Mercedes-EQs Nyck de Vries completed a Formula E first in Diriyah with a sweep of Free Practice, Group Qualifying, Super Pole, his maiden race win and the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap for good measure. Some start, but the Dutchman says it wasn't as cool and calm as he made it appear.
Mercedes-EQ headed into Formula E's opening race as an FIA World Championship as one of the form teams in the series, after Stoffel Vandoorne led home teammate Nyck de Vries in the final race of Season 6 in Berlin.
The German marque looked to have a real handle on energy management and race pace by the end of their first full campaign as a manufacturer, and with a new powertrain ready to be unleashed at the season opener, Mercedes would certainly be one of the teams to watch as the field sought to take the fight to champions DS TECHEETAH and Antonio Felix da Costa.
All that said, given just how close and competitive Formula E inherently is and always has been, few would have expected Nyck de Vries' storming Round 1 clean sweep. It was a first in the series' six-season history after all, with Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) coming closest to the feat in the 2017 Monaco E-Prix.
The Dutchman topped every session, securing a maiden Julius Baer Pole Position and following all of that up with a lights-to-flag victory and the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap. The achievement didn't immediately sink in for the supremely talented 26-year-old, as he sat surprised at how calm and chilled he felt in-car after crossing the line.
“I’m still quite chilled I don’t know why! I should be over the moon,” said de Vries post-race. "It's my first Formula E win and I'm very pleased with everything. It was so satisfying to translate our pace into the race because it wasn't easy with so many Safety Car periods and the pace being unpredictable at the beginning - it's so difficult to get energy management right, too.
"There was a lot of communication going on and I'm so pleased to get my first win. Setting the fastest time in every session and then winning the E-Prix itself was just great and it's obviously a very nice feeling, but it was by no means easy.
"We were under and overconsuming our energy. I got told (Rene) Rast (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) was a percent up but the team kept me calm and we got there in the end. It sounds cliche, but it couldn't be more true - thanks to everyone at the team that has worked so hard for this."
That cool, measured reaction was perhaps an indicator of just how hooked up de Vries and Mercedes were out of the box in the opener, though Team Principal Ian James' comments after Round 1 added a grounding to that stunning initial high.
"We shouldn’t read anything into the gap to our opponents after the first race of the season," he said. "We are well aware of how competitive all the other teams are and how performance and circumstances can change from race to race. All in all, it was a good start to the new season, but we start all over again for the next round.”
“Nyck put in an excellent performance, starting from the first Free Practice session. We were able to see what a strong contender he is over the course of last season, and it’s great that he’s now managed to translate that into his first Formula E win. I think it’s fantastic that he’s been able to show what he’s capable of here. It was a great performance from Nyck."
Not everything fell for Mercedes in Diriyah. Vandoorne, winner of the German manufacturer's first race in Formula E, suffered in Group 1 in qualifying ahead of Round 1 with track evolution always a big thing at the Riyadh Street Circuit. The Belgian drove a clean, quick race through from 15th to eighth in the opener to make the best of the hand he was dealt.
Ahead of qualifying for Round 2, all Mercedes-powered cars - Mercedes-EQ and customer ROKiT Venturi Racing - were prevented from taking part in qualifying whilst an investigation into the cause of Edo Mortara's Free Practice 3 crash was completed. They were all subsequently cleared to race with the FIA satisfied, but would start from the back of the grid, with ninth for de Vries and 13th for Vandoorne the best the pair could do.
"I'm not finding it easy to refrain from starting my review of Diriyah with a cliche, because it really was a weekend full of ups and downs," added James. "It was always going to be difficult for us from P20 and P22 on the grid, but Nyck benefited from penalties and finished in the points.
"He showed good pace and was able to gain a couple of positions during the race. As for Stoffel, we took a call with strategy in view of his position on the grid and consciously accepted a penalty in order to be well placed for the next round of races in terms of power units. The resulting stop-and-go penalty made it all the more difficult for him to gain position today.
"In a long, hard-fought season, we've always known that there would be difficult days, from which we would have to learn. Hopefully, this will be the only day like that and we will be able to build once again on the performance we showed yesterday, starting with the next race."
De Vries leads the way in the Drivers' table heading to Rome on April 10, with Mercedes-EQ second in the Teams' Championship - four points shy of Jaguar Racing.
Published on 4th March 2021