Formula E is a ridiculously competitive racing series. This year more than ever, it’s come down to the tiniest of margins and the most gigantic swings in the championship that saw the Berlin double-header season finale commence with 18 drivers in contention for the championship.
At the end of any season, however, there can only be one winner. Two, maybe, if the teams and drivers’ champions are from separate garages, as has happened three out of seven times in Formula E’s short history. Still, the way things played out in the Berlin races was strange by anyone’s standards.
In motorsport, especially FIA single-seaters, it shouldn’t be surprising that Mercedes-Benz won both championships. Except that at almost every point in the weekend, up until the final laps, it looked like it wasn’t going to.
Nyck de Vries arrived in Berlin as the points leader but by an extremely slim margin. Sam Bird, meanwhile, had been the points leader going into London and Edoardo Mortara in New York.
There were plenty of reasons for that, from funky double-header races to qualifying format issues and the usual unpredictable weather. Formula E’s results aren’t as random as they might look, however, if you follow the points scored across the season.
In Berlin, of the 18 drivers in contention at the start of Saturday, 14 were still in the running by the start of Sunday. A near-total failure by the frontrunners to score points had promoted Jake Dennis into a close third in the title, and De Vries still held onto the lead by three points.
What actually happened was an extraordinary collision on the grid, Evans’ car going into default mode (electric cars can’t stall but that’s essentially the same) and, unable to move, getting plowed by second-place-in-the-title Edoardo Mortara. Both were out before they even crossed the starting line.
A red flag period after Evans and Mortara’s collision was initially thought to be ending but an additional need to move ambulance vehicles around meant cars lined up at the pit exit for minutes. No matter what the propulsion, racing cars really aren’t meant to idle unattended, as Dennis confirmed after the race that he felt something was wrong—a strange noise coming from the MGU.
At the restart, something went wrong in the powertrain and he was unable to brake properly—regeneration accounts for about 80 percent of the force of braking in Formula E, so a functional powertrain is pretty essential even to stop. Dennis hit the wall and, suddenly, De Vries didn’t have so many title rivals left.