Formula E

"I was totally miserable" - Buemi storms to 5th place at Formula E in Cape Town despite sunstroke & crash

Tobias Wirtz

Tobias Wirtz

With fifth place at the Formula E premiere in South Africa, Sebastien Buemi was unexpectedly able to collect important points for the championship. Yet the weekend started conceivably bad for the champion from season 2: In addition to a serious accident in the 1st free practice and another crash in the early stages of the race, Buemi suffered from a severe sunstroke, which he had contracted during PR activities.

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In Cape Town, as usual, there were some mandatory PR activities for the drivers in the run-up to the race. For Sebastien Buemi, these included a rugby training with the DHL Stormers team on the beach as well as a visit with the crew of 11th Hour Racing at the "Ocean Race". The boats of the sailing competition, which has been held since 1973, just stopped in Cape Town during the E-Prix weekend. However, the activities were not without consequences for the Swiss.

"I had a severe sunstroke on Wednesday after the two activities because I couldn't wear a cap while doing it," Buemi told 'The Race'. "The next day we went on the boat, and when I returned to the hotel, I was completely red."

"I threw up all night," the Swiss driver continues to complain. "I didn't sleep, I couldn't sleep a wink. Then I had a disastrous Friday with the early accident. I was totally miserable. I was cold and hot."

His team rebuilt the car by the 2nd free practice session on Saturday morning. Buemi, who was clearly feeling better, however, only had one set of tires available after his accident on Friday. "With one set of tires you compromise, both in qualifying and in free practice, because at some point the tires are too hot," described the Envision driver. He was unable to switch to another set of tires in group qualifying, unlike his competitors.

Buemi twice in TecPro barrier

Never the less, Buemi moved into the duel stage of qualifying again with a very good lap. He was the only driver to achieve this for the fifth time in the fifth race of the season. However, in the quarter-final duel against brand colleague Mitch Evans, the Swiss made a mistake. He braked and touched the TecPro barrier, slightly damaging his front wing.

From 7th on the grid, he pushed past Pascal Wehrlein at the start of the race. However, the Porsche driver braked shortly afterwards and hit Buemi, who again landed backwards in the TecPro barrier. With a damaged rear end, Buemi drove behind the field. In doing so, he benefited from the safety car coming onto the track so that the Porsche could be recovered.

Buemi worked his way back through the field, moving up place by place. In addition, he benefited from drive-through penalties against Evans and Jake Dennis, as well as retirements for Max Günther and Sacha Fenestraz. He finished the race in fifth place and took home ten points for the championship from a once hopeless position.

"In the end, I would say that fifth place is good," Buemi further described, not completely satisfied despite the difficult weekend. "It's just hard to digest the missed points. I feel like I could have done better."

Commentary by Tobias Wirtz: "Health of drivers should come first"

One may have the impression that the 2023 season of the Formula E World Championship represents a significant step backwards in terms of driver safety and health. Already in Valencia, Sebastien Buemi was one of the sufferers when he crashed hard into the tire piles during pre-season testing, presumably due to a technical defect in the drive or battery.

The FIA and Formula E had been aware of the Gen3 cars' braking problems for months at that point: When recuperation was eliminated by a technical problem, the bolides, which were only equipped with hydraulic brakes on the front axle, were unable to brake in a reasonable amount of time. Several serious accidents during private test drives of the manufacturers were the consequence.

While the FIA subsequently reacted relatively quickly and had an emergency brake retrofitted to the rear axle of the vehicles even before the second race of the season in Diriyya. But it's hard to imagine what would have happened at the season opener in Mexico. Formula E would have run with its eyes wide open into a possible catastrophe.

But that's not the only safety-related issue with the Gen3 cars: For example, drivers have been criticizing the poor visibility in the rearview mirrors for months. It has since been the trigger for several dangerous situations in practice sessions, qualifying sessions and races. On Saturday, Jean-Eric Vergne again complained after the race that he could not have seen Antonio Felix da Costa in the mirror when he pulled off his overtaking maneuver two laps before the finish. So far, there is no in sight of improvement here.

Another point: a lack of yellow flags after Edoardo Mortara's qualifying accident meant Max Guenther could only just avoid his teammate's stranded car. Sam Bird lost his Jaguar a few seconds later and crashed at high speed into the wall and then into the Mortara wreck. Fortunately, only his Jaguar was a total loss afterwards.

Committed PR activities are part of motorsport. Of course it but not optimal, if then also these gnaw at the health of the drivers. Here, the teams, but also Formula E are responsible to keep an eye on the temperatures in the South African high summer and to take appropriate measures. On the northern hemisphere, most would probably not necessarily want to spend a whole day in the blazing sun in Casablanca or Tripoli at the end of August either.

Is there any point at all in traveling to South Africa in the height of summer there? Perhaps Formula E should rethink its race calendar a bit: taking the season into account could be ideally combined with what I see as a sensible shortening of transport distances within the season. But this topic is, after all, anything but new...

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