How a long drought ending revived a Formula E ace's title challenge

Venturi racer Edoardo Mortara had to wait 54 races before his first Formula E pole position. But two in as many races in Berlin last weekend helped him to secure a victory and a second place that have thrust the Swiss right back into the title battle as Mercedes power proved the thing to have in Germany

How a long drought ending revived a Formula E ace's title challenge

A run of two consecutive retirements, both as a result of damage from contact, had taken Edoardo Mortara out of the Formula E championship lead. Upon arriving at the disused Tempelhof Airport, the apron of the expansive terminals now transformed into a racing circuit, Mortara was fifth overall and 32 points behind championship leader Stoffel Vandoorne – the Belgian having taken a swing of 35 points over the past two races.

In Rome, Mortara had been unceremoniously shuffled into the wall by Antonio Felix da Costa, which broke the suspension on his Venturi chariot, an ailment that became terminal after sliding into the Turn 3 exit barrier. Three weeks later in Monaco, Mortara’s rise through the field was terminated by team-mate Lucas di Grassi, who gifted the Swiss a puncture that also proved to be a race-ender.

Neither incident was explicitly Mortara’s fault, but it had highlighted the problems caused by indifferent qualifying performances. Failing to make the duels in either race, Mortara had given himself work to do in trying to carve through the pack. Although chasing swashbuckling wins is arguably the more stylish modus operanti, it comes with inherent risks – especially in the ‘contact sport’ of Formula E. Mortara was twice bitten, once shy.

For Mortara, the best way to end his hoodoo and get his championship challenge back on track was to qualify towards the front. Amid the new qualifying format, finding a top-four place amid the opening group stage presents a very tangible target, yielding an automatic pass into the knockout duels. Mortara needed to get among that progression zone in Berlin to simply avoid being caught out in the midfield herd.

Such was the pace of the Mercedes powertrain in Berlin, however, that Mortara could do a little bit better than just getting into the duels. Instead, he managed something he’d not been able to muster in 54 previous attempts in Formula E: pole position.

Mortara had never claimed a Formula E pole position before last weekend in Berlin

Mortara had never claimed a Formula E pole position before last weekend in Berlin

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

Grabbing third in his group, Mortara set himself up for a close bout with Andre Lotterer, who continued his ever-presence in the knockout part of qualifying. A scant 0.008 seconds separated the two, but Mortara prevailed to draw against da Costa in the semi-finals. That scrap was almost as close-run too; da Costa held a slight advantage in the opening sector, but Mortara overturned the Portuguese driver’s edge and crossed the line with less than a tenth in hand to book his place in the final against Alexander Sims.

Sims had been fortunate to reach the duels. Although feeling he could make it on pace after Mahindra had been hard at work trying to compensate for a difficult start to 2021-22, he and team-mate Oliver Rowland had difficulties in extracting everything from the M7Electro machinery. Then, when Sebastien Buemi faced his fastest brace of lap times being crossed off, Sims was back in the ring.

He performed something of a cup upset by dispatching Group A topper Pascal Wehrlein, moving on to face Jean-Eric Vergne in the semis. There, the two logged identical lap times, both crossing the line with a 1m06.050s. But as Sims had set his first, he was through – Vergne ruing “the stupidest rule I’ve seen in my life” as he was consigned to watching the final from the garage. Sims fought hard in the final, but pole was Mortara’s by 0.137s.

Crucially keeping the lead off the line, Mortara had free rein to dictate the pace in the early stages of race one. His plan was to build enough of a buffer to ensure that taking the first attack mode activation was as painless as possible, waiting it out until lap 20 before grabbing his 250kW power mode – a time when others were already picking up their second activations.

Vergne was setting up for a move on Mortara at Turn 6, but the attempt at a lunge was read perfectly; Mortara manoeuvred Vergne into going deep at the corner, the DS Techeetah driver locking up and losing time

He only lost one position to Lotterer, who at this point had been running in second place as the Porsches showed strong pace on Saturday, but Mortara soon recaptured the lead and continued to benefit from his extra dose of power. Lotterer was still in second but, as the race entered into its second half, the German veteran came under increased pressure from Vandoorne – who’d recovered after dropping to 12th at the start – and Vergne, who was seeking retribution after feeling he’d been wronged in qualifying.

Mortara saved his second lot of four minutes’ attack for lap 31, this time shedding places to both Lotterer and Vandoorne in the process. With Lotterer at the end of his attack mode, and Vandoorne sipping the final dregs of his own having taken it a lap later than the Porsche driver, the frontrunner was vulnerable. Vandoorne put a move on Lotterer at Turn 6, which Mortara also pounced on, before the Mercedes driver was then hunted down on the following lap – Mortara making his way back into the lead at the same corner.

Mortara crucially kept the lead at the start of race one and proceeded to gap the field behind him

Mortara crucially kept the lead at the start of race one and proceeded to gap the field behind him

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

This coincided with a late Vergne charge. He passed friend and former Techeetah team-mate Lotterer on the 33rd lap, seconds after Mortara had cleared Vandoorne. Vergne went by the Mercedes on the following lap, clearing the championship leader with a rare Fanboost-assisted pass. This set up a duel between Mortara and Vergne, which came to a head on the ante-penultimate lap.

Vergne was setting up for a move on Mortara at Turn 6, but the attempt at a lunge was read perfectly; Mortara manoeuvred Vergne into going deep at the corner, the DS Techeetah driver locking up and losing time. It gave Mortara enough of a buffer to simply coax his car to the end, bagging his second win of 2022.

“The race was very long and very stressful,” Mortara confessed. “I was constantly under attack and under pressure from the guys behind. I was leading the pack for most of the race and we know that in Formula E that this is far from ideal because you’re basically spending more energy, you cannot really put some energy aside in order to fight with the others. It meant we had to have a mistake-free race. And we executed perfectly the plan today.”

Remember that statistic about Mortara’s pole drought? His wait for a second was much shorter – as he closed out Sunday’s qualifying with another first-place start. You wait for one…

Buoyed by Saturday’s performance, Mortara was in imperious form on Sunday morning. He topped his group, cruised into the duels again, and brushed Nick Cassidy aside in the quarter-finals as the Kiwi made his first knockout appearance since Diriyah. Nyck de Vries was next on his list, and the Dutchman was beaten by nearly four tenths of a second as Mortara stamped his loyalty card and progressed to a final bout against Robin Frijns.

Frijns had struggled comprehensively in the first race, but a few set-up tweaks had given him the feeling behind the wheel that he’d been missing on Saturday. But even so, a first-turn lock-up meant that the Envision driver shipped three tenths to Mortara in the opening sector, never recovering as the final margin proved to be almost half a second by the end of the lap.

Mortara again nailed qualifying for race two to snare another pole

Mortara again nailed qualifying for race two to snare another pole

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

Mortara just needed a repeat of the first race, hoping to scamper off into the lead. What he didn’t expect was de Vries to come charging down the inside into the first corner – and de Vries admitted that he hadn’t planned it either. With the track reversed for race two, the opening corner was Saturday’s final hairpin, making it more straightforward for a first-turn pass compared to the 270-degree opener on the previous day’s layout.

As Mortara made sure to cover Frijns into the first corner, the door down the inside was left ever so slightly ajar. De Vries needed no further invitation, placing his Mercedes into the smallest of gaps and emerging from Turn 1 in the lead.

On Saturday, de Vries had been struggling with “brake splits”, where one side of the car’s brake temperatures were vastly different from the other. That meant that he was losing a couple of tenths per lap, stalling his progress and leaving him having to be content with 10th. An overnight brake change alleviated the issue and, with clear track ahead, de Vries could charge off into the sunset.

On lap 13, da Costa got by for second as Mortara continued to wait until his rivals’ activation was in the final stages. He blinked on lap 15, dropping to fifth, but soon made his way past Lotterer, Vandoorne and da Costa on consecutive laps

Mortara tried a repeat of his race one strategy in going longer into the race before picking up attack mode. This time, the drivers would get one, long eight-minute activation, requiring a different strategy to make use of. De Vries, having built a decent lead, picked his attack mode up on lap nine of 40. Thus, Mortara got back into the lead, but de Vries picked off the Venturi two laps later and once more set about restoring his advantage.

Da Costa, meanwhile, had moved up to third after undercutting di Grassi and Frijns – the latter of whom had missed the final attack mode loop on his first attempt – and went after Mortara with his extra 30kW of power in hand. On lap 13, da Costa got by for second as Mortara continued to wait until his rivals’ activation was in the final stages. He blinked on lap 15, dropping to fifth, but soon made his way past Lotterer, Vandoorne and da Costa on consecutive laps.

But even with about three minutes left on his attack mode clock, Mortara couldn’t address the deficit to de Vries in the manner he’d wanted. De Vries was at his championship-winning finest, carefully using his energy and keeping his battery and tyre temperatures in check. At half distance, his lead stood at 2.6s. At the end, it was 2.5s as de Vries kept Mortara from ever mounting a late-race challenge.

De Vries squeezed past Mortara at the first corner of race two to set up his race victory

De Vries squeezed past Mortara at the first corner of race two to set up his race victory

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“[The first corner move] caught me a little bit by surprise,” de Vries explained. “I had a good start, a little bit better than Robin. And obviously, wasn’t too far from Edo. That kind of opportunity came as a surprise, but I took it.

“Our pace was very strong today, but it definitely helped to kind of be in command and do our own race. Today, we didn’t really have to fight, we did a clean race, kept our tyres and energy under control.”

De Vries’ win headlined a Mercedes-powered stranglehold over the second race; Vandoorne and di Grassi battled for third, a fight that Vandoorne – retaining his incredible consistency – won in a 1-2-3-4. Indeed, Vandoorne stretched his championship lead over the Berlin double-header from six points to 12, helped by Vergne dropping out of second in the standings after a muted run to ninth in race two.

Now Mortara, after scoring a mammoth 50 points in the German capital, sits in second on 99, hopeful that his Berlin heroics could mark the start of Formula E’s Edo period.

Mortara's weekend haul puts him 12 points off the lead, having been 32 behind Vandoorne pre-event

Mortara's weekend haul puts him 12 points off the lead, having been 32 behind Vandoorne pre-event

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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