Guenther's São Paulo comeback secures ABB Driver of Progress

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Guenther's São Paulo comeback secures ABB Driver of Progress

São Paulo saw the return of the peloton style of racing, and with it an opportunity to maximise slipstream and work through the field. One driver who benefited from this was Maserati MSG Racing's Maximilian Guenther, who despite having a grid drop and 10-second stop-and-go penalties, the German worked his way through the field from last to the points.

guenther abb driver of progress sao paulo

Maximillian Guenther is one of only four drivers to have scored points in every race this ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season after he somehow maintained his 100% record with a remarkable Sao Paulo E-Prix rise worthy of the ABB Driver of Progress Award.

The Maserati MSG Racing man's pace was never in question in Brazil, given he qualified third fastest, but a double penalty for a strategic gearbox and inverter change meant he would start at the back, with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty to serve as well.

There was a strategy though. Guenther admitted it was the only strategy: “Trying to save some energy and waiting for a Safety Car.”

The commitment to this was evident right from the start, when he did not attack the launch, and in the opening laps. Guenther was running considerably slower than was clearly possible, over a second a lap at times, and avoiding peak power usage. His top speed was up to 40km/h down on the cars pushing the hardest in the first five laps or so, and a good 20-30km/h lower than most. 

sao paulo top speeds

Guenther’s reward wasn’t massive, because the first Safety Car appeared a little too early to bank a huge energy surplus. But he was already more than 1% ahead of the frontrunners when the caution period arrived on lap seven, which was enough to go on the attack when the Safety Car disappeared and racing resumed on lap nine. 

He gained a mighty 13 places in seven laps to run inside the top 10 by mid-distance. That kind of progress is consistent with a big energy offset translating into less lift-and-coast and easy passes at the end of straights. But it wasn't quite so simple - Guenther said it needed "some quite tough racing".

sao paulo progression

He set the fastest lap of the race while passing Jehan Daruvala and Sergio Sette Camara on lap nine, and that was just the start. Some drivers crashed, some had technical issues, some simply couldn’t live with Guenther’s speed. 

The interesting thing is that Guenther’s modest energy advantage meant he could not be especially power-hungry. So his rise might look like it must conform to a familiar pattern, but it didn’t. 

His 3% or so per lap usage was only slightly higher than eventual race winner Sam Bird, for example, and similar to that of Oliver Rowland (another driver progressing through the field at a similar phase of the race). State of charge levels were a little higher in the first couple of push laps after the Safety Car then stabilised.

energy percentage sao paulo

Close interrogation of these specific metrics do not paint an obvious image of a driver evidently on the rise. He was, in simple terms, just really fast and really consistent, and picked off rivals as he saw opportunities. 
His average speed through this ascent was 127.7km/h. For context, the average speed of all drivers across the same seven laps was 2.4km/h slower. 

It might not sound like much but it is a chasm in ABB FIA Formula E – for reference, in the final stint, Guenther was around 1.2km/h a lap faster than the average of all drivers yet stayed in ninth the whole time. That is how small the margin can be between getting stuck and making progress.

Another factor is that in the final laps, many drivers were able to push hard to the finish. That’s what set up the grandstand finale at the front with Bird’s dramatic late pass for the win. 

So, it was vital Guenther’s charge began when it did, because in hindsight that was his only chance to take advantage of the strategy his race depended on – and he grabbed it with both hands.

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