Monte Carlo, Monaco. The crown jewel of the Mediterranean, the crown jewel of Formula 1. And now, the crown jewel of Formula E as well. Round 7 of the 2020-2021 Formula E World Championship saw the teams and drivers touch down in one of the most glamorous cities in the world for the Monaco ePrix. It was not the first time the streets of Monte Carlo had hosted a Formula E ePrix; previous editions of the Monaco ePrix were run in 2015, 2017, and 2019.
It was, however, the first time that the Formula E cars would take on the full configuration of the Monaco circuit, including the famous Casino Square, the ever-recognizable Turn 6 hairpin, and the iconic blast under the tunnel. The section of the track from the run up Beau Rivage (Turn 2) all the way to the Nouvelle Chicane (Turn 10) following the exit of the tunnel was not part of the shortened Monaco ePrix layout that had been run on up until this season.
Many team executives, drivers, and fans had been clamoring for Formula E to run on the full circuit, and the top brass of Formula E finally caved in to the pressure this season. Reports had initially suggested that Formula E executives were wary of the implications of running on the full Monaco circuit configuration, mainly that Formula E lap times would compare unfavorably to Formula 1 or even Formula 2 lap times. But in the end, the quality of racing in the Monaco ePrix put all doubts to rest and ended up being a huge positive to the brand and reputation of Formula E.
Qualifying went well once again for Maximilian Guenther, the driver of the #28 BMW i Andretti car, as he made it into Super Pole yet again and secured 5th place on the grid. And fresh off of the euphoria of his maiden victory just a fortnight prior in Valencia, Jake Dennis put forth a solid lap to take 14th on the grid.
In Formula 1, overtaking maneuvers at Monaco are few and far between, to put it lightly, meaning that qualifying well is of paramount importance. Would the same hold true for Formula E? Antonio Felix da Costa was the polesitter, followed by Robin Frijns in second, Mitch Evans in third, Jean-Eric Vergne in fourth, and Guenther in fifth.
At the start of the race, Guenther made a solid start to retain 5th place. Dennis, however, was one of the victims of the inevitable first lap chaos, getting boxed in at the Turn 6 hairpin. The Mahindra of Alexander Sims was forced wide and then hit from behind by Pascal Wehrlein’s Porsche, and Dennis inadvertently found himself in this mess just by virtue of running behind Wehrlein.
His race would go from bad to worse when he was deemed to have overused power on regen, likely from a power spike resulting from running over a bump in the circuit. He would receive a drive-through penalty, putting him a long way behind the field and firmly out of contention.
Meanwhile, at the front, Robin Frijns, driving for Virgin, made a slick move to get past polesitter Antonio Felix da Costa into Sainte Devote (Turn 1) and into the lead. In the meantime, Guenther was pressuring the other Techeetah of Jean-Eric Vergne, leading Vergne to lock up his brakes coming out of the tunnel into the Nouvelle chicane (which, incidentally, had been reprofiled for the Formula E race, leading commentators to refer to it as the “new Nouvelle chicane,” which not only sounds funny but also literally means “new new chicane”). Guenther was somewhat flummoxed by his inability to find his way past Vergne, but was encouraged by his race engineer over the radio that the lock-up from Vergne was because he knew Guenther is faster.
With 33 minutes (+1 lap) to go, Guenther and the BMW Andretti team rolled the dice on strategy, becoming the first of the frontrunners to arm Attack Mode. It was a fruitful period of the race for Guenther, who dropped behind Oliver Rowland into 6th place following his trek around the outside of the Casino Square (Turn 4) to arm Attack Mode.
He went around the outside of Rowland’s Nissan at Sainte Devote, getting back into 5th. Then da Costa armed Attack Mode from 2nd place, dropping into 4th behind his teammate Vergne. Later that lap, Vergne attacked Mitch Evans in front of him, forcing the Jaguar wide at the Nouvelle chicane. This allowed crucially afforded da Costa two free overtakes, as he slipped under Vergne and Evans for a free pass back into 2nd place.
Guenther took advantage of the chaos to sneak past Vergne as well going into Tabac (Turn 12). On the ensuing lap, Guenther used Sainte Devote again to get past Evans. He was now up into 3rd place!
Now Frijns armed Attack Mode from the lead, dropping into 2nd. At this stage, the top three (da Costa, Evans, and Guenther) began to pull a bit of a gap out to the chasing pack for the first time. Frijns retook the lead with 27 minutes (+1 lap) to go. Guenther, though, was running fractionally lower on energy than some other cars in the race-leading group, and had to drop back towards Evans in 4th to save energy.
The action then started really kicking off at the front. Frijns took his second Attack Mode, falling to 2nd but quickly reclaiming the lead with his extra power. Then Evans took his first Attack Mode, falling from 4th to 5th. Guenther (and da Costa) then took that opportunity to take their second Attack Mode activations.
Da Costa did well to drop into 3rd, but Guenther was unfortunate to lose out to Vergne and drop into 5th. A good portion of Guenther’s Attack Mode period was wasted stuck behind Vergne, which then allowed Evans to take Attack Mode for a second time and remain in 3rd just ahead of Guenther, who by that point had finally cleared Vergne for 4th.
The excitement levels then went up another notch. With 16 minutes (+1 lap) to go, da Costa used Fanboost to get past Frijns for the lead. Then Mitch Evans, with his final minute of Attack Mode, managed to pass both Frijns and da Costa to put his Jaguar into the lead!
His pass on da Costa going around the outside of Beau Rivage and Massenet (Turn 3) was particularly sublime. Interestingly, Sebastian Vettel would pull off a somewhat similar move in the Formula 1 Grand Prix a week later on Pierre Gasly, though the circumstances were different there as Vettel was exiting the pitlane.
Unfortunately, a pause to the action came soonly after, as Rene Rast and Nick Cassidy came together at Sainte Devote, leaving Rast’s broken-down Audi stranded on the hill leading up towards Beau Rivage. This incident brought out the safety car. At this point, the only driver who had yet to arm Attack Mode was Vergne. Guenther was running in 4th place while Dennis, running in 20th as a direct result of his penalty earlier in the race, was at least afforded a chance to catch up with the pack.
With 6 minutes (+1 lap) remaining, the green flag was out and the race was under way once again! Vergne immediately activated Attack Mode, dropping from 5th to 8th. He began a massive charge, passing cars left and right to get right back up into 5th again.
With 1 minute (+1 lap) to go, he barged past Guenther in the tunnel to take 4th place off the BMW Andretti driver. Guenther attempted to fight back, but Rowland in 6th clumsily hit Guenther from behind coming into the Nouvelle chicane, putting an end to Guenther’s challenge on Vergne. Luckily, Guenther was still able to continue, and took the checkered flag in 5th position. A solid result!
Unfortunately for Dennis, his race was ruined from the start with the incident and the penalty which dropped him some 15 seconds behind the entire pack. He would manage to salvage 16th place in the end, thanks in part to the safety car period at the end of the race. Da Costa and Frijns ended up taking first and second place ahead of Evans after the New Zealander ran into energy management issues over the final couple of laps.
Overall, a solid race from the BMW i Andretti team, with 10 points collected and moving up to fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings. The team has definitely been on an upward trend after a less-than-ideal start to the season in Diriyah. But with seven teams all within a small gap of 13 points (BMW Andretti in 5th with 55 points down to Dragon Penske Autosport in 11th with 42 points), every result going forward will matter significantly in the championship fight. Guenther, Dennis, and the BMW Andretti team will look to keep it rolling in a week’s time at the Mexico ePrix, a new doubleheader that will take place in Puebla, Mexico.