until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Does this Formula E title contender fight 'dirty'?

by Sam Smith
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Pascal Wehrlein is used to getting more than his fair share of criticism in Formula E for some of his wheel-to-wheel racing over the years.

Like all drivers he’s had contact and incidents but he seems to be on the receiving end of more vented spleen from the other parties than most.

It happened again in the previous races at Shanghai when Jaguar pair Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy were very vocal about the experience of going wheel-to-wheel with Wehrlein. And it wasn’t complimentary.

There was a time when the Porsche driver gave as good as he got when it came to ‘afters’. Never more so than at the 2022 London E-Prix when he had to be separated from Sebastien Buemi by Andretti commercial manager (and The Race columnist) Jim Wright.

But now there is a reasonably new policy of zen-like calm from Wehrlein. He admits that incidents such as the Buemi altercation have formed a new maturity that encompasses putting his employer and his own state-of-mind first.

“I feel like I've grown up a lot the last few years, especially the last two years, and I'm in a very different position now,” Wehrlein tells The Race.

Pascal Wehrlein

“Arguing in that zone doesn't make sense for me and even making comments to the media doesn’t.

“I guess that's what you would like to hear? But it doesn't make sense to me.

“I'm employed by a big, big brand and the best team I could wish to race for. And I know that I have some responsibility.”

This stance comes amid a run of highly energy-sensitive races that are among the most pressured and fevered in all of racing. Formula E is often now a single-seater version of Talladega-style NASCAR drafting sagas where drivers almost have to have 360-degree vision and cat-like reflexes to avoid shunts.

Pascal Wehrlein Porsche Berlin Formula E 2024

Add to that mix the constant cryptic feedback on energy levels with engineers and the fact the front wings on these Gen3 cars are brittle at best, and you have a ready-made adrenalin overloading ready to explode at any time.

“It's happening to everyone that in this kind of racing there is just a big invitation for all this chaos and mess,” says Wehrlein.

“There are DNFs where you feel like it's not really in your control. If the car in front of you just suddenly stops. Or going four cars wide into a corner just makes the risk a lot higher to have damage on your car coming out of that corner, than if it would be one or two cars wide into a corner.

“But it is what it is. It's the same for everyone. I think everyone has been on the side of losing the front wing or a DNF because of that, so during the season it's equalising.”

Pascal Wehrlein Porsche

He’s probably right. But there is also no disputing that Wehrlein straddles a fine line between legitimate defensive moves and something bordering on or over marginal etiquette.

Ultimately though in the storm of peloton races etiquette kind of goes out of the window. With the race director and stewards simply unable to police the multiple moves in every corner, a lot is got away with.

The man in charge of the Porsche team, Florian Modlinger, believes Wehrlein still holds an ethical position in his defensive potency. Of course, he does. He’s hardly going to say otherwise.

“I expect from both our drivers that they put their elbows out and fight hard for their positions,” Modlinger tells The Race matter of factly.

Pascal Wehrlein

“I can remember at the end [of Shanghai] with the two Jaguar drivers there were words.

“But there I expect from a guy who is fighting for the championship and the title that he does everything to finish in front of them.

“Hard, but fair racing I expect from every professional race driver; to attack the guys and also defend the positions to get the most possible points, and if the team-mates try to play a maybe not so nice game with you.

“I don’t want to say dirty driving  but not nice driving. You need to put the elbows out and defend yourself here.”


Jake Dennis

A potential great irony in the title fight this year is that Wehrlein may need his previous (and possibly current) on-track nemesis Jake Dennis to do him a few favours.

Works Porsche driver Wehrlein and Andretti Porsche driver Dennis have had various run-ins since both were involved in the multi-driver 2023 title fight that ultimately went Dennis’s way.

But this year Wehrlein has the most realistic title shot of any Porsche runner as he sits second, 25 points behind leader Nick Cassidy with four races left, while Dennis is a further 29 points and three places back.

It’s easy to imagine Dennis laughing at the notion of helping Wehrlein, as he recalls from his point of view how he was shoved from various angles by a bellicose Wehrlein (whose own title bid was by then over) at London ExCeL in the crucial penultimate race in which he was crowned champion last July.

Should it come around again, but with an opposite twist of Wehrlein needing Dennis’s assistance, how will it play out?

“That would be an irony, and a flashback for sure,” Dennis tells The Race with a smile on his face.

“You know, stuff doesn’t go unforgotten so we’ll have to wait and see if I’m ever in that situation but right now I think we’re still a long way away from that.

“Nick is quite far out in the front. A lot could happen this weekend [at Portland], there were 600 overtakes round here last year, maybe looking at 1200 overtakes over the two days [this year], so a lot can go wrong, a lot can go right.

“Hopefully we can gain some points and see where we’re at when we come into London.”

Dennis has been around the Formula E block enough to know now that the diversity of track etiquette in Formula E is vast, and he makes several good points around the subject which shed a light on what approach he adopts amid his competitors.

“There are definitely drivers out there who push limits more and more,” says Dennis.

“There’s no hiding that Oliver [Rowland] was one of the drivers that pushed those boundaries. As much as he’s one of my best friends on the grid, we get along so well, he’s definitely on the limit and he’s the first person to say that.

“There’s also other drivers, I feel like me, such as Mitch [Evans], Antonio [Felix da Costa], even Nick, that all have a good understanding of racing room.

“It’s always a bit nicer racing these guys than the likes of some others but it’s racing, there’s 22 different personalities out there.

“We’re all going to have the same people saying what they do is not wrong. You’re never going to have 22 drivers all doing the same thing, otherwise it would be very boring.

“It’s good to have this versatility, but you just need to pick your battles and pick your racing rooms a little bit differently with different drivers.”

From Wehrlein’s viewpoint, all he will allude to over his long feud with Dennis is saying that “it’s the same driver, or the same drivers complaining” but adding that it's "not nice".

But could it really come down to Dennis serving up a Porsche-requested favour on a plate for Wehrlein, someone who it appears he has little time for on and off the racetrack?

Andretti team boss Roger Griffiths is very good at calming choppy waters. But even he might have his work cut out if it comes down to such a scenario and what might or might not be going through Dennis’s and Wehrlein’s heads should it arise in London.

“We've always talked about that [handing over a position to a works Porsche driver],” Griffiths tells The Race.

“We talked about that from day one, or even before we signed the contract, that there was a possibility that we would give up a position or something like that, too, to help them out.

“We've got to do what's best for Porsche Motorsport, and that's who we're both racing for. We’ve got to get the best result for them.

“If we can get a strong finish to the manufacturers’ championship [which Porsche leads by nine points over Jaguar] as well, then that'd be great.”

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