Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans produced a sublime performance to take the title fight in Season 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship to the final day after winning the inaugural Hana Bank Seoul E-Prix.
Formula E made its debut in Seoul on Saturday in what was the first time in nine years that South Korea has hosted a major motorsport event – the most recent being the 2013 Seoul Grand Prix – and also the first world championship sporting event held at the Jamsil Olympic Stadium since the Olympic Games in 1988.
Stoffel Vandoorne (Mercedes-EQ) went into the weekend the heavy favourite to secure the World Championship title with a 36-point lead over second-placed Evans in the drivers’ standings.
But victory for the Jaguar driver blew the title race wide open heading into the final E-Prix of the season.
Vandoorne, who finished fifth, will go into the second race of the double-header with a smaller 21-point lead over Evans, meaning a second win of the weekend for the Kiwi – something he achieved earlier in the season in Rome – could sensationally snatch the title away from the Mercedes driver.
And speaking after the race, Evans paid tribute to the work done by his team to manage the difficult race conditions in the South Korean capital and keep his title challenge alive.
“That was the plan [to keep the Championship race alive],” he said. “It has been a lot of work since London to make sure we can make this result possible. This morning was tricky, we didn’t quite have the pace, but then the rain came at the right time – I qualified at the front – and had a good start.
“The race was really hard to manage, the conditions change all the time, so thanks to the team for guiding me through. This is what we needed, we don’t give up, so we go to tomorrow and keep fighting.
“Can I do the double? That’s the plan, I’ve done it before – let’s do it again.”
The Jaguar driver was followed by Oliver Rowland (Mahindra Racing) in second and Lucas di Grassi (ROKiT Venturi Racing) in third.
He dispatched Julius Baer Polesitter Rowland off the line as the Brit struggled to get away cleanly over greasy road markings - the circuit still soaked from an earlier downpour of rain. Evans then rounded di Grassi with a stealthy move into Turn 3, again on the opening lap.
A hefty multi-car shunt at the penultimate corner on the first tour caused a 45-minute Red Flag stoppage. Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams), Oliver Askew (Avalanche Andretti), Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche), Dan Ticktum, Oliver Turvey (both NIO 333), Nick Cassidy (Envision Racing), Norman Nato (Jaguar TCS Racing) and Nyck de Vries (Mercedes-EQ) were all involved – caught out by standing water. It was a nasty-looking incident, with de Vries’ Silver Arrow 02 undercutting Buemi’s Nissan. Thankfully, all drivers involved were uninjured.
From there, after the restart, it was relatively serene for Evans, who managed a comfortable three-second gap for much of the race to Rowland; the Brit happy to seal his first podium of the season and his first with Mahindra. Di Grassi’s 39th podium brought about his 1,000th point in Formula E – the first driver to do so – in his 99th race.
Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) steered to the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap with a tidy drive to fourth and Vandoorne limited Evans’ points progress by coming home a handy fifth. Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH) rounded out the top six while Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche), Robin Frijns (Envision Racing), Antonio Felix da Costa (DS TECHEETAH) and Cassidy rounded out the points-paying positions.
Di Grassi lost out to Rowland in the stadium and was immediately under pressure from Dennis who made a move stick for third.
On Lap 5, Mortara was the recipient of contact from Vergne into the final corner, causing the Venturi to half spin – though the Swiss looked to have moved in the braking zone, possibly trying to avoid puddles or bumps. That saw Vergne take fifth and Vandoorne follow through to take sixth. Mortara, then seventh, was slapped with a five-second time penalty.
Dennis and di Grassi were first to jump for ATTACK MODE on Lap 4 and 5, respectively, with the circuit looking half a second quicker per lap as the standing water shifted and burned off.
Vandoorne made more ground with a regulation pass on Vergne for fifth spot – another couple of points in his pocket, and further damage to his standings lead limited with Evans still leading.
On Lap 20, Mortara’s championship hopes came to an end via a right-rear puncture, and retirement was the result. Doubly costly for Venturi in their Teams’ title battle with Mercedes-EQ.
Evans looked serene out front with the hard work now done. Three seconds was his margin over second-placed Rowland inside the last five minutes plus one lap. A brief blip with a lock-up into Turn 22 was just about the only wobble the New Zealander had all race.
Alexander Sims (Mahindra Racing) had clambered up to 10th position but once again found the wall after hitting the barriers in qualifying – the Brit losing the back end of the car in the stadium.
A Full Course Yellow then a spell under the Safety Car was required for the Mahindra’s recovery, and that saw the race end.
::Watch the final race of Season 8 tomorrow live from 07:30 BST on Channel 4.