Formula E: Maserati look set for season lift-off at ‘outstanding’ Cape Town E-Prix
From supremely strong in pre-season to a rocky road in the first weeks of the campaign, Maserati have quickly had an up-and-down time in their return to single-seater racing.
But against the spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain, the Formula E newcomers rediscovered their pace in the first free practice session and will be optimistic that, this time around, it won’t be a false start.
It won’t be a surprise to them, either. Team principal James Rossiter told the Independent recently that December testing in Valencia had effectively gone too well and they didn’t know why - now, with more data, more fine-tuning and more time to work with their drivers, they were growing increasingly confident of not just getting back among the top order, but of staying there.
FP1 suggests that could be the case in Cape Town; Edoardo Mortara topped the timesheets and Maximilian Guenther finished the session seventh. Elsewhere, Jaguar pair Mitch Evans and Sam Bird - in particular - will be hopeful of a bounceback this time after disappointment in Hyderabad.
It did not, it’s fair to say, go according to plan for Sebastien Buemi - the Envision driver slamming into the wall, losing at least one wheel and his chances of a full session, just minutes after starting. There were problems, too, for Mahindra’s Lucas Di Grassi, Andretti’s Jake Dennis and ABT Cupra’s Kelvin van der Linde along the way; work remains ahead for both engineers and drivers to get it right ahead of qualifying on Saturday.
But the positives for some outweigh the negatives for others at the start of the weekend.
Optimism was shining brightly for Maserati even before their pace was displayed on the track, with Guenther looking forward to yet another new race location.
“Cape Town is an outstanding setting for a Formula E race and one of the races I was looking forward to the most ahead of the season,” he said ahead of the trip to South Africa. “From the sim we can see the track is high-speed, with many fast and bumpy sections. It will be a great challenge to find the sweet spot with the settings and the driving around this track, we surely face an exciting race. From the last weekend I feel we are moving in a great direction, we just need to keep going.”
Jaguar were already celebrating, off the track at least; their I-TYPE 6 was awarded the ‘eRacing Car of the Year’ in the GQ Car of the Year Awards this week, which perhaps unintentionally doubled down on the fact the India collision was very much of human error.
An apologetic Sam Bird was determined to make up for his misjudgement in India which took both he and teammate Mitch Evans out of the race, and noted how the buildup to this weekend’s race was simply about “being as prepared as possible” on another new circuit.
Evans is aiming for the front of the grid following on from pole in Hyderabad, meanwhile. “My car has so much potential, it’s got the pace and efficiency needed to succeed, and we learn more from it each time we race and apply it,” he said - though he was over half a second slower than his teammate in FP1, with Bird second behind Mortara.
A fast track, potentially the quickest average speed of the season and with both turns to overtake and straights to showcase power, South Africa looks a quality addition to the calendar for the fans.
All eyes will be on turns nine and ten after Buemi’s big hit on just his fourth lap of the weekend, though his car might face a race just to be ready on time. A long night is in store for Envision’s engineers.
But on Saturday, on race day, that sense of opportunity and optimism will rise once more.
Not just for Maserati, not just for those with the early season superpower of the Porsche powertrains, but for the entire grid - and a whole new set of local supporters who get to witness an increasingly exciting spectacle in yet another spectacular setting.
::Watch the inaugural 2023 Cape Town E-Prix live on terrestrial television on Channel 4 at 14:00 GMT on Saturday 25 February