Formula E champion Da Costa may make Portimao F1 debut

Back in 2014, former Audi WEC driver and three-time Le Mans winner André Lotterer made a one-off F1 appearance with the struggling Caterham team for the Belgian Grand Prix. After not making it very far into the race, Lotterer turned down an offer to race in the Italian Grand Prix and has since made his home in Formula E with Porsche.

That was the last time a driver made a surprise appearance in a one-time race deal. Many others have tried, including rally legend Sébastien Loeb who attempted to acquire a super licence to race for Toro Rosso in the 2009 F1 season finale at Abu Dhabi, but that didn’t happen. But now we have the prospect of another high profile one-off race cameo.

In the midst of the frantic motorsport rescheduling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,  a country that has benefitted handsomely from this is Portugal. Both F1 and MotoGP haven’t had an event there since 1996 and 2012 respectively, both at the Estoril circuit.

But now their other prominent motor racing venue Algarve will host the two top level championships, with F1 going there on October 25th and MotoGP hosting their season finale there on November 22nd.

In MotoGP, Portugal already has a hero. In the most recent MotoGP race, Miguel Oliveira won in a stunning last lap, last corner move at the Red Bull Ring to win on his Tech 3 KTM. However in F1, Portugal hasn’t had a representative driver since Tiago Monteiro and no realistic prospects in the lower formulae. However with the news of F1 returning to Portugal, there is a very strong likelihood that we could see a home driver at Algarve.

Courtesy of FIA Formula E Media

António Félix da Costa is no stranger to the F1 paddock. Having previously come close to a Toro Rosso seat for 2014 after Daniel Ricciardo’s call-up to Red Bull, he ultimately lost out to reigning GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat.

Da Costa had looked like the more likely candidate. He was expected to win the 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 championship, but finished third to future F1 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne, and despite Formula Renault 3.5 being closer to F1 performance than GP3, it was Kvyat who got the call-up. Undeterred, Da Costa became a BMW factory driver and has competed in the likes of DTM, the World Endurance Championship and Formula E.

Da Costa won a few races in DTM and even took a second victory at Macau in 2016. But it was Formula E where he made his name, having competed since the series’ inception back in 2014 and won races for Team Aguri, BMW i Andretti and DS Techeetah. It was this season though that Da Costa proved his potential, finally claiming that long awaited first Formula E championship.

Under the management of Monteiro, Da Costa is apparently in high demand after his Formula E title win. He’s been approached by teams from WEC, IndyCar and also F1. Two F1 teams according to Monteiro have approached him about a drive for Da Costa, although it is unknown as to whether that will be for an FP1 appearance or maybe even a race drive in front of his home crowd.

Courtesy of FIA Formula E media

Having had the majority of F1 races behind closed doors this year, the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello will mark the return of fans on a reduced scale and Portugal is allowing spectators too. FOM are said to be very keen to see Da Costa compete which will guarantee filling the spectator stands (again on a smaller scale).

Which F1 team could it be? You would think having had previous connections with Red Bull, perhaps Alpha Tauri could be a realistic option. It would be very poetic if he ends up taking the place of Kvyat, the same driver who leapfrogged him to the F1 drive in the first place.

It would be very interesting to see how Da Costa will perform if this comes to fruition. I remember back when he lost the seat believing that it was the wrong decision, and that Da Costa had been robbed. Nevertheless, the Formula E champion will undoubtedly relish this unprecedented opportunity to race in F1 at his home Grand Prix, if it does indeed come to happen.

Da Costa and Techeetah Champions In Thrilling Season

image courtesy of Formula E

Another gripping season of Formula E has finally come to an end, almost a month later than originally planned, and it will be Antonio Felix Da Costa and DS Techeetah who are happiest with their performances. After a difficult start for our 2019/20 champions, they sealed both of the teams and drivers championships with two races left to run. Dominant by Formula E’s standards.

image courtesy of Formula E

Envision Virgin’s Sam Bird started the season strongest in Ad Diriyah, continuing his streak of being the only driver to take a victory in every season to date after starting from 5th position. The Brit made some great overtakes as he carved his way to the top step, heading out Andre Lotterer for Porsche and Stoffel Vandoorne for Mercedes. Both Porsche and Mercedes achieving a podium finish in their debut races.

However, it was BMW’s Alexander Sims who took a pole to flag victory in the second race in Saudi Arabia. Our eventual champion, Da Costa received a penalty for spinning Buemi, who was slowing to take Attack Mode. Da Costa eventually climbed his way back up to tenth, whilst taking the fastest lap in the process to bring home his and Techeetah’s first three points of the season.

image courtesy of Formula E

In Chile it was BMW who took the lead of the constructors championship after their very own German, Max Guenther won the race from second position, overtaking the Pole man Mitch Evans who struggled with energy management. Da Costa made some lovely overtakes to climb eight position and finish in 2nd place. Showing the field that consistency was key in Formula E, Vandoorne took the lead of the championship despite being without a victory. Vergne’s poor start to the season continued, still with just 4 points to his name.

Redemption for Evans in Mexico saw him win fairly comfortably, with Da Costa taking his second podium of the season. Sims had a notable drive, gaining 13 positions to finish 5th! With that victory Evans now lead the championship (4 different leaders in 4 races). We were left waiting for someone to seize control.

And seize control Da Costa did, winning from pole by a whopping 11 seconds in Marrakech. Evans’ race was not to be scoffed at, starting 24th and finishing P6, an amazing race for the Kiwi. 3 podiums in a row meant Da Costa now lead the championship from Jaguar’s Mitch Evans and Techeetah made up for their slow start to head the rest of the teams.

Then disaster struck. A very contagious virus known as Covid-19 began to take over the world, halting everyone in their tracks for a few months. Tragically, millions of people have lost their lives as a result of the pandemic.

But nothing could stop Formula E for very long, starting up again on the 5th August with a revised calendar of three double headers in Berlin on three different layouts, setting us up for an incredible 9 days of racing. But did Da Costa’s momentum get hampered? Of course not! The Portuguese man took two victories in the first two Berlin races making it three on the bounce. By this point he had two hands on the trophy as his title rivals all failed to put up a consistent fight.

image courtesy of Formula E

Going into the next two races Da Costa just needed to get good points to seal the championship and he did so with two still to go, simultaneously winning DS Techeetah the team’s championship as well. But second was still up for grabs and nobody seemed to want it, Guenther put in a claim with his second win of the season, before being overtaken by Vergne with a fine victory the following day.

A new layout came for the final two races of the season with a redesigned second sector. After a strange incident in qualifying, none of the active champions put in a lap time, allowing Rowland to take a much deserved maiden victory from Pole Position. By now it should have become clear that this meant he now sat in 2nd place in the championship.

The final race came with a hint of sadness as Sam Bird finished a fitting final race for Virgin in P5. The Brit had been with the team since Formula E’s inception, always managing to pull a win out of somewhere and holding the record for the only driver to win in every season. He looks for pastures anew at Jaguar next season.

image courtesy of Formula E

However, it was Stoffel Vandoorne who took a dominant win for his maiden victory in the final race of the season, with his teammate, Nyck De Vries, edging out Buemi to seal 2nd position for both himself, and for Vandoorne in the championship. Buemi himself ended the season P3.

Despite some Techeetah dominance, Season 6 has been one of Formula E’s best seasons so far, despite the delay from Covid. We saw wall to wall action up and down the field, said hello and goodbye to some talented drivers, crowned a new champion, and even saw our first carbon neutral team. It has been one heck of a year, and Season 7 is set to be just as exciting. You’d be a fool to miss it!

Zurich ePrix: Di Grassi wins as penalties shrink Vergne’s title lead

Lucas di Grassi ended his season four win drought by rising from fifth to first in Sunday’s Zurich ePrix, while title challenger Sam Bird finished second to slash Jean-Éric Vergne’s championship lead by almost half.

Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

The race began in mixed-up fashion, with Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer starting well from second to threaten maiden polesitter Mitch Evans off the line. But although Evans managed to defend from Lotterer and drop him back into pressure from third-placed Bird, the Jaguar driver was unable to pull clear of the cars behind as he struggled with rising battery temperatures.

This brought di Grassi right onto the back of the podium pack, once the Audi driver dispatched with Jérôme d’Ambrosio for fourth place. By lap 13 di Grassi had passed Bird at the hairpin—taking advantage of the Briton’s battle with Lotterer ahead to close in on the pair—and three laps later did what Bird was unable to and took second from Lotterer.

With Evans’ battery issues continuing out in front, di Grassi was quickly onto the gearbox of the Jaguar—and on lap 18 the outgoing champion made his move on the run to Turn 1, and breezed past into first place.

Once in the lead di Grassi continued to build a gap to those behind him, and at the end of lap 39 crossed the finish line 7.5s ahead to take his first and Audi’s third win of the 2017–18 season.

Jean-Éric Vergne, Techeetah / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

But while last season’s champion enjoyed his best Formula E weekend since last year’s Montreal finale, current championship leader Vergne suffered huge losses at the Zurich ePrix.

Coming into the weekend with a mathematical chance of clinching the title, Vergne qualified near the back of the grid in 17th while his only remaining rival Bird was set to start from the second row.

Vergne made good progress in the early stages and before the halfway stage had already got his Techeetah up into the lower points. But on lap 17 Vergne came together with Felix Rosenqvist while taking eighth, sending the Mahindra driver into the wall at Turn 1 and triggering a full course yellow to remove the debris.

Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

This proved to be the defining moment of the race, as shortly after the halfway pitstops it was announced that Vergne—along with Lotterer, Evans and Sébastien Buemi—had been given a drive-through penalty for speeding under the full course yellow.

These penalties drastically altered the order. With fewer than ten laps remaining, Lotterer, Evans and Buemi dropped from second, third and fourth respectively, while Vergne was once more put outside the points after his trip through the pitlane.

Worse still for Vergne, the penalties for those in front meant that Bird was elevated to second place, where the DS Virgin driver finished to add another 18 points to his championship challenge.

Jérôme d’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

D’Ambrosio completed the podium in third, his and Dragon’s first podium since the 2016 London ePrix, while Lotterer held on for fourth.

Buemi recovered from his penalty to take fifth, one place higher than he started, after using his FanBoost to pass Evans in the closing stages—Evans lost a further place to Nick Heidfeld before the end, and finished behind the German in seventh. António Félix da Costa and Oliver Turvey were promoted into the lower points by the penalties ahead and a retirement for Nico Prost, and finished eighth and ninth respectively.

Meanwhile, Vergne fought his way back into tenth place to take the final point of the day. The Frenchman had been set to add another point with the fastest lap, until his Techeetah teammate Lotterer take that honour away in the final stages.

Vergne’s low finish and Bird’s podium mean the gap at the top of the standings is now down from 40 to 23 points with only the double header in New York—which Bird dominated last season—left to go.