Porsche doesn’t do things by half measure. When the company decides it is going to get into racing, that’s because it has decided to win that series, that championship, and that race. It will pull out all of the stops to make victories happen, no matter what. It may take a few years of development and spending and engagement in a series to find its feet, but it always does. Nowhere is that more true than in Formula E. Porsche joined the series in the 2019/20 season and had middling results at best, but it took the opportunity to develop its chassis tuning, drivetrain, inverter, battery use, and traction management, then prepared to fight at the front in the 2020/21 season this year.
After twenty races in the series, it seems Porsche is fully up to speed with making its 99X Electric open cockpit racer a fast machine. This weekend’s Puebla, Mexico E-Prix proved that Porsche has the pace to keep up with the best of the grid, and further development will only see this trend continue. While Porsche’s tenured driver Andre Lotterer didn’t quite get the finishes he wanted from the car, newcomer Pascal Wehrlein scored his maiden victory for the Porsche team and another runner-up finish in the weekend’s doubleheader schedule. Unfortunately for Wehrlein and Porsche, both of those finishes were stripped away following minor rules infractions.
Saturday – Race 8
Saturday’s E-Prix was an absolutely dominant affair from Porsche, as Pascal Wehrlein set fastest time in qualifying nabbing pole position, then streaked out to an important lead early on. The young German with F1 experience managed his pace incredibly well, making good time while keeping his energy use under control. Near the end of the race Porsche was informed that it was under investigation for a technical rules infraction, so the team told Wehrlein to push in an effort to form a 5-second gap back to Audi’s di Grassi in third position, in case they were penalized. He didn’t quite get there, but lengthened the gap to 3.6-seconds back to Lucas di Grassi, who finished third at the flag.
Within seconds of crossing the finish line, the entire Porsche team, including Werlein’s victory, were thrown out of the race with a harsh disqualification penalty. The Nissan e.Dams team was also given the same penalty, meaning four cars were chucked out because of this issue, including Oliver Rowland, who had finished just a few hundredths of a second behind Wehrlein in 2nd position. So what was the incredibly advantageous or dangerous thing Porsche (and Nissan) did to get them ejected from the race? They had failed to declare the identification numbers of their individual tires for the race on their technical passports. The team neglected to log some bar codes in the FIA’s web portal, allowing Michelin engineers to track the tire’s temperatures and pressures throughout the race. That’s it.
Porsche’s head of Formula E operations, Amiel Lindesay had this to say when speaking with Motorsport.com: “Unfortunately, a small administration’s glitch in our team, a mistake by us, cost us the disqualification of both our cars. It’s a technical infringement. There’s no bad doing involved. The rules are the rules but it’s rather harsh. It’s the same tires we used for quali as in the race. Really, the race function wasn’t pressed on the system. This whole technical passport side is probably a whole different matter that obviously we need to discuss in detail. We’re not the only ones who are fighting with the system. It could be simplified.”
Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche works driver (#99): “It’s hard to find the right words for what happened today. After qualifying on pole, we deserved the first win and we did it too on this track. Ultimately, a mistake was made in the tire registration, which wouldn’t have changed the performance. In my opinion, disqualification is a very tough penalty. But now we’re looking ahead and we’ll attack again tomorrow.”
That’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes, so Porsche got up on Sunday morning determined to run an even better race that day to make up for Saturday’s blunder.
Porsche has since appealed the race director’s decision, and has the next few days to compile its case against the disqualification.
Sunday – Race 9
Wehrlein once again started on the front row, this time kicking off his run from second position rather than pole. On lap 7 of the E-Prix, Wehrlein moved his #99 Porsche 99X Electric up into the lead. He took an important opportunity to grab his first Attack Mode, which dropped him from the lead as low as fourth on the run. He got his second Attack Mode a short while later and set about tracking down the top three. By the halfway point of the race he was back in second position where he had started. The Porsche driving monster was on the charge, sitting mere millimeters from the rear bumper of Edoardo Mortara’s winning Envision Virgin Racing car. He tried to attack for the lead, but was ultimately rebuffed and the tire wear of running in the turbulent air of the car ahead ultimately meant he had to settle for second.
Several hours after the close of the race, it was revealed that Pascal would again receive a penalty for an incredibly weird rule interpretation. Late in the race, perhaps three laps before the close of the E-Prix, Pascal Wehrlein activated his Fanboost power uplevel. The five drivers with the most fan votes are awarded five seconds of extra power which they can deploy at any point in the second half of the race. This is a blessing and a curse, as it can help make your car faster, but it also uses energy at a higher rate, so drivers have to be extra careful about when they use the boost power.
By using his Fanboost so late in the race, Wehrlein didn’t have enough energy left in his battery to provide the power burst prescribed in the rule book. Because he’d won the extra power in the Fanboost polls, it was mandatory that he use it during the race, but when Wehrlein pushed the button for his extra 5-seconds of power, his motor couldn’t actually push out the full 240kW of power prescribed as the minimum setting for Fanboost under the sporting regulations. So because his Fanboost didn’t provide him enough of a power advantage, the stewards of the race decided to award Wehrlein a five second time penalty following the race, dropping him from second at the flag to fourth, despite him already having appeared on the podium and accepted his trophy.
According to an FIA bulletin, “The stewards received a technical report about overpower. The stewards found that there was no overpower but an improper use of the fanboost. The technical data shows that the driver activated the fanboost but due to the low remaining energy in the car the minimum power of 240kW was not reached. The technical data shows that the maximum energy of 100kJ were not completely used. Due to this proof the stewards consider no overpower with the consequence of a penalty above.”
*sigh* Porsche has also appealed this decision, but this one seems far less likely to be overturned. It’s a weird rule, but it is a rule.
Lotterer again had a middling race. He qualified in tenth but came into contact with another competitor toward the end of the race and finished no higher than 17th.
Amiel Lindesay, Head of Operations Formula E: “Except for the disqualification and the time penalty, this was a very insightful weekend for us. We made great progress, although this is not mirrored in the final results. On Saturday we showed that we’re able to win races, and on Sunday we confirmed our strong performance. Pascal drove an incredibly efficient race. At the start, he lost some positions but regained them and put pressure on the leader over many laps. His tires had deteriorated from the chase on the rough tarmac, but he couldn’t get past and secured a commendable second place. Unfortunately, the time penalty cost him the podium result. André made up positions after the start but then plastic banners got stuck under the car, which completely changed the vehicle balance. We stand united as a team after Puebla and now we look forward to New York City.”
Pascal Wehrlein, Porsche works driver (#99): “We were really strong over the entire weekend. Compared to the last race we took a huge step forward. I’m very happy about that. My relationship with the team gets better from race to race. I understand how to get even faster with the Porsche 99X Electric, and the team understands how I’d like the car to be. We can be proud of the progress that we’ve made together. First and second in qualifying, first and second in the race – without the disqualification and the time penalty we’d be on top of the championship right now. I look forward to the races in New York City.”
This was a weekend that Porsche would sooner rather forget about, I’m sure.