Driver ratings: Marrakesh

Spacesuit-Media-Shivraj-Gohil-FIA-Formula-E-Marrakesh-ePrix-November-2016-Driver group shot

What to make of Formula E’s first foray into Africa? In many ways, the weekend showed how grown up the sport has already become, with mature, measured drives throughout the field. The track didn’t flatter, full of the sort of long, long straights which suit a Formula E car as much as Donald Trump’s hair and skin tone would suit a holidaying penguin.

There were some dramas in the build up to the race, with a heavy crash from Sam Bird in practice and a ghastly error for Jean-Eric Vergne in the Super Pole session. Formula E rookie Felix Rosenqvist put in a scintillating performance to snatch pole, setting up the opportunity for a new race winner. The race itself, however, was a little short of sparkle. Yes, I know this is a field of prototype machinery, but we have a paddock full of very clever people and varied solutions and yet we finished in familiar fashion, with Sebastien Buemi on the top step of the podium.

Here are my driver ratings for Marrakesh.

Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing: 9/10

Rosenqvist turned in the stand-out performance of the weekend. The street demon proved his credentials with a balls-to-the-wall display in qualifying to take pole, albeit with a slice of luck after Techeetah’s mix-up that left Vergne high and dry. His race pace was solid, with the biggest setback being the strategy. Pushing too early at the start of his second stint cost him later on but energy management will come to the Swede with experience. Don’t forget that both of the drivers who finished ahead of him have two entire seasons under their belts, as well as lots more energy management experience in the form of their moonlighting in the WEC series. If the brains at Mahindra can keep their heads and push on with the sort of simulation and modelling they’ve managed in these first two races, this rookie could be heading for the championship battle come the summer.

Sam Bird, DS Virgin Racing: 8/10

The Brit demonstrated that sort of plucky spirit which once built an empire and ruled the waves. You know. Before everyone packed suitaces and ran away from Europe. Despite suffering a big prang in practice, Bird qualified well for the second race in a row, something which has not always been the case for him in his Formula E career. After Buemi’s penalty for a technical infringement, a third place grid spot become a front row position. In the opening stint, Bird was unable to keep Vergne in check, perhaps unsurprising given that JEV has a Renault powertrain behind him. Yet, the wiley Bird managed to save enough energy to get to Lap 17, the magic number for a charge in the second stint. With more energy in his pocket, Bird blasted past Rosenqvist late on and even got close to Buemi on the final lap, making for a very good day at the office and probably as good a result as good be hoped for given the strength of the Renault’s at a track such as this.

Sebastien Buemi, Renault e.dams: 8/10

Another impressive display from Buemi after a lukewarm start. His qualifying pace left much to be desired, with the gap to Vergne standing at over three-tenths, yet his race pace was as imperious as ever. Buemi pulled off excellent passes in the early part of the race before the decisive moves on Bird just before the pit window and Rosenqvist in the closing stages. Classy as ever, with two points deducted for his falling well short of the sort of pace in qualifying that we know both he and his car are capable of. Both Bird and Rosenqvist praised Buemi’s performance afterwards, saying that he is currently operating at another level to the rest of the paddock. We know he is beatable, and we saw Bird hold Buemi off in the closing stages of the Buenos Aires race last season in a car far less up to the task. Too much to ask at this track, perhaps.

Oliver Turvey, NextEV NIO: 6/10

Turvey was only two-tenths shy of teammate Nelson Piquet in qualifying, yet that ended up being the difference between P3 and P8 on the grid. Turvey struggled to make much of a charge in the race, but kept his head and brought the car home in P7, with a last-lap pass on Vergne securing two additional points for NextEV. The McLaren factory driver and qualified engineer drove a thinking man’s drive and did as much as he could with the tools at his disposal. 

Nelson Piquet, NextEV NIO: 6/10

Piquet once again proved the one-lap strength of the new NextEV package by reaching Super Pole for the second time in two races, putting his car fourth on the grid (which became third after Buemi’s penalty). However, Marrakesh also clearly demonstrated the weakness of the NextEV package in race trim as he struggled to keep the likes of Vergne and Buemi behind him. An issue getting his second car going cost Piquet almost a minute in the pits, ending his hopes of points. The Brazilian eventually crossed the line P16 at the end of a tough day.

Jose Maria Lopez, DS Virgin Racing: 6/10

Pechito had a relatively quiet weekend, which was surprising given his prior experience at Marrakesh (he’s a three-time winner in WTCC). Lopez qualified down in P13, seven-tenths of a second off Bird. He was slow in the early part of the race, too; at one point, he was running as low as P15. By mirroring his team mate’s strategy, Lopez had more energy in hand for the second stint, allowing him to pass the ailing Stephane Sarrazin and pick up his maiden Formula E point in P10. Steady progress after crashing out in Hong Kong but a long way from where we expect a man of his talent and experience to be. Shown up comprehensively by his team mate twice in a row now; he won’t be pleased about that. Neither will the team: for all the resources of DS Performance, after two races they have scored little more than half the points of Mahindra Racing.

Maro Engel, Venturi: 6/10

Another solid outing for the rookie following his debut in Hong Kong. He outpaced the vastly experienced Sarrazin in both qualifying and the race and was looking good for a point or two before an issue getting his second car started brought his race to an early end. A tough break.

Nico Prost, Renault e.dams: 6/10

A tidy weekend from Prost but the man with the famous surname is still firmly in the shadow of his team mate. The Frenchman missed out on Super Pole, perhaps by virtue of being in the first group when the track was its dustiest, but he did end up starting alongside Buemi following the Swiss driver’s penalty. Prost couldn’t make the same kind of charge through the pack as his team mate, though, only passing two drivers (Daniel Abt and JEV) in the race. Not much to write home about, especially considering the crushing dominance Buemi displayed over Bird and Rosenqvist in the same car. Still, P4 at the flag represents another good haul of points and, after two races, Renault has more than double the points of the teams jointly in second (74 points to 36 each of ABT and Mahindra).

Lucas di Grassi, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport: 6/10

A Formula E podium without Lucas di Grassi is rarer than I’m A Celebrity featuring a celebrity you’ve actually heard of. But Marrakesh saw a top three devoid of the dashingly charismatic Brazilian, largely due to a poor qualifying performance. P12 on the grid meant that an admirable (and, frankly, inevitable) fight through the pack was only good enough to come home in P5. By anyone else’s standards, that would be a good run. By the standards of a man who came so close to winning the championship just a few months ago? Disappointing. 

Daniel Abt, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport: 6/10

The young German qualified well, lining up P6 after being shuffled out of the Super Pole group thanks to the late flurry of laps from the Q4 runners. From there though, he went backwards, with the only pass he made being on Vergne in the closing stages as the Techeetah racer ran short on energy. He ended up finishing in P6. Solid performance from a racer who has been a bit hit and miss in races thus far, but short on the speed we know he has. 

Jean-Eric Vergne, Techeetah: 6/10

Just as in Hong Kong, marking a performance by JEV is tough. His pace through the day was superb, perhaps the strongest in the field. Pole would more than likely have been his had it not been for the team’s timing faux pas which denied him the Super Pole shot. No matter how quick you may be, you need to be able to use that pace: you can’t when you’re sitting in the pit lane looking at a red light. Was that entirely the team’s fault or partly the driver’s? We’ll give the Frenchman the benefit of the doubt this time out, although that mistake added to a speeding infringement in the pit lane suddenly seems a lot more serious. The pit lane speeding could be a number of things but the most obvious is that the driver didn’t depress the speed limiter button. Sloppy, if so. To overcome all of these issues and finish in P8 is impressive but frustrating knowing that he has the pace and machinery to be challenging right at the very front and giving us the dancing show we all want to see. Bird, Buemi, JEV and Rosenqvist at the front at the start would have made for a spectacular first lap.

Stephane Sarrazin, Venturi: 5/10

Sarrazin and team mate Engel were neck-and-neck in qualifying, the latter prevailing by just 0.034s to take P14. Sarrazin struggled to keep up in the race, taking his time to get up to the fringe of the top 10, before a stop at the end of Lap 16 vaulted him into the fight for points. However, with those completing longer first stints having more energy in the second half, Sarrazin couldn’t keep them back, leaving him P12 at the flag.

Loic Duval, Faraday Future Dragon Racing: 5/10

It was another rough weekend for Dragon as issues left its drivers hamstrung. Duval qualified a lowly P19, 2.9s off the pole time, and then got tangled up in an incident at the start to lose half of his front wing. The Frenchman battled on, moving up to P13 at one stage, only for an issue on his car to cause him to stop on track. Dragon opted to bring him in and focus on getting the fastest lap, something the Audi LMP1 driver achieved to come home with a point and get on the board in season three.

Jerome d’Ambrosio, Faraday Future Dragon Racing: 5/10

Again, a tough weekend for d’Ambrosio. Being 1.6s off the pace in qualifying meant that even with the right strategy, he could only rise as high as P13 come the chequered flag. It’s not what we’ve come to expect from the team and from a two-time Formula E winner. The team is running the same hardware as Mahindra which makes the discrepency even more apparent. With the consistency of both drivers well demonstrated over the past two seasons, fingers must be pointing at the design or engineering personnel.

Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing: 5/10

An underwhelming weekend from Heidfeld. Eight-tenths of a second off his team mate in qualifying led to a P11 start; a relatively quiet display in the race ended up with the veteral Formula E racer ninth at the flag. Rosenqvist proved what was possible from Mahindra in Marrakesh; Heidfeld’s experience should have allowed him to match that. It was a big gap in performance and not what we’ve come to expect from the man who was on the podium last time out.

Adam Carroll, Panasonic Jaguar Racing: 5/10

A weekend where Jaguar needs to look for silver linings. Yes, the team wasn’t on the pace with the front-runners again. Yes, Evans had a late-race crash. But the team got all four cars to the line and mileage is the key thing at this stage; it’s still a case of learning. How much of the poor performance is down to the team and how much is down to the drivers is very hard to fathom from an outside perspective. Recall JEV’s first drive, where he bagged pole. Recall Scott Speed’s first drive, where he ended up on the podium. And, too, remember Jacques Villeneuve, who never made it to his third race. The thing is, Aguri managed to be relatively competitively last year in a car with a first gen powertrain but Jag seem to be turning in a dire performance to date in comparison. Formula E can be a cruelly demanding sport of both team and driver; zero points thus far for Jag is the hardest of lessons. Qualified P20, finished the race P14 but at least he finished in front of Ma.

Robin Frijns, MS Amlin Andretti: 5/10

After such an impressive display in Hong Kong, Andretti came back down to earth with a bump in Marrakesh. Frijns was just under a second off the pace in qualifying and never looked likely to pop into the top 10 in the race. P11 at the finish was a disappointing result for the young driver who can be so exciting to watch.

Antonio Felix da Costa, MS Amlin Andretti: 5/10

AFdC had similar struggles to Frijns, qualifying just behind him (they really are inseparable). Any hopes of points dashed due to a technical issue on his car. After completing a full reset, the Portuguese racer went for the fastest lap, only to fall half a second shy of Duval’s effort; the end result was a DNF. A weekend to forget for the entire Andretti team.

Mitch Evans, Panasonic Jaguar Racing: 4/10

Much the same as Carroll. Yes, he had a late crash but recovered to finish the race. But we haven’t seen much in terms to set hearts racing. The Kiwi finished a lap down and at the very back of the pack. Would either of the Jaguar drivers suddenly be banging it on pole if they were sat in the Mahindra, DSVR or Renault cars (ie is it driver or machinery)? Very hard to call at this point but, on balance, I’d have to say no. The big cat hasn’t so much roared into life as stretched slowly in front of the fire before working out whether to have another nap or not. A long way from getting the cream, at this rate.

Ma Qinghua, Techeetah: 4/10

JEV proved what the Techeetah is capable off and Ma has been quick. Yet, for some reason he failed to get a 200kW lap completed in qualifying (we don’t yet know why), and he ran last for a stage before running up to P15 at the chequered flag (largely because of others retiring) and finishing behind a Jaguar. A poor display from a driver we think has much more to give (apparently he was faster than JEV in the simulator sessions before Marrakesh).

That’s a wrap on Marrakesh. Do you agree or disagree with our ratings? Let us know in the comments section or get in touch via Twitter to have your say.

Luke Smith

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