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A dramatic finish to the season at the New York E-Prix secures the
FIA Formula E team championship for the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler
Formula E team.
The season finale of the FIA Formula E series couldn’t have been scripted better if it was crafted by a Hollywood screenwriter. You had Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler riding a wave of powerful performances to build momentum and challenge the Techeetah team for the overall team championship. Going into the final two races in New York City, Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler trailed the Techeetah team by 22 points. Winning the title would require both great performances by Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler and its drivers Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi plus some misfortune for Techeetah—and a lot of luck.
The 2017-2018 season was the first year that Audi Sport moved from a supporting role to the title role in the team. As a company known for tech innovation, Audi chose the Formula E racing series because racing is the most demanding and competitive environment, one where the pace of development is measured on a race-by-race basis. Motorsports is also where systems such as quattro® all-wheel drive were proven effective and where what’s learned on the track can find its way into production cars. And, with the future of mobility looking more likely to be battery powered, it seemed only fitting for Audi to become involved as it would parallel with their plan to add new fully-electric vehicles such as the e-tron and e-tron quattro in 2019 and 2020. The goal for 2025 is for 25 percent of vehicles sold to be fully-electric vehicles.
Photo: Audi AG
Formula E, which started in 2014, is a racing series where every team uses a “spec” chassis and the same type of battery. In this case, the battery is supplied by Williams Race Engineering and they’re essentially sealed by the FIA governing body to prevent modifications. Battery power is limited to 200 kW in qualifying and 180 kW in the race. The aspects that teams are allowed to modify are the motor, which is supplied by McLaren Electronic Systems, the suspension components connected to the motor, the front suspension settings and the wing angles of the front and rear wings. The cars also have a multi-function steering wheel where drivers can adjust brake bias, launch modes, and several power modes that include modes for specific parts of the track.
The 200 kW of battery power available in qualifying is roughly equivalent to 260 horsepower. The car, with driver, weighs 800 kilograms and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in approximately 3 seconds and top speed is limited to 140 mph.
Gripping start to the race weekend
Both di Grassi and Abt started the two-race weekend strong by qualifying fifth and eleventh for Saturday’s race. Di Grassi later said his qualifying session was made more difficult as he was the first to qualify and essentially played the role of street sweeper, clearing debris from the racing line. He also said the car felt good despite the less-than-optimal track conditions and felt he could gain positions during the race. Both drivers started well, and Abt gained positions with each lap and eventually took the lead on the sixth lap. As he predicted, di Grassi moved from eleventh place to third in 14 laps and passed Sebastian Buemi for second place on lap 23.
With power capped during qualifying and the race, the key to performance comes down to the motor’s ability to turn electric power into forward propulsion.
With Abt and di Grassi running a close first and second and pulling away from Buemi in third, Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffer held its collective breath in hopes of scoring maximum points for the race. On lap 24, di Grassi got a run on his teammate and passed him at the end of the main straight. Abt attempted to pass di Grassi a few laps later but wasn’t close enough. The two maintained their positions and finished with an ideal first and second place. The Techeetah team finished in fifth and seventh, leaving them five points ahead of Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffer before the final race on Sunday.
High-voltage action
Both Abt and di Grassi qualified well and made the Superpole shootout between the top five fastest qualifiers. Track conditions were trickier because of rain earlier in the morning. Abt ended up fourth and di Grassi fifth after his rear tire made contact with a barrier, ending his bid for pole position. The Techeetah drivers qualified in second and third, meaning Abt and di Grassi would have to pass them both for the team to win the championship.
The start of race saw di Grassi get off the line better than Abt, moving him from fifth to fourth while Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne took first place from pole sitter Buemi. Both Techeetah drivers were investigated for jumping the start, and officials determined that Techeetah’s André Lotterer had jumped the start and would be penalized with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty while Vergne was cleared of wrongdoing. Vergne maintained the lead, but Lotterer taking the penalty and dropping back several places hurt Techeetah’s championship chances.
Both di Grassi and Abt raced their way to second and third, respectively, which meant Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler was ahead in points and would have to maintain its positions to win the championship if Lotterer didn’t move up to seventh place. Lotterer eventually moved up to ninth position, but it wouldn’t be enough to beat the Audi team for the overall team championship. As Vergne crossed the line in first and di Grassi and Abt followed closely behind in second and third, Team Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler secured the team championship with 264 points to Techeetah’s 262.
Rousing progress
Winning the team championship in its first full year as a manufacturer team, and doing so with a dominant second half of the season and two thrilling finishes at the last two races of the year, reads much like a storybook ending.
Starting with a win by Abt in the fifth race in Mexico City, the team began a streak of consistent, high points-paying finishes. Di Grassi came into form and secured a string of second-place finishes that saw him climb up the individual drivers’ standings, and Abt won in his home country at the Berlin E-Prix. Team principal and former Audi race driver Allan McNish said after Abt’s win in Mexico City that he felt the team had a good chance of finishing fifth or fourth by the end of the year. “Then there was the chance to get third, then second, and then we set our stall out coming here (New York City E-Prix), which was rather aggressive, and we pulled it off!” he said. “To be honest, that was one of the best fightbacks of my career—and I mean my career as a driver as well as my very short career as a team principal.”
Photo: Audi AG
Next season will see the switch to the second generation of race cars that will be more powerful and able to generate downforce for higher cornering speeds. The 2018-2019 season will also see other major manufacturers entering the sport, making the series even more competitive. With their winning history, and the confidence gained from their championship season, the Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler team will certainly be up for the challenge.