A matter of minutes
A frustrating weekend in Rome for Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler.
So close and yet so far – the weekend’s Rome E-Prix showed just how unforgiving motorsport can be, even to the best prepared.
12 April, 2021
The Audi driver was well and truly in command of the race and heading for his first victory of 2021 when the unthinkable happened
It’s a very fine line between success and pure frustration in motorsport and the weekend’s FIA Formula E Championship rounds in Rome demonstrated that for the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team only too clearly.
Once again the Audi e-tron FE07 cars were amongst the quickest in the field, with Lucas di Grassi setting the fastest time in the first free practice session before going onto wrapping up fourth place on the grid for Saturday’s race.
His speed in practice was evident from the start of the race, with the Brazilian taking the lead early on and stamping his authority all over the race.
Even with the revised Rome circuit layout and new longer, faster straight, the field remained largely bunched together and there were numerous attempts on di Grassi’s position by competitors, but with no success. The Audi driver was well and truly in command of the race and heading for his first victory of 2021 when the unthinkable happened – with just five minutes remaining in the race, the car lost power and coasted to a standstill.
“A mechanical problem so close to the end of the race is tough,” said di Grassi. “For the mechanics, for the engineers and for me. We had the speed to win the race today. I was leading the race for most of the time and had great overtakes,” said an understandably disappointed Lucas di Grassi at the end of the race.
The disappointing result perhaps overshadowed teammate René Rast’s superb drive from 20th on the grid to sixth position, making up for a poor qualifying performance when a small error and contact with a wall saw him start from well back in the field.
“René drove a clever race, his crew supported him perfectly with the right strategy,” said Team Principal Allan McNish. “We are happy about that, but the fact that we missed a victory so narrowly today hurts a lot. Lucas had a fantastic fight at the front with Jean-Eric Vergne and was leading the race with five minutes to go. Hearing the message over the radio that he had no drive was extremely hard for all of us.”
Expectations for the fourth round on the following day were high, given the speed of the cars and the circumstances surrounding Lucas’s retirement from the Saturday race, but fortune was not simply not smiling on Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler this weekend.
Fickle weather during qualifying played its part in upsetting preparations for the day, with rain during Rast’s qualifying run that cleared for subsequent qualifying groups resulting in as much as 10 seconds difference in times.
This meant that the German was once again relegated to the back of the grid for the start of the race, but a subsequent accident finished his chances once and for all, ending the race and the weekend with a DSNF (Did Not Finish).
The disappointing result perhaps overshadowed teammate René Rast’s superb drive from 20th on the grid to sixth position
Formula E now heads to Valencia in Spain for the next two races in a fortnight
Unfortunately, di Grassi’s Sunday went much the same way, a shunt from behind by Sébastien Buemi pushing him into the barrier in what was a high speed crash. Fortunately the Brazilian was unhurt physically, but it was a final blow for what had been an extremely taxing weekend mentally.
“Losing both cars due to accidents is extremely bitter,” said a very frustrated Team Principal Allan McNish.
“The situation that led to Lucas’s retirement was disappointing where the video looked like Sébastien caught Lucas at the rear and spun him into the wall. René made a small mistake that led to his retirement. The most important thing is that both remained unhurt, because both experienced quite hard impacts. It is annoying that the final race result again remained below our potential here. As in Diriyah, we had one of the fastest cars in the field.”
Even the Envision Virgin Racing which fields two Audi e-tron FE07 cars had a frustrating weekend, despite both drivers, Robin Frijns and Nick Cassidy finishing with points on the Saturday. On Sunday, the Kiwi rookie, Cassidy, managed to secure pole position for the race, but a spin not long into the race put paid to any thought of converting it into a podium result.
All that remains now is to consolidate and prepare for the next two races which will be held in two weeks in Valencia, Spain.
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