made up even more time and brought his lap to a clean finish. With a lead of more than 3.5 tenths of a second over the Jaguar driver, he moved into the final. His lap was also slightly faster than Fenestraz's semi-final time. Favorite Evans had to settle for fourth place on the grid.

Final: Sacha Fenestraz vs. Max Günther

Fenestraz managed the better start into the final. In the second and third sections, he took another tenth of a second off Günther in each case. As a result, the Nissan driver confidently secured his first pole position in Formula E with a lead of more than four tenths of a second! It was also the lap with the fastest average speed in Formula E history.

Günther can still be pleased with a good second place on the grid. "It wasn't an optimal lap, but we're happy with our qualifying. To be on the front row is a great feeling," Guenther said on TV's World Signal.

A first Pole for @SachaFenestraz!

The @NISMO man completes the FASTEST lap in Formula E HISTORY! ?#CapeTownEPrix pic.twitter.com/2W9n83xZP8

- ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) February 25, 2023

The fifth race of the 2023 Formula E season begins on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. (CET). ProSieben will broadcast the Cape Town E-Prix live on free TV, ran.de on livestream. We will accompany the race as usual in our popular Hankook Formula E Liveticker.

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