ROME – Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne launched himself into the Formula E championship mix with the race win during Sunday’s second race of the Rome E-Prix after another frantic encounter at Circuito Cittadino dell’EUR.
As they did on Saturday, Sunday’s race got going behind the safety car with a few slimy patches left around the circuit under the trees after the morning’s wet practice and qualifying sessions.
It was a disastrous start for Nick Cassidy once the field was released, as the polesitter locked up the rear tires to spin in turn seven, which saw him fall to 11th position. That handed the lead handed on a platter to Norman Nato.
Three laps in and the Kiwi set about battling back, moving past both Sam Bird and Sebastien Buemi for ninth while race leader Nato had Pascal Wehrlein’s Porsche all over his rear diffuser.
The Frenchman couldn’t hold on long, with Wehrlein snapping out of the slipstream to take the lead on lap three and Vandoorne followed immediately with a muscular pass at the Marconi Hairpin.
After the opening throes, Wehrlein led from Vandoorne, Nato, Maximilian Guenther, Alexander Sims, Edo Mortara, Cassidy, Oliver Rowland, Nico Mueller and Bird.
Cassidy’s recovery reached the seventh spot on lap four, but Rowland gave the Envision Virgin Racing car a nudge into turn 14, forcing the Kiwi into the Tecpro barriers and all the way to the back of the pack. Cassidy reported his earlier lockup from the lead was the result of a software glitch.
As the first round of Attack Mode activations began to shake out, it looked like Vandoorne had been the big winner. Wehrlein was last of the front-runners to jump and it cost him the lead – the Mercedes man getting the better of the Porsche driver in the battle of the Stuttgart manufacturers.
Heading inside the half hour plus one lap, and contact between Buemi and Lucas di Grassi in mid-pack resulted in a mess of carbon fiber – the latter accusing the former of a “crazy move” that spun him on the back straight into the wall. A full course caution was the result while the Audi was cleared.
Five minutes later as the race went green once again and Sims caught Wehrlein napping to steal second spot with Vandoorne scampering five seconds clear of the pair – the Belgian using his advantage to use Attack Mode number two.
Through the second round of Attrack Mode of three for this race, and into the final 20 minutes plus a lap, Antonio Felix da Costa was also making progress – slicing beyond Mitch Evans and Buemi in quick succession for eighth, up from 15th on the grid at the start. Five minutes later, he jumped by Rowland for seventh in that tricky turn seven braking zone, though in any case, the Brit was slapped with a 10 second penalty for that earlier move on Cassidy.
The podium positions didn’t change, with Vandoorne leading Sims and Wehrlein. Nato held fourth, his teammate Mortara fifth and Guenther sixth. That was, until lap 17 when Nato slipped up the inside of Wehrlein for a provisional podium.
With a little more than five minutes plus one lap to run, a shunt for Rene Rast as the Audi driver scrapped on the cusp of the points and pushed a little too far meant another appearance this weekend for the Mini Electric Pacesetter Safety Car. Leader Vandoorne saw his ample advantage quashed with the pack now backed up – it had all looked to be in-hand for the Belgian.
The race became a one lap dash and the Mercedes led away, using FANBOOST as a defense. Behind Vandoorne it was all going off with Mortara producing the save of the season to hold Guenther off and keep it out of the wall.
Meanwhile, the pre-race championship leader Bird, and the man third in the running, Nyck de Vries, were wiped out in contact as they fought for points on the cusp of the top 10 with Rowland also involved.
Vandoorne held firm to take the checkered flag and redeem his race weekend after falling from pole after contact Saturday.
“Today was all about redemption for yesterday,” said Vandoorne. “The pace of the car has been great the whole weekend and today we managed to get a decent qualifying session despite the challenging track conditions. I want to congratulate my team. We had a very good strategy with Attack Mode and managed to build a gap when needed. It feels good to achieve this today with this team.”
Sims followed second just .6 seconds back with Nato taking a first Formula E podium on track. A post-race penalty for energy overuse saw him unceremoniously demoted though, with Wehrlein profiting to fill that final podium berth.
Mortara came home fifth, followed by Guenther, Evans, da Costa, Buemi, Tom Blomqvist and Mueller completed the top 10.