Nico Prost scored his first Formula E pole in more than 18 months in a rain-soaked qualifying session ahead the first race of the London Formula E weekend.
A short but heavy shower after the first group stage qualifying session led to a topsy-turvy grid, gifting the early runners dry conditions while leaving championship contenders Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi languishing outside the top 10 in a situation reminiscent of last year’s title decider here.
Prost’s pole time of 1:27.192 may have been some three seconds off his previous effort in practice, yet it was enough to finish half a second clear of his rivals in the super pole shootout.
After scoring his first pole of the season last time out in Berlin, Jean-Eric Vergne’s qualifying took a drastically different course as he crashed out in Q1, losing the front end of his car and slamming into the barrier. Prost was the only driver to get in a lap before the resulting red flag, forcing Robin Frijns to abort his first effort; Frijns’ final time was 1.1s slower than Prost’s effort. Ma Qinghua spun off to leave him 13s adrift.
With dark clouds drawing closer, the four drivers in Q2 headed out early to get in a dry lap. Oliver Turvey was able to slot into second place behind Prost with Bruno Senna, the Brazilian lucky to keep his car out of the wall after a rallycross-style finish across the final chicane.
The session was red flagged for a second time when Stephane Sarrazin shunted his Venturi, clipping the inside of the chicane with his left front tyre. The pause brought rain, which fell in a torrent for a few minutes. Championship rivals di Grassi and Buemi could only sit and watch hopelessly as the track turned into a swimming pool.
The rain ceased as abruptly as it had begun and the sun re-emerged. Officials decided to keep the red flag out for a few additional minutes to allow the track to dry. Wet patches remained thanks to the overhanging trees, with a painted section of the track proving particularly treacherous.
The slippery nature of the track became clear when Simona de Silvestro emerged and then immediately spun, pirouetting into the wall. Although she was able to get going again quickly, a third red flag was brought out.
Both scheduled for Q3, di Grassi and Buemi opted for different strategies in dealing with the wet circuit. While Buemi headed out early, di Grassi bided his time in the hope that the track would dry. Buemi’s lap was 13s slower than that of Prost at the front, while di Grassi found a second to put himself ahead of his title rival on the grid for Saturday’s race. Loic Duval was the fastest driver in the session, albeit still 12s off Prost’s dry time.
The track remained wet for Q4 and was once again interrupted by a red flag when Mike Conway ran off at the escape road. In a bid to get his Venturi pointing in the right direction, the Briton tried a 360-degree spin, only to hit the wall in the process. Another pause.
When the action resumed, the track had dried enough for Daniel Abt to charge to P6, ahead of Sam Bird and Nick Heidfeld. Nelson Piquet was unable to get out on track due to a technical issue, resigning him to P17 on the grid ahead only of de Silvestro.
With the four heats completed, super pole comprised the four drivers from Q1 (Vergne could not run as he’d crashed his qualifying car) and Senna from Q2, the advantage lying with Prost as the last man who would go out.
Frijns was first out, laying down an early marker lap of 1:29.500 but this was easily beaten by Senna as the track continued to dry. Turvey could not beat the Brazilian’s effort, leaving only Prost to deny Mahindra Racing its first Formula E pole.
Despite nearly putting his Renault e.dams car into the wall at the first corner, Prost managed to find four-tenths of a second in the final sector to secure his first pole since the 2014 Putrajaya race and his third in Formula E.
Senna was left to settle for P2, resulting in Formula E’s first Senna-Prost front-row, while Turvey qualified third ahead of Frijns and Vergne. With di Grassi P11 and Buemi P14, the stage is set for a thrilling first leg of the final round of the season. Could the weather spring another surprise?