Formula E Race at Home: Charlie Martin recovers to P19, Flörsch out with sim issues
Updated: May 20
In the Formula E Race at Home Challenge fourth round in Hong Kong, Charlie Martin made up a few places to finish 19th, as Sophia Floersch could not take the start.
Formula E hosted its fourth round since the migration of most of the world's top racing series to online platforms: the Race At Home in partnership with UNICEF made its return to the Hong Kong street circuit, home of the inaugural points paying event four weeks ago - which followed a non-championship test race at Monaco.
The race event was preceded by a fascinating chat between Charlie Martin and Sophia Floersch, published on the series youtube channel the day before the Hong Kong race. The two racers talked about their careers, their common experiences in motorsport and their new challenges in the world of simracing. "In the first races I was thinking on the real track I'd beat this guy!" - joked Sophia, as she reflected on the difficulties of switching from real racing to sim racing.
Both Charlie Martin and Sophia Floersch were expected to take the start in the Challenge Grid, the competition dedicated to professional simracers and a selected number of guests and real-life drivers. Simona de Silvestro, Porsche Formula E test and development driver, also entered the two previous rounds, but was unable to start in Hong Kong due to her clashing commitments with the last round of the Virtual Porsche Mobil1 Supercup.
Floersch, who had been experiencing difficulties with her steering wheel and sim setup last week - she could not compete in the DTM and FIA Formula 2 races - took her frustration to twitter, as she kept struggling in making her steering wheel and computer work and ultimately sat out this week's Formula E Race at Home challenge race.
Martin's BMW teammate Kevin Siggy went out on track in the first qualifying group, as the drivers found a wet track surface for the first time. The championship leader went on provisional pole, but was soon topped by Porsche's Joshua Rogers, who was 0.051 seconds faster than the Slovenian ace. Mueller, Peev and Brljak, all in the same quali group, slotted in right behind the pair. The top of the standings remained unchanged throughout the session and thus shaped the first rows of the starting grid.
Charlie Martin had a difficult qualifying and was P21, over 4 seconds adrift in the rainy conditions.
The drivers then went on the starting grid on a fully dry track again, with Rogers - winner of the previous Hong Kong round - defending his lead into the first hairpin. It was another messy start behind him: Mueller slotted into second, as Siggy lost out to the German in the tight first corner and Peev in third. After many contacts, Remco Majoor found himself immediately out of the race, while Joel Eriksson flipped his Dragon car but rejoined. Two laps later, Zexuan Liu was the first driver to be eliminated due to the Race Royale format.
Eriksson survived just one more lap and Charlie Martin, who had gained one place after the first lap, passed Jacob Reid to advance to 19th.
The British BMW racer made it to lap 9, before finishing her race in P19.
Ahead, Rogers initially pulled away but Mueller annihilated the Porsche's driver three seconds gap and, on lap 9, the German started to put some consistent pressure on the race leader. Two laps later, they sparked a stunning side-by-side battle that lasted several corners, with Rogers defending hard but clean. This allowed Siggy to close in, as the Slovenian got within two seconds from the leading pair.
Lap after lap, Mueller studied Roger's lines at the hairpin and, with a little nudge, he made his way past the leader on the penultimate lap.
Mueller thus took his maiden victory in the Challenge Grid, followed by Rogers and Siggy. Peev and Brljak rounded out the top-5.
After 4 rounds, Siggy leads the standings with 76 points; Mueller, now in second place (58), passes Peev by four points, while Brljak is relegated to fourth (51) in a very tight classify.
The Drivers Grid saw again a wet qualify and a dry race. On the damp track, Wehrlein, Vandoorne and Gunther again met the expectations and led the field, in an amazingly close session: the top three were separated by 23 thousends of a second.
Rowland took fourth after the second quali group and, when no one seemed likely to bother the main contenders, Edoardo Mortara clocked an impressive 1:11.523 lap which was good enough to claim his first pole position on the virtual streets of Hong Kong.
As the lights went out, Mortara immediately defended the inside line and behind him Wehrlein was tagged and spun into the hairpin. In the midfield it was mayhem: James Calado emerged unscathed and moved up to second, followed by De Vries, Wehrlein and Vandoorne, while Gunther dropped to seventh after an unfortunate jump start that costed him a drive through.
Pascal Wehrlein and Stoffel Vandoorne regrouped and quickly jumped De Vries, trying to further climb up the order. The German Mahindra driver then stripped Calado of his second place on lap 4, followed by Vandoorne one lap later.
But their chase was then aided by Mortara's costly mistake: the Swiss-Italian driver crashed heavily into the wall of the turn 3 chicane, the reversing his ROKiT Venturi car back on track in fifth place.
Vergne, Hartley, Sims, Di Grassi and Bird were eliminated in the opening stages for the Race Royale format, as championship dominator Maximilian Gunther hit further troubles and dropped to P18 after an identical crash at the turn 3 chicane: the BMW finished his race in 18th place after a last corner fight with Felipe Massa to avoid elimination. The German, surprisingly out early in the race, did not score any points for the first time in the virtual season.
Ahead, Wehrlein opened a small safe gap on Vandoorne and completed the 15 laps of the Driver Grid race with a solid victory four seconds clear of Mercedes' Stoffel Vandoorne. James Calado drove a clean race in the Jaguar Racing car and took his maiden podium, but in the last third of the race, the attention-grabbing battles were between De Vries, Mortara and Da Costa for fourth place. The poleman defended hard despite a heavily understeering car from the real-life Formula E championship leader and brought home a fifth place.
With his race victory, Pascal Wehrlein takes the lead of the standings (70), 5 points ahead of Maximilian Gunther. Vandoorne sits in third at 58, as Robin Frijns is fourth with 46 points after finishing 7th in Hong Kong.
The Formula E Race at Home Challenge will be back for its fifth round next Saturday, hopefully with all three ladies back on the Challenge starting grid.