Early-season pace-setter Nyck de Vries leads all-electric field into Italian double-header
Sporting spectacles in Rome are nothing new – the Colosseum played host to fierce fights back in the times of horse-drawn chariots – but this coming weekend (10/11 April), the Italian capital will welcome an altogether more advanced breed of automobile, as the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship’s modern-day gladiators race into town.
The Rome E-Prix double-header marks rounds three and four of the 2020/21 Formula E campaign – the all-electric single-seater series’ first as a fully-fledged World Championship. Mercedes-EQ’s Nyck de Vries leads the way following his breakthrough victory in the Saudi Arabian curtain-raiser at the end of February – a commanding lights-to-flag affair – and the Dutchman will be fired-up to bounce back from a troubled second day in Diriyah that saw him only just scrape into the points after starting towards the rear of the grid.
Saudi Arabia’s other race-winner, Sam Bird, heads to Italy occupying second spot in the standings for Jaguar Racing. The Briton won the inaugural Rome E-Prix in 2017/18, so he knows what it takes to master the Circuito Cittadino dell’EUR – one of the longest tracks on the calendar and amongst the most challenging too, with its undulating nature, elevation changes and uneven surfaces, which features a new layout this year.
Bird’s former team-mate, Robin Frijns, is third in the points table following a strong start to the season for Envision Virgin Racing, with Edoardo Mortara just behind in fourth and still basking in the glory of that overtake in Diriyah, when he threaded his ROKiT Venturi Racing machine neatly between the cars of Mitch Evans and Pascal Wehrlein at full-throttle. Having been unable to start the second encounter in Saudi Arabia following a braking-related high-speed accident in free practice, the Swiss ace has extra motivation to succeed this weekend.
Reigning champion António Félix da Costa flew somewhat under the radar in Diriyah, taking the chequered flag outside of the points on day one before benefitting from a penalty for DS TECHEETAH stablemate Jean-Éric Vergne to pick up a top three finish on day two. The Portuguese star will be aiming to properly kick-start the defence of his crown in Italy, while two-time title-winner Vergne still needs to get off the mark after leaving Saudi Arabia with a blank scorecard.
It was the aforementioned Evans that won the most recent Rome E-Prix two years ago following a stirring battle with André Lotterer, representing his and Jaguar Racing’s breakthrough triumph in the series. His German rival, meanwhile, arrives boasting a 100 per cent podium-finishing record in the event, which he will be keen to maintain as he endeavours to open his 2020/21 Formula E account with TAG Heuer Porsche.
Others to have previously ascended the rostrum in Rome are de Vries’ Mercedes-EQ team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne – third in 2018/19 – and former champion Lucas Di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler), who was runner-up to Bird 12 months earlier. Both need a decent points haul this weekend after failing to reach double-digits in Diriyah.
Fellow big names that struggled in Saudi Arabia were double title-holder Sébastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) and Maximilian Günther (BMW i Andretti Motorsport), with the luckless German retiring from both contests. The pair will be primed to fight back in Italy.
Buemi’s Nissan e.dams stablemate Oliver Rowland raced well for a brace of solid results in Diriyah, while Sérgio Sette Câmara and Nico Müller both shone in a hugely encouraging display for Dragon/Penske Autosport that they will be bidding to build upon this weekend. Another team to get its season off to a promising start in Saudi Arabia was NIO 333, with Oliver Turvey claiming two top ten finishes to immediately banish the memory of the squad’s scoreless 2019/20 campaign.
After threatening the podium last time out, compatriots René Rast (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) and Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) have their sights set on some silverware in Italy, while the 24-strong field is completed by Mahindra Racing duo Alexander Sims and Alex Lynn, countryman Tom Blomqvist (NIO 333) and rapid rookies Jake Dennis (BMW i Andretti Motorsport), Norman Nato (ROKiT Venturi Racing) and Nick Cassidy (Envision Virgin Racing).
The first Rome E-Prix will begin at 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT) on Saturday, 10 April, with race two following at 13:00 local time (11:00 GMT) the next day.