Antonio Félix da Costa won the first-ever ABB FIA Formula E World Championship race in Cape Town to claim his first win for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team thanks to an audacious overtaking maneuver executed not once but twice to take the lead.
The Season 6 champion returned to form in the previous race in Hyderabad with a third place finish. But on a new track that saw Nissan’s Sacha Fenestraz claim Julius Baer Pole Position with the fastest lap in Formula E history at an average speed of 154.987kmh, Da Costa’s devastating drive delivered a well-earned victory.
The Porsche driver started in 11th but worked his way through the top 10 and into the top three by lap 20. With the pack squeezed by a full course yellow on lap 21, the top four were split by just 1.5s. Envision Racing’s Nick Cassidy had outdone Sacha Fenestraz and Maximilian Günther (Maserati MSG Racing) through the first round of ATTACK MODE activations, going longer before opting for his initial 50kW boost and easing into the lead.
Da Costa’s move for P1 was one of the best motorsport fans will ever see. On lap 24 his outrageous pass to steal the lead from Cassidy at the trickiest part of the track – a tough Turn 7, 8 and 9 combination that had been the site of three crashes earlier in the weekend — the Season 6 champion went around the outside of Turn 7 and held his position inside at Turn 8.
The Portuguese driver pulled enough of a gap to take his second mandatory ATTACK MODE and retake the lead but he missed the activation loop – handing the lead to Hyderabad winner Vergne a lap later. The Frenchman had never had back-to-back wins to this point.
The former teammates then fought to the flag – Vergne having taken just one of his 11 victories to-date by more than 2s – and fresh off a vintage defensive drive to win in Hyderabad. The gap was 0.5s with the full 30 laps down and just two added for the time lost to cautions.
On lap 21, Da Costa then tried the same stunning overtaking maneuver once again, this time on Vergne – one of the toughest competitors on the track. As before, there was no room to breathe but Da Costa once again went around the outside of Turn 7 into 8 and 9 and on to a memorable race win under severe pressure from JEV.
Meanwhile, Fenestraz had made it by Cassidy to take a potential podium but heartbreakingly, the Nissan driver hit the wall on the final lap to crash out of the race. So near, yet so far for the rookie after another impressive race weekend. Cassidy gratefully accepted the gift for silverware.
René Rast (NEOM McLaren Formula E Team) steered to fourth after a six-place gain, while Sébastien Buemi (Envision Racing) took the flag in fifth. Dan Ticktum ensured NIO 333 Racing would score strongly again with a sixth-placed finish — two top sixes in succession for the Anglo-Chinese outfit which has started GEN3 well.
Reigning champion Stoffel Vandoorne settled for seventh while his teammate steered to the podium. Norman Nato (Nissan), Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team) and Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren Formula E Team) rounded out the top 10 and the points.
Standings leader Pascal Wehrlein in the sister Porsche ran clean into the back of Buemi’s Envision Racing car on lap one resulting in retirement in the fifth race of the 16-race ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season.
The poor luck for the Jaguar TCS Racing team didn’t let up. Sam Bird’s damaged car wasn’t fit to make the start after his qualifying shunt, then Mitch Evans was slapped with a drive-through penalty for an overpower violation, dropping him out of a strong fourth spot at the time, early in the race.
Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis had worked his way up to ninth, looking to capitalize on standings leader Wehrlein’s retirement, until receiving a drive-through penalty for under-pressured tires.
Despite that retirement, Wehrlein still leads the Drivers’ World Championship with 80 points to Jake Dennis’ 62. Vergne jumps to 50 points in third with da Costa now into fourth on 46. Porsche head Envision Racing 126 points to 84 in the Teams’ running.
“For the first time I don’t have a lot to say!” Da Costa quipped after the race. “There was a lot of weight on my shoulders. Thanks for the ones who have stuck with me and helped me get here. It has been a journey, it feels nice.
“I knew it was going to be a strategic one, I’ve done this race before where you have to give that lead away and really plan a late move in the race because the energy was playing a big part, and so following was a bit of an advantage. So I wanted to be behind him (JEV) for a few laps to build that energy advantage and use it, but I know leaving it late is always a risk and JEV is a very hard guy to overtake. I thought I was gone for a moment there in (Turn 9)! But it’s good to race him on a day like this.
“I was (prepared to give it all), there was a moment there in the race when I thought if I missed the ATTACK mode it was gone and I would have to finish second, but when I dropped behind him I could see the energy coming back and I said lets go for it! It’s the only way I like to do it. What a journey.”
Second-place DS Penske driver Vergne exited his car pleased with the day even if his finish came up short.
“I’m very happy for him (Da Costa),” Vergne said. “He did a fantastic race. Very good move as well! I am very happy with my race; second is good points — good for the championship. Well done to him, he used that to his advantage! But I am frustrated of course.
“It was close, but there are some reasons today I am willing to take — and some not. I think in the view of the championship I am happy to take the second place points rather than a crash. I am a bit in-between, but at the end of the championship I am sure I am going to be happy with that race.”
Round 6 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship is the 2023 Julius Baer São Paulo E-Prix on Saturday, March 25 — the first time Formula E will race in Brazil.