• Puebla E-Prix: Untapped potential

It is in the nature of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship that drivers and teams can expect every race weekend to present a range of challenges. On the first visit of the all-electric racing series to the Autodromo Miguel E. Abed in Puebla, several new trials and tribulations were added to the already familiar ones, including the high-altitude air, the steep banking of the oval and an extended zone for Attack Mode. Ultimately, however, it was the unique qualifying format of the series and some unpredictable race incidents that stretched the team’s resilience and ingenuity to the limit this weekend.

Challenge I:
Successful fightback in the first race

stoffel vandoorne sitting in his mercedes-eq silver arrow 02

Before the first race on Saturday, the drivers and engineers had two free practice sessions to acclimatise themselves to the unfamiliar track with its distinct characteristics and peculiarities.

Nyck and Stoffel were assigned to the first qualifying group where they only managed to set lap times enough for P16 and P23 on the grid after getting held up in traffic on their respective hot laps. But with penalties then being imposed on other drivers, they were bumped up the starting order to P14 and P21.

"It was a challenging day from the start," said Team Principal Ian James. "The team had to get to grips with the track under tricky conditions, and these conditions changed in every session. Nyck and Stoffel both started the race from an extremely difficult position after a messy qualifying, in which setting a clean lap was near impossible."

However, the two drivers took the bull by the horns and tried to take their chances in the race. It was a fighting mentality that paid off. Stoffel gained 14 (!) positions over the course of the 28-lap race, finishing in seventh.

"P7 from P21 - I would say that's quite a good result considering what happened in qualifying," said Stoffel afterwards. "It's great to be scoring points from that sort of position. We had a good strategy, and we were fast when it mattered. We burned some energy when we had to as well, and in the end, it was just a case of surviving and bringing the car home."

Nyck had the Top Ten in his sights until just before the middle of the race when he was caught a glancing blow by an opponent and fell far back down the field. He then clawed his way back into contention and finished the race in P9.

"I think we showed great pace," said Nyck. "We stayed calm, and we bounced back after taking a big hit in a very promising position. In hindsight, of course, we can speculate about what might have been if that hadn't happened. I think a much higher classification would have been a realistic prospect, but unfortunately that's what happened and it's all part of racing."

Challenge II:
Efforts go unrewarded in Race 2

Stoffel Vandoorne racing at the puebla e-prix

The two strong charges through the field in the first race and the certainty that there was potential for even more gave the team cause for optimism ahead of the second race on Sunday. But after qualifying, the grid positions did not look much better than the day before.

Both drivers again had to compete in the first qualifying group when the track conditions were at their most difficult. These were made even worse in Mexico because it had rained a lot before the weekend and the groundwater was now starting to bubble up through the tarmac. This made the track conditions in Group 1 even more unpredictable and encouraged all the drivers to delay setting their fast laps until as late as possible in the session.

Stoffel Vandoorne checking the track before the race

Although the two Mercedes-EQ drivers then clocked the fastest and third-fastest times in Group 1, it only earned them 17th and 19th on the grid. Ian James: "We found ourselves in a similar position to yesterday, where we were slightly on the back foot with the way the qualifying format is designed, and the way in which the group of drivers in our qualifying group approached the session. However, with the experience from yesterday, we knew there was still potential to score some valuable points in the race."

However, things didn't work out that way. Both drivers were involved in collisions with opponents and, in Nyck's case, his race came to a premature end.

"You always struggle to qualify up front when you're in Group 1 for qualifying. It puts you at a disadvantage right from the start, and you get caught up in all the jostling for position in the midfield. But that's part of the format, and I really think we did a great job as a team. It's just bad luck that we were taken out from behind twice."

While Nyck was obliged to retire his car, Stoffel fought his way through to the finish in P13 with a damaged car - a damaged front wing slowed his pace for the rest of the race: "The field had just squeezed through Turn 1 when I had a contact with another driver and lost part of the car. My race was compromised practically after the very first lap as a result. The balance was quite a handful, and to be honest, even keeping it on the track was a struggle. We were able to fight our way forwards in yesterday's round but just couldn't do it today."

Outlook:
Fully focused on New York

Ian James during the track walk, speaking on the phone

Eight points on Saturday and zero on Sunday - Puebla did not exactly produce a huge points haul. Ian James rues the missed chances: "Going away from this weekend, the result mostly hurts knowing we have the potential to do better. We know that, we've proven that before, and I see it when working with the people I'm surrounded by at the track and in the factories."

The team know that they will feel the lack of points going into the late part of the season, conscious that every single point is crucial for the championship. Ian James: "We are still ahead, but the competition is catching up."

Nyck and Stoffel speaking in the box

A look at the team standings confirms this. The Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team still tops the championship after the ninth round of the season. However, the lead over second-placed DS Techeetah has shrunk to three points. In the drivers' standings, Nyck and Stoffel are sixth and seventh.

"Now, I'm going to look ahead and focus on our next challenge together with the team," adds Ian James. This comes in three weeks' time (10/11 July) at the New York E‑Prix.

Stoffel and Nyck are of one mind - it's time to regroup and then come back stronger in New York. Nyck: "There are still a lot of positives we can take away from this weekend as a team. We'll do our homework for New York and bounce back at the top there."

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