until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Another Porsche-FIA clash + what it means for the future

by Sam Smith
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The Race has uncovered a hidden incident during Formula E's Monaco E-Prix that potentially cost Porsche's title contender Pascal Wehrlein a podium.

The situation relates to a contentious call made by the FIA on a suspected yellow flag infringement.

Wehrlein was in fifth position on lap four of the race after taking attack mode early on lap two, having led the initial stages from pole position.

When Edoardo Mortara crashed his Mahindra heavily at the Swimming Pool an initial local double waved yellow flag was deployed. But concurrently a yellow flag was also shown at Turn 4 (Casino Square) which is believed to have been for debris from a melee involving Sergio Sette Camara, Antonio Felix da Costa and Sebastien Buemi at the Fairmont hairpin a lap earlier.

As Jean-Eric Vergne peeled off-line at Casino for the attack mode activation, Wehrlein took the normal line for the corner and gained the position but the FIA believed that he had done so after passing a yellow flag.

But footage seen by The Race shows that Wehrlein appears to complete the move just before reaching the yellow flashing panel on the exit of the corner.

Porsche was subsequently told by race director Scot Elkins that Wehrlein was to give the position up to Vergne, which he did into the Portier corner on lap seven, the final lap under the safety car - called for Mortara's crash.

Speaking to The Race post-race, Wehrlein raised the point, saying that he believed “100%” he had got ahead of Vergne before the yellow.

“From my point of view, and we are just revisiting with the stewards and Scot, it was wrong; there was a yellow flag after Turn 4 [Casino], but as we know the attack mode is before or just in Turn 4, so I passed him [Vergne] there, and then the safety car came out two corners later when we were in Turn 6,” said Wehrlein.

“Scot said I passed him in the safety car [period], which is not true, so I had to let him through again otherwise I would get the penalty. But it was the wrong thing, I’m 100% certain.

“So we ended up in the position to have both DS cars and both Jaguar cars in front of us, playing the game, opening up gaps for each other. Then you cannot pass when the car in front is in attack mode, the race gets pretty fast, flat-out.”

It is not clear if the FIA uses onboard cameras for such scenarios or other CCTV coverage of the track other than the broadcast feed, which at the time of the incident was focusing on Elkins in race control managing the Mortara accident.

The matter was not passed on to the stewards, as can sometimes be the case and which the teams can then have a right to review. This is known to have frustrated Porsche, which questioned the decision immediately after the race.

Having reached out for comment, The Race received the following response from Porsche's Formula E project manager Florian Modlinger: “When it happened, race control requested us to hand the position back, and so we did. However, we thought the overtake was completed before they arrived at the first yellow.

“The FIA can rewatch these situations with the onboards in real time, we cannot. Thus, we can only hope that things are being judged correctly.”

What is known is that Elkins was in contact with Porsche quickly, and additionally the Abt Cupra and ERT squads, whose drivers Dan Ticktum and Lucas di Grassi were also under suspicion for overtaking Sacha Fenestraz in a similar attack mode scenario to the Vergne and Wehrlein one. They too were asked to give up a position to Nissan driver Fenestraz.

The question of whether the FIA has sufficient resources on sporting matters during a race has been the subject of paddock debate since Formula E became a world championship in 2022.

Elkins, who is a highly respected race director in a role he has thrived in over the last seven years, is supported by an official deputy, Marek Hanaczewski, but often has to manage multiple incidents in short spaces of time during congested and incident packed E-Prixs.

The matter of how such incidents are dealt with is set to be discussed at meetings at the Berlin E-Prix this week.

Do Porsche-FIA battles affect Gen4 prospects?

The volatility between the FIA and Porsche in several flashpoints in recent years has been as spectacular as it has been regular.

The first incident of note came at the Puebla E-Prix in 2021 when Wehrlein lost his victory for a minor administrative error from the team on selecting its tyres.

Then came a sanction for his team-mate Antonio Felix da Costa at the first London E-Prix last July when one of his Hankook tyres was damaged after contact from another competitor and lost pressure. He subsequently lost his runner-up position and the matter was taken all the way to the International Court of Appeal, which upheld the disqualification last November.

This season there has been a contentious investigation into Wehrlein’s grid launch after he won the Mexico City E-Prix, with a suspicion that Porsche was using a form of launch control within its software. This was subsequently thrown out, although the parameters of a complex software rule were modified and clarified thereafter.

Then da Costa’s win in the first Misano E-Prix last month was wiped out after it was found that a non-compliant throttle spring damper had been used by Porsche, despite the stewards deeming it to have had no performance advantage and the supplier having not highlighted the fact when its catalogue of parts changed. That decision is being appealed and the dispute is ongoing.

Several long and animated discussions between Porsche and the FIA subsequently took place and the relationship between the two appeared to reach rock bottom as a consequence.

It triggered a controlled but angry comment from Porsche Formula E director Modlinger the day after the disqualification, in which he hinted he felt that Porsche was being unfairly targeted by the governing body.

“We have a bit of the impression and the feeling that not all teams are treated equally,” said Modlinger on the official TV feed.

“That’s our personal impression. For the FIA world championship this must be guaranteed, also for the future, that all teams are treated equally and with the same approach."

The flashpoint came just at the wrong time for Formula E as Porsche is understood to have been finalising its decision on whether to commit to the Gen4 rules set for the 2026-2030 period.

While it isn’t believed to have been a major factor in the process, and the likelihood is that Porsche had already made up its mind on Gen4 prior to the Misano and Monaco incidents, it has caused some concern among the promoter.

When asked by The Race in Monaco if it played on Formula E’s mind that such conflicts kept flaring up, its CEO Jeff Dodds said he thought the FIA “have the most difficult job in the world”.

“That’s the first thing, because of the attributes of the sport and they’re the regulators of the sport,” added Dodds. “To do that they have a pretty strict guideline and a pretty strict rulebook, and they have to try and use it.

“The minute it becomes qualitative, that's when it becomes really difficult. I think they’ve got an almost impossible job.

“I will also tell you, even as the promoter, if there is ever a decision made on track, if someone loses out due to a decision on track or a driver loses out to a decision on track or a team loses out, trust me I get 25 WhatsApps immediately after the race. No one believes the decisions are right, because at the moment it doesn’t feel great.

“I think the point on the Porsche piece about being singled out, which is kind of the language Florian used, obviously if that were true it would be really disappointing.

"I’m not sure I see it that way - I don’t see it that way - but I understand that Porsche will be really disappointed with a couple of the big decisions that have gone against them.

“We need to work through that together, and we’ll help where we can.”

The reality of the situation is that the FIA and Porsche relationship needs healing. That won’t be done with a second visit to the courts should Porsche's Misano appeal be pursued fully. Yet, to answer the subhead question in this article, no, the decision for Gen4 will not likely be affected by the controversy.

It is likely that Porsche will announce which way it is going by the end of May ahead of the official deadline a few weeks later. It is generally happy with the way in which Formula E is moving but it needs a big increase in TV viewership within its own territory as well as others it sells cars in.

Shanghai at the end of this month is a key race for Porsche, because in China it has a growing market and one that still has a huge amount of potential for growth particularly in its electric models.

Porsche delivered 43,832 vehicles to the Chinese market in the first half of 2023 alone, "representing an increase of 8% year-on-year", according to its own figures.

Formula E returning to China for the first time in five years later might just have been one of the factors to have swung it for Porsche if its imminent announcement is of the favourable kind.

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