When Formula E entered its Gen2 era in 2018 – its maiden race of its present chapter seeming like only yesterday – Antonio Felix da Costa was the driver to beat. The then BMWi Andretti Motorsport racer flew from pole to victory and while this start suggested that a new reign would begin, this was far from the reality.
440 days separated da Costa’s win at the Ad Diriyah E-Prix and Formula E’s most recent race in Marrakesh and that spell was far from plain sailing. Any credible title-threatening consistency was arguably absent; as was reliable speed from the German-American outfit behind him but moving to DS Techeetah – the reigning champions – has brought a new lease on life.
Da Costa showcased himself as a potential championship contender when the season arrived, and while victory was ultimately out of reach in Santiago and Mexico City, rectifying any mistakes for Marrakesh would be vital to maximise his impending haul of points.
Lining up in pole position, da Costa piled three into his bag at the first available opportunity and with a calculated, strategic and measured 45-minute + 1 lap scrap in the Agdal district of the Red City, the 28-year-old was bound to add more to his present tally. Lining up at the front of the grid, da Costa’s nearest challenger for the 2020 Marrakesh ePrix was Maximilian Gunther as the young German racer lined up on the front row of the grid in the seat that the pole sitter vacated at the close of Season 5.
Obtaining the optimum getaway into Turn 1, da Costa was untouchable when the race flashed into life and by quickly opening a 0.8s advantage but most importantly managing that gap, total control had fallen into the lap of the leader.
As the field squabbled behind, swapping positions at almost every opportunity (and cleanly, contrary to recent ePrix), da Costa held Gunther behind at an arm’s length, carefully managing his energy not to over-consume or under-consume but to quite simply deliver what could be deemed as perfection.
When Gunther passed for the lead, sweeping around the outside of Turn 1 with 23-minutes + 1 lap left of the race, there was a continual air of confidence behind da Costa – a driver who knew that, despite losing the lead, opportunities lay ahead, directly contrasting the mind-set of the runner-up of January’s race in Santiago.
Navigating the outside of Turn 3, da Costa armed and activated his Attack Mode and with this four-minute, 35kW power advantage, swiftly made easy work of Gunther, sweeping past, back into first only minutes later.
This naturally prompted retaliation from BMW and Gunther, in turn, armed his Attack Mode – also his final – once more pursuing the leader, clutching at a potential victory. It is through this that DS Techeetah may have produced a strategic masterclass, with Jean-Eric Vergne behind still holding one activation of the power boost device.
Having fought from 11th to third, the reigning Formula E champion was in fine form in Marrakesh, despite missing shakedown and FP1 due to ongoing illness – something that continued to plague the Frenchman on race day.
Emulating the Turn 3 routine of his team-mate and rival ahead, Vergne activated Attack Mode with 12-minutes + 1 lap of the race remaining and soon closed the gap to second, passing with only seven minutes now left on the clock.
A 1-2 result for DS Techeeta seemed certain but critical energy levels for Vergne cast this into doubt. With levels marginal, balancing on a fine line, Gunther passed on the final lap of the race, preventing a 1-2 result for the Franco-Chinese team as da Costa took the chequered flag in first place.
With the black and gold podium truncated only by white and blue on the second step, the form of DS Techeetah in Marrakesh was astounding – unlike the anarchy of Santiago and a contrast to the overplay of Mexico City.
The race that manifested was close to total perfection. Was BMW played by DS Techeetah, provoked into Gunther’s final activation in an attempt to lock-out the top two steps of the podium? It is possible to imagine so, and nevertheless, despite Vergne’s extreme energy usage, the squad that left Marrakesh at the fore morphed into a team that will take some beating – finally organised and ready to win with an altered line-up, arguably now a ‘team’.
"The win was down to the team,” said da Costa post-race, recording his third victory in Formula E and first for DS Techeetah. “They gave me an amazing car and we are working together to improve. The race was actually much harder than it looked. I had to be very brave and clever when making any moves.
“At one point, I had to let Max get really close and push him into using extra energy, while with the second Attack Mode I was preventing Andre from getting within touching distance. In the end it worked out perfectly! We planned the race very well and all the work back in Paris paid off. Hats off to JEV today who, despite having a tough week, pulled through with a podium finish for the team."
Returning to the podium – his first since the Season 5 Swiss E-Prix in Bern – Vergne described the race as one of the most difficult of his Formula E career, experiencing sheer disbelief at his final position and still on the podium. "It was the hardest race of my entire career here at Formula E,” said the third-placed Frenchman. “Despite not being able to take part in practice [on Friday], I had been watching everyone from hospital. I was still not feeling well [on race day], but the team did an excellent job [on the car set-up].
“During the race I just put my head down and gave it my all. When my engineer told me midway through the race that I was in fourth, I could not believe it. I had a good fight with Max near the end… but I was sure he was going to overtake me eventually. I tried to defend second place as much as I could, however I did not have the energy left in the car. I am pleased to be back on the podium."
More after the results