Di Grassi secured the honour at the Hankook London E-Prix season finale in quite astonishing fashion, even in the context of a season he spent mostly in ‘recovery mode’. He ran a large part of the race half a minute behind the pack because of someone else’s crash, saving energy and doggedly sticking with it in the hope of some chaos for drivers up ahead that could swing things back towards him.
His efforts were duly rewarded with the spanner in the works for those up the order, in the form of two Safety Car periods and two Red Flags. The Brazilian took full advantage. By the end of the race Di Grassi had gained 14 spots from his starting position and made it into the top 10 - scoring points for only the third time in 15 races. That surge through the pack was enough to see him home at the top of the ABB Driver of Progress standings – climbing 69 places across the entire season.
Di Grassi is undoubtedly one of the Formula E greats and his racecraft speaks for itself - he's gained 10 places or more in races across every season, except his immensely consistent title-challenging 2015/2016 campaign, in which he started every E-Prix in the top 10 and six of them from the first two rows.
The simple reason for di Grassi finding himself almost constantly needing to climb the order this season is that Mahindra’s form took a downturn after pretty much the first race. Di Grassi’s Julius Baer Pole Position - on his Mahindra Racing debut no less - and subequent third-placed finish in the opening round at the Hankook Mexico City E-Prix was, by some margin, the high point - and it was a top defensive drive to get there.
From the two-thirds point of the race in the season-opener, he was a percent or so shy on usable energy compared to those immediately around him and it took all the Brazilian's guile to see off the attentions of NEOM McLaren's Jake Hughes over the closing stages. Eventually, though, the rookie would be preoccupied with Lotterer looming in his mirrors, relieiving the pressure on di Grassi, ensuring he'd take home silverware.
After Mexico City, he spent much of the year outside the top 10 in qualifying and the race but he has shown time and again he’s a fighter and a thinker combined, and nothing demonstrated that better than the penultimate race of the season in London which proved to be the perfect encapsulation of his season and his racing nous.
Starting 20th in Round 15, di Grassi held station until just before mid-distance of the race. Out of context it looks extremely ordinary. But Di Grassi was also 30 seconds or so from the back of the main pack, having found himself an innocent victim of the end of a Robin Frijns' (ABT CUPRA) crash early on, which blocked Di Grassi’s path, requiring an awkward reverse-and-rejoin.
There was nothing to be gained from running around at full speed so far adrift of everyone else after the delay. Ideally, di Grassi, who had consumed a little more energy than he’d have ideally liked in the first laps, would fully prioritise managing his battery. He needed something to bunch the field up anyway. This could give him a decisive energy surplus.
He didn’t have quite a clear run at doing that, as a delayed Maserati MSG Racing of Edoardo Mortara gave him some company to fight with. But by the time a Safety Car was required on lap 16, di Grassi had given himself a nice margin – more than 2% relative to the race leaders and close to that against the cars that had started around him.
This was not especially useful insofar as di Grassi couldn’t just blast past people at the restart but it did mean he could activate ATTACK MODE again and catch up to the pack without getting into an energy deficit. Then it was a case of picking up places one by one, often just by being clean as others got into tangles.
Di Grassi was onto the fringes of the points by the next interruption, a Safety Car period turned into a full Red Flag, then into the top 10 at the restart. But within two laps of green flag racing there was another Red Flag as di Grassi found himself one of many drivers trapped caused by an unusual multi-car clash up ahead.
It left di Grassi ninth for another restart and the final laps of the race, and he was able to hold position before gaining three more places after the flags as penalties for other drivers were imposed.
Progress can be achieved in multiple ways over a single race, let alone a full campaign. Once the reality of Mahindra's season was realised early on, di Grassi was a consistently impressive climber.
Robin Frijns bowed out at ABT CUPRA in a rain-hit Round 16 with four passes to top the ABB Driver of Progress leaderboard for the season-ending E-Prix.
Progress was hard to come by all-round amid the trickiest conditions of the season. Drivers had to deal with not only the indoor and outdoor surface changes but torrential rain, which required two Red Flags and over an hour's delay to proceedings before Race Control deemed things could get underway proper.