until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

The startling error that could've blown the Formula E title

by Sam Smith
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Nick Cassidy believes his inexplicable mistake on the penultimate lap of the opening Portland Formula E race cost him a chance to put the championship out of reach of his and Jaguar’s rivals.

Cassidy would have extended his championship lead to 49 points with just three races left had he not spun for first to 19th with just one corner and one lap left.

“There were a few chains of events I guess,” said Cassidy of the incident in which he ran wide into the Turn 10/11 chicane then looped the car over the grass.

“But at the end of the day, I made a really big error that I’ll regret for a long time.

“I was offline and I was deep. Just a big, big error.”

There was some solace in the fact that he left the race with minimal damage to his hard-won points lead as main rival Pascal Wehrlein had a disappointing run to 10th, meaning Cassidy is still 24 clear.

“With three races left I’m in a better position than I was going into this race,” he told The Race.

“However, I believe winning that race would have locked in the title today.

“I’m not hiding away from the fact that today’s a huge loss, but I’m also fully aware I’ve got a great option ahead of me.”

Cassidy lurked around 13th place conserving energy until lap 11 of 27 then launched forward, before executing an audacious late final attack mode strategy to put himself ahead of Jaguar team-mate Evans and Porsche’s eventual winner Antonio Felix da Costa before his error.

He called his race up to that point “25 of the best laps I’ve done in Formula E” and was “heartbroken … because we’d nailed it and it really was the perfect race.

 “We managed to be super-efficient, the car was really good, I was really happy with the strategy, the communication, where I was placing the car.

“So, I’m going to look at that and take that to tomorrow.

“Today I was obviously kind of one corner and one lap from winning the race.

“At least tomorrow is one lap shorter so I only have to work on one corner!”

Anti-sheep philosophy

Cassidy also had a bizarre Eric Cantona-style philosophical outlook on the mistake.

Perhaps evoking former Manchester United’s legendary playmaker and striker Cantona’s remarks about seagulls following fishing trawlers, Cassidy gave a curious sheep-based rationale for how he’s been so successful in the hugely energy sensitive races of FE’s Gen3 period. He is by far the most successful driver in the current era having already executed seven race wins.

“Everyone is trying to do the same thing. I come from New Zealand and we have a lot of sheep,” he said.

“For me, these races are like if you see the sheep running one way, run the other.

“Because we’ve got so much data in this sport and we’ve got such smart people in pitlane that you do one of these races and it’s the same amount of laps or a very similar format for the next time, most people are going to do an ideal strategy.

“What I mean by that is just, together with my guys we’re working so hard to try and be one step ahead of that and work out what’s going to happen next, how can we position ourselves?”

Evans’s fury

Cassidy’s team-mate Evans crossed the line first but a five-second penalty dropped him to eighth in the results - which he and Jaguar (which would’ve effectively sealed its first FE title with a win) felt was a significant injustice.

Evans was adjudged to have caused an incident in which Jake Hughes suffered a right rear puncture.

He was told about the penalty at the halfway stage of the race and railed against the decision from the cockpit and then afterwards when The Race spoke to him.

Evans described the penalty as “massive, appalling” and “disgraceful, to be honest.”

When asked about the officiating of incidents in Formula E, Evans also questioned the suitability of some of the driver advisors selected to work with the stewards.

Formula E typically uses the likes of ex-F1 drivers turned sportscar veterans Paul Belmondo and Pedro Lamy at races, although it did use a driver with recent FE experience in Alexander Sims in Tokyo in March. On this occasion at Portland the role was held by sometime IndyCar racer Johnny Unser.

Unser, who last raced in a major series in IndyCar in 2000, was also driver coach and adviser to the Road to Indy structure in the last decade and has most recently acted as an official for IndyCar in race control.

“I don’t even know who the driver steward is here,” said Evans.

When told by The Race it was Unser, he replied: “I don’t even know who [Unser] is. It doesn’t sound like he’s had experience for a while.

“One of the most annoying things is you’ve got guys in situations where Norman [Nato] has been hit, got a puncture, no one’s got penalised.

“Then in Shanghai, Sam [Bird] gave Pascal [Wehrlein] a puncture and no penalty.

“So why me?

“I didn’t even do anything, the situation with me and Jake was a really unfortunate thing.

“He’s the one that changed lanes, not me, and they admitted that, the stewards, but they said I should have lifted off.

“Sorry, but I can’t read the guy’s mind. And I wasn't close enough alongside him but I don’t want to give him a puncture. But he’s the one that made the action to move and unfortunately it nipped his tyre just ever so slightly.

“But if I’m the one that misjudged it and made the move, fair enough, give me a penalty, but I literally, from my point of view, was just driving, just expecting a little bit of space and he just appeared really quickly and I’m the one that gets kicked in the teeth.”

When asked if Hughes getting the severe consequence of a race-wrecking puncture affected Evans’s penalty, Evans replied: “that’s what I asked them and they said I probably wouldn’t have got the penalty [if Hughes’ car wasn’t damaged].

“I said that’s bullshit because the action is exactly the same but you’re just basing it off the consequence of ‘yeah, well he’s disadvantaged’.

“I said, ‘well… It’s just a mess’.

“It’s the most frustrating thing to go into that [stewards’] room. I’m really disappointed and it makes you question a lot of things to be honest.”

Evans’s team principal James Barclay broadly agreed with his driver on the penalty and stewarding consistency, and also drew comparison with the Bird and Wehrlein incident at Shanghai for which Bird - who retired from the race - had a grid penalty for Portland.

Barclay said Formula E is a unique style of racing and that its strategic style “especially the early laps of the race, is about leaving room to cars around you.

“I’ve looked at that incident a lot now and the more I look at it, Hughes is taking attack mode, he’s got to blend in, he’s got to leave room for cars around him.

“It’s an unfortunate incident, but it’s an incident where you have to allow room, and Mitch has done everything he can at that point.”

Barclay also confirmed to The Race that Jaguar will consider the possibility of activating a right to review process.

This will be instead of a traditional appeal which is not available due to the fact that the decision was made within the framework of the race itself. 

“We can follow the right to review process but it’s not something you have to immediately do, so we have time on that one and we’ll just take a view on how quickly, if and how quickly we go back to that one now,” he said.

“Mitch doesn’t get involved in incidents, everyone knows that he’s one of the cleanest guys, he races with his head screwed on knowing that’s how you have to race in Formula E, so for me he deserved to win the race today and he’s lost the race win and it’s massively affected his and our championships.

“It’s one that we feel we’re on the hard side of the outcome for.

“For us at the end of the day you have to ultimately respect the decision but where we are is that penalty, for sure, didn’t fit the crime and there are circumstances that show it wasn’t an overly aggressive move, it was two cars tripping over each other which I don’t think is deserved of a loss of a race win.”

The view from Hughes

Hughes was unaware he had made contact with Evans at all before realising he had to pit for a right rear puncture.

Hughes was in a strong position after just taking his second attack mode when the contact occurred.

“Honestly, I didn’t have any perspective of it until after the chequered flag because I had no idea what had happened,” Hughes told The Race.

“So, when I turned into Turn 10 I just turned in and I felt the steering change, and then I instantly knew what was going on, but I felt nothing [contact wise].

“So, I didn’t have a clue until my engineer told me after the chequered flag what had happened, and I’ve seen the replay since and of course I think he hit me and gave me a puncture.”

Hughes could relate to Evans’s frustration, saying that he could “understand why he’s a little bit frustrated because he might say it’s a racing incident, it’s definitely not like a stupid thing or anything like that.

“And he’s probably suggesting they’re punishing the consequence rather than the action, but my race was ruined, so I can’t say that it is necessarily completely unwarranted.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks