Question: DS' pace?
DS PENSKE had created a super-team ahead of this season. Their Stoffel Vandoorne/Jean-Eric Vergne driver lineup is mighty - the reigning champion and Formula E's only double champion under one roof. All signs in pre-season testing suggested the DS powertrain was potent, with the DS' and the Maserati MSG Racing machines cleaning up at the top of the overall timesheets.
Then, we arrive in Mexico City and Vergne comfortably tops Free Practice 1 and is second in Free Practice 2, with Vandoorne fifth in both, and there’s a huge sigh of relief from people like me who are supposed to know what’s going on, because the team we’ve outlined as the clear favourite really appears to be the clear favourite. Then qualifying happened. They lined up 11th and 14th, and Vandoorne could only muscle his way through to pick up a solitary point in tenth at the end of the E-Prix.
So, where was their ultimate pace? There were lots of reasons given, but the underlying fact is that they didn’t pull everything together when it mattered, which was a real surprise. Diriyah is going to be a huge weekend.
Answer: Hughes is good
I covered Jake Hughes’ first season racing cars, as he won the 2013 BRDC Formula 4 Championship in the UK. He is a huge fan of Aston Villa, a Premier League football team, and we took him to their stadium Villa Park to interview him for the TV coverage.
He was 19, I was 23, and even then he was a confident and affable young man. More so than I was! The point being, despite knowing him for a decade, and having seen his strong performances in the junior categories, I was still sceptical about his ability to come in and perform in a championship of this quality.
He never had the financial backing in his junior career to be a real front-runner once he made the step up into FIA Formula 3, so could never really prove what he could do to the wider world. He certainly proved himself in Mexico City, though.
The NEOM McLaren driver qualified a superb third on his debut, fighting Mahindra Racing's Lucas di Grassi for second for the majority of the race, and then ultimately finishing fifth was an incredibly strong performance, and one that closed any questions about his ability.
Question: Are Evans and Mortara in the title fight?
Mitch Evans finished second and fourth in the last two seasons of Formula E, Edo Mortara finished third and second but the series’ nearly men were conspicuous by their absence at the front in Mexico City, as they look to finally take the title.
I’ve touched on the DS PENSKE issues already, but it was a similar story at Maserati MSG Racing. Their powertrain is the same as DS’ and they looked quick in pre-season testing, particularly with Maximilian Guenther at the wheel, but there was no pace to be found in Mexico.
Mortara was sixth in Free Practice 1, but that was the only time a Maserati was in the top ten in any session all weekend. The MSG Racing squad running the Maserati cars are the Venturi outfit from last year with a new name, and their engineering team is one of the best on the grid, so I don’t expect them to be struggling for too much longer, if they can unlock the undoubted pace from the car.
Equally, Evans and Jaguar TCS Racing had a miserable weekend. Evans had a reliability problem on Friday and Sam Bird barely got any laps in and broke down early in the race but there were some signs of promise for Evans. He was fourth quickest in Free Practice 2, and Sebastien Buemi in the Jaguar-powered Envision made it into the Duels.
So, there is pace in the package, it’s just whether Jaguar can get on top of the reliability, and then unlock the speed. For both Evans and Mortara, Diriyah will be a big weekend for their championship hopes.
Answer: The Gen3 cars can race
There was no doubt that the Gen3 cars were going to look fast on track. Lighter, way more power, and harder tyres meant that it was guaranteed drivers would be fighting the cars more, and it was a lot of fun to watch.
But with the more efficient braking of this car, there were concerns that with shorter braking zones overtaking would be more difficult. Whilst it seems that making a move is a little harder, it is still more than doable, as we saw throughout the field.
Porsche's Pascal Wehrlein came through from sixth to finish second, and the squabble between Di Grassi, Hughes, Andre Lotterer, Sebastien Buemi and Antonio Felix da Costa in the closing stages over the final berth on the podium was a lot of fun. I’m excited for plenty more action just like that over the remainder of the season.