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Formula E

Why angry Michael Andretti confronted Porsche chiefs in London

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Believe it or not, Michael Andretti doesn’t swear that much in public, much preferring the colloquial American expression ‘frickin’.

But last Saturday during the Formula E finale weekend at London ExCeL he went for a similar sounding and much more Anglo-Saxon version and it was caught on TV.

It came after Porsche factory driver Pascal Wehrlein forcefully defended fourth position from Porsche customer team Avalanche Andretti’s title-chaser Jake Dennis.

Incensed by what he saw as unnecessary harassment of his driver by a team that should have been collaborative (and a driver Dennis hadn’t exactly seen eye to eye with all season), Andretti removed his cans and made the short journey next door to the Porsche pit.

The first person he saw, unfortunately for his ‘victim’ , was super advisory board member Michael Steiner, one of the most senior VIPs in the whole arena.

The conversation was short, shall we say, and Andretti returned to his pit having made his point clearly.

A few hours later, with the healing properties of success and knowing the title was Dennis’s, Andretti and Steiner were embracing and laughing about it all.

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The calm, like Dennis’s whole demeanour last Saturday, had followed the storm.

There was a lot of wind and turbulence damage strewn around the place, and the war stories were coming out thick and fast. It was right up Michael Andretti’s street.

Post-race the sense of satisfaction was as pungent as the champagne soaked fabric of all the Avalanche Andretti team shirts. Yet equally the lingering jeopardy still hung just as heavy for the likes of team boss Roger Griffiths.

“We were surprised how aggressively he was racing Jake,” Griffiths said of Wehrlein.

“We worried that it not only compromised our championship, but also compromised [Wehrlein’s] own.

“Michael went over there and they had a few quiet words and were able to get things straightened out.”

From pit to cockpit, the vibe was the same. Tension close to intolerance.

Dennis’s radio calls about Wehrlein

“Where is Pascal?” Dennis blasted to his engineer Sean McGill.

Then the rallying call turned to an anguished yelp.

“What the f*** are we are doing here?”

“We had a meeting last night and it’s gone to sh**!”

“I’m a lone wolf”

“This is a f***ing joke, he just tried to drive me into the wall.”

Several palpitations were managed by the impromptu Andretti cardiology triage team that was trying to manage the nerves and anxiety. A few other big ones were still to come, through.

Griffiths and Andretti initially believed that the race would not restart again after Norman Nato and Sebastien Buemi tangled and jammed most of the field behind them. But it did.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking for sure, one red flag is bad enough but two red flags, really stretches you,” said Griffiths.

“We were very glad it was two rolling starts and not a standing start, that could have been even more stressful. Glad that [race director] Scot [Elkins] made the call the way he did.”

Prior to the race on Saturday Andretti and Porsche had met up to discuss strategies. Dennis began the weekend 24 points clear of nearest drivers’ championship rival Nick Cassidy of Jaguar’s customer team Envision. Porsche was 14 points behind leader Envision in the teams’ championship. Jaguar still had its own remote title hopes with its works team and lead driver Mitch Evans too.

With Dennis at the sharp end of the grid in second place but Envision pair Cassidy and Buemi either side of him, Dennis clearly needed some assistance from somewhere and his own team-mate Andre Lotterer was again off the pace (in 15th on the grid).

Best placed to help in the Porsche/Andretti quartet was Wehrlein (whose own drivers’ title hopes had just been finally extinguished) in seventh, while Wehrlein’s team-mate Antonio Felix da Costa was going to have to come through from 17th – which he did remarkably well before being contentiously dropped back from second with a heavy penalty.

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“We were trying to work with Porsche as well, to not only accomplish the drivers’ championship for Jake but also to support Porsche in the teams’ championship,” said Griffiths.

“It’s not the most straightforward thing to do because you’ve got 18 other drivers that are trying to undo everything you’re trying to do, but certainly Antonio really helped us.

“He was able to look after Jake to some extent and then he was battling with [McLaren driver Rene] Rast in front of us and also Evans at the end.”

The pre-race talks between Andretti and Porsche continued right up to the cusp of the start with key goals in mind: Dennis wanted the drivers’ title, Andretti wanted to take some points off Jaguar powered cars and Porsche wanted to get in to position to assist Dennis and collate the points it needed for its ultimately unsuccessful crack at Envision and Jaguar in the teams’ table.

“I think we were moderately successful there,” said Griffiths.

“Could anything more have been done? Maybe, but certainly where all of us qualified and spread ourselves up and down the grid made it harder.

“But they certainly came through very strong, through the midfield and got us into a position where, to some extent, they were protecting Jake from the rear. I’m really thankful for them doing that.”

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It worked out eventually but it was knife-edge stuff. In fact, it was more than that in the sense that the Sword of Damocles had been especially sharpened for all parties, and while it didn’t quite fall, it was teetering throughout every single lap of what will go down as one of Formula E’s most dramatic and compelling races.

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