Formula E Race at Home: De Silvestro climbs to P17 as Floersch debuts
On the virtual streets of Monaco, Formula E delivered another classic Race at Home race with a record-breaking 3 women racers on the Challenge Grid: Simona De Silvestro climbed to P17, as Sophia Floersch made her debut for Mercedes.
Formula E returned to the virtual streets of Monaco after its non-championship test race earlier this April, when the all-electric championship was among the first high-profile racing series to move to official eSport events amidst the global pandemic.
The Hong Kong and "Electric Docks" rounds followed, with now the most famous street circuit in the world making its point-paying appearance on the Race at Home Challenge in partnership with UNICEF.
The third championship round also marked the record-breaking presence of three women on the grid, as Brit Charlie Martin was again joined by Porsche works driver Simona De Silvestro. Additionally, German F3 racer Sophia Floersch made her Formula E debut behind the wheel of the virtual Mercedes EQ Formula E team challenger.
Floersch has been having a pretty busy off-track months, as the 19-year old from Munich fully embraced the simracing growth: she jumped from one platform to another and competed in a wide variety of online events and championships on iRacing, rFactor2, RaceRoom and Codemasters. Floersch also attracted the Formula E viewers attention for being one of the two drivers on the grid wearing a VR headset - a detail that can potentially extend the driver's lateral viewing in the virtual realm.
The Challenge Grid, starring some of the top simracers in the world and a restricted number of invited professional racing drivers, opened the event as per tradition. Championship leader Kevin Siggy immediately slotted into provisional pole, with all his title rivals Mueller, Peev and Brljak following him in the first qualifying group. Charlie Martin had a difficult session and was 1.7 seconds adrift.
The second group saw the single-lap efforts from De Silvestro and Floersch: the Porsche test driver was P22, one position ahead of Martin, while Sophia Floersch had a very good lap and finished 13th, the best-placed real-life drivers. Throughout the remaining of the qualifying, nobody could beat the frontrunners and Siggy secured his pole position.
As the lights went out, Siggy had a perfect getaway while behind him Mueller and Peev had some scratches at Sainte Dévote. Floersch surrendered some positions and dropped to P17, right ahead of De Silvestro, who had a good start from 22nd.
It was a great start for Charlie Martin though, who recovered from last to P16 in the opening corners. But her race came to an unlucky development when she was hit and spun around in the always chaotic mid-pack.
Between the notoriously insidious Monaco walls and with the cars' damages set to 80%, it was a difficult mission for Charlie Martin to avoid elimination due to the "Race Royale" format: after the second lap, the last-placed driver is eliminated each lap, up until the top-12. A format that brought the backmarkers' action under the spotlight and has created some spectacular battles in the previous races but that sometimes denied some unlucky drivers further chances to recover.
Martin did eventually managed to catch the group, but could not avoid elimination.
"Sometimes it's just not your weekend." - she commented after the race. "I had a mega start, I charged from 24th position up to 16th by the exit of turn three on lap 1, I though 'this is it', we're on fire!"
"Unfortunately somebody tipped me out from behind coming through the chicane, spun me 180° and that was it. I charged hard, caught the pack back up and I was just overtaking someone on lap two or three, and they called the elimination. Two or three seconds and I could have hanged in there maybe. That's racing."
Further ahead, Ben Hitz made a stunning pass on the inside at Rascasse for P9, while Floersch hit trouble and dropped to twentieth place. On lap 7, after the eliminations of Scott Sovik and Kevin Morville, Sophia Floersch found herself on the bubble. She tried some last minute moves on Ye Yifei after a very close battle, but the German was out; a nonetheless reasonable P20 at her debut in the gamers' grid.
Similar fate awaited Simona De Silvestro a few laps later, as the Swiss racer mingled in the midfield comfortably in the opening laps but could not go further than a P17 after a hard fight with Jaguar's Alex Lynn that included a contact at the second Swimming Pool chicane.
“I am happy to have been involved in my second virtual Formula E race." - said De Silvestro.
" Like last Saturday, I started from the eleventh row after a rather tough qualifying session. Turn two was chaotic and cost me some time. After that, I was able to climb a few places and ultimately came home in 17th place. My goal for future outings is to secure a better starting position in qualifying.”
The action continued at the back of the field, while the positions at the top-end of the classify remained unchanged throughout: Siggy led by over two seconds from Mueller, who enjoyed a five seconds margin over Peev. The order was mantained until the chequered flag, when Siggy completed a faultless race and dominated after a good start. Mueller was second and Peev edged Brljak after a last lap exciting duel that also gave the former the second place in the standings. BMW Andretti's Kevin Siggy now extends his championship lead claiming pole, victory and fastest lap.
With the "Drivers' Grid" race, Formula E Race At Home Challenge reached its main event, starring the official race drivers and teams.
Mahindra's Pascal Wehrlein was the first driver to go out on track in the first qualifying group and immediately set the pace, taking provisional pole. Stoffel Vandoorne was only second, ahead of Muller and Günther, surprisingly only fourth fastest after dominating all the previous rounds. In the following group, Rowland and Mortara stripped Günther of other positions, but no one could top Wehrlein, who claimed his first pole position.
As per tradition, it was chaos at Sainte Dévote after the start: Vandoorne tried to go side by side with Wehrlein but got sideways and was tagged by the incoming group, spinning and igniting a massive shunt down JFK Avenue.
Maximilian Günther came out as the big winner from this situation, advancing to third. Jani and Frijns also gained places and managed to move up to P4 and P5 respectively. The most unfortunate was Edoardo Mortara instead, whose 3rd spot on the starting grid did not translate into an equally promising race result: the ROKiT Venturi driver lost countless positions at the turn one mayhem and then was trapped in a prolonged contact with Jaguar's Mitch Evans.
It was Evans the first driver to fall under the Race Royale format, followed by Antonio Felix da Costa. After a lap-long battle, De Vries lost out to Abt and was out, but the German Audi driver completed his race one lap later.
Just like the Challenge Grid, most of the race action occurred in the lower-midfield, while positions remained unchallenged in front.
Wehrlein controlled with a 2 and a half second margin on Vandoorne, with Günther behind, smartly not attempting any rushed moves and defending his points leadership.
Sam Bird was handed a drive through penalty and thus was eliminated, promoting Ma Qing Hua to seventh place after an impressive qualifying effort and a very solid race. The Chinese NIO driver battled hard with Lotterer and the two made contact at the Bus Stop chicane: the incident resulted in Lotterer getting a penalty and Nico Muller taking advantage from the clash.
Di Grassi, Buemi, Massa and Hartley were the last drivers to be eliminated, finishing just outside the top-12.
With not much action ahead, Wehrlein was the first driver to break Günther's winning streak - the Mahindra driver secured his first victory in the third round on the streets of Monaco after a very confident drive. Vandoorne and Günther completed the podium.
The new championship standings see Günther leading with 65 points, 21 ahead of Pascal Wehrlein and 25 clear of Robin Frijns, who crossed the finish line in fifth in Monaco.
The Formula E Race at Home Challenge will make its return next Saturday, on a circuit that will be announced shortly.