A lively weekend on the streets of Rome saw two enthralling Formula E races.
Jean-Eric Vergne fought back brilliantly from a tough start to his weekend with victory in Round 3 of the series.
The honours in Round 4 went to Mercedes racer Stoffel Vandoorne, who also experienced a character-building weekend.
Leaving the Italian capital though at the head of the standings are Jaguar and British driver Sam Bird.
Nasty shock for JEV
Vergne’s weekend got off to a nasty shock when he was hit from behind in practice by NIO’s Oliver Turvey.
Turvey flew into a group of cars who were doing practice starts at the end of the first free practice session. It was the DS Techeetah car that took the brunt of the damage.
Vergne missed the second practice session whilst Turvey was penalised for causing the incident. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries to the drivers.
The Frenchman bounced back to qualify fifth for the opening race of the double-header with Vandoorne scoring pole position.
Manhole cover rocks Mercedes
Round 3 began under the Safety Car due to a damp track surface. Vandoorne led away after three laps under caution. His lead though didn’t last long.
An ambitious lunge from Andre Lotterer at turn seven resulted in contact. The pair dropped to 13th and seventh respectively.
Nissan’s Oliver Rowland inherited the lead. Then, the Brit collected a drive-through penalty for a power boost infringement.
Now, Lucas di Grassi led for Audi with another former champion in Vergne nose-to-tail behind.
It was an intense fight between the pair with Vergne grabbing the lead after strategically using the two attack modes better than the Brazilian.
Di Grassi didn’t give up though. As the race entered its final phase, he pulled off a peach of an overtake to seize back the lead.
It looked like the Series 3 champion was on-course for his 11th career victory in Formula E. Unfortunately, fate counted against him in dramatic fashion.
With just under five minutes left of the E-Prix, di Grassi suffered a driveshaft failure and slowed through turn six.
Whilst avoiding the crippled Audi, Vandoorne hit a loose manhole cover and spun. His Mercedes teammate Nick de Vyres didn’t have enough time to take evasive action and hit the Belgian.
With both Mercedes and di Grassi eliminated and debris across the circuit, the Safety Car was deployed.
Historic Double for Jaguar
There was no time for racing to resume, leaving Vergne to cross the line to claim only his second victory in two years.
There was notable history for Jaguar too as the team claimed their first-ever double podium finish.
Bird and teammate Mitch Evans charged through from tenth and 12th on the grid to finish second and third.
— Jaguar Racing (@JaguarRacing) April 10, 2021
There was delight in the pit garage although both drivers didn’t spray champagne on the podium as a mark of respect following the sad passing of HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh on Friday.
Despite being passed in two cracking overtakes by the Jaguar drivers, Robin Frijns still finished fourth. Sebastien Buemi showed his experience to stay out of trouble and finish fifth.
Multiple DTM champion Rene Rast salvaged something for a disheartened Audi team with sixth place. Their weekend though was set to get worse.
Rookies to the fore
A wet qualifying on Sunday morning saw two rookies come to the fore and claim the front row for Round 4.
Nick Cassidy clinched pole position with Norman Nato alongside. Vergne started a lowly 20th with the two Jaguars on row six. Once again, it was a Safety Car start.
Cassidy’s advantage though was soon wiped-out seconds into green flag racing. He had a sudden spin at turn three, blaming a software issue on the team radio.
Nato took the lead for Venturi Racing. However, he was soon overwhelmed by the row two starters, Pascal Wehrlein and a charging Vandoorne.
Cassidy’s race was completely ruined when Rowland attempted an overtake which never looked likely, turning the Envision Virgin Racing car into the barriers.
With a puncture and front wing damage, Cassidy’s day was effectively done. Rowland’s 10-second time penalty for the contact finished a dismal weekend for him too.
Buemi and Di Grassi come to blows
His teammate Buemi was also involved in contact of a more high-speed nature with his long-standing FE rival, di Grassi.
Once again, it was in the fast turn six/seven section and there was big damage caused to the Audi, forcing a second DNF of the weekend for di Grassi.
He screamed on the radio: “Buemi should get a big penalty for that.” Race stewards disagreed, filing the case as a racing incident.
Audi’s shocking weekend was compounded when Rast tapped the wall at turn 19. The resulting suspension damage saw him slapping the wall again into turn 1.
It meant the German marque had two wrecked cars and a broken driveshaft for the two days of action. Team boss Allan McNish was left unimpressed after the early promise of the event.
Vandoorne takes control
Amongst all this, Belgian Vandoorne took complete control of the E-Prix. He grabbed the lead from Wehrlein during the first attack mode sequence.
A Full Course Yellow phase to clear up di Grassi’s car enabled him to build up a handy six-second lead over the rest of the chasing pack.
Despite losing the time advantage due to a late Safety Car to tidy up the track following Rast’s shunt, Vandoorne still had his trademark fanboost to help him see off any threats in the one-lap showdown.
Wehrlein was caught napping on one of the restarts, losing second place to the Mahindra of Alexander Sims. It was Sims’ best result for some time in the series.
Nato drove well to keep up with the pace. He also overtook the Porsche who couldn’t keep up his earlier tempo.
It seemed like Nato had claimed his first rostrum but the rookie’s celebrations were to be dashed. A power usage infringement meant he was disqualified after crossing the line.
So, Wehrlein was promoted to the podium – his first as a Porsche driver.
Jaguar head the way
On the last lap, de Vyres, Bird and Rowland got tangled up in a three-way collision. The resulting outcome saw the former two drivers in the barriers and out of the points.
It would have been a painful end to the meeting for Bird. He should be generally satisfied though as he boards the flight out of Rome.
He leads the drivers’ championship. Evans’ strong second race run to sixth means it is a Jaguar 1-2 in the standings.
The legendary marque also leads the team standings. Mercedes though seems to have the quickest package.
Vandoorne’s victory in Round 4 was far more dominant than the final classification shows. He’s firmly into championship contention.
It was an eventful return to the streets of Europe and with just 13 points covering the top seven drivers, there’s plenty to play for ahead of the next double-header in Valencia in two weeks’ time.