TAG Heuer Porsche’s António Félix da Costa secured his first victory of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season after a dramatic battle with his former teammate Jean-Éric Vergne in the 2023 Cape Town E-Prix.
The win propels Da Costa up to fourth place in the drivers’ standings and back amongst the leading pack after an underwhelming start to Season 9 in which the 31-year-old had seen his Porsche teammate Pascal Wehrlein build a commanding lead at the top of the World Championship.
It was a brilliant drive from the Portuguese, who began in P11 and took the chequered flag after producing two audacious overtakes against DS Penske’s Vergne after the pair had tussled for the lead in Formula E’s debut in sub-Saharan Africa.
This was Da Costa’s first win for his new team and is also his first Formula E victory since the 2022 New York City E-Prix in Season 8.
And speaking afterwards a visibly emotional Da Costa admitted he had been feeling the pressure in the lead up to the race.
“There was a lot of weight on my shoulders”, he said. “Thanks for the ones who have stuck with me and helped me get here. It has been a journey.
“I knew it was going to be a strategic one, I’ve done this race before where you have to give that lead away and really plan a late move in the race because the energy was playing a big part, and so following was a bit of an advantage. I wanted to be behind him (Vergne) for a few laps to build that energy advantage and use it, but I know leaving it late is always a risk and JEV is a very hard guy to overtake. I thought I was gone for a moment there in T9! But it’s good to race him on a day like this.
“I was [prepared to give it everything], there was a moment there in the race when I thought if I missed the ATTACK mode it was gone and I would have to finish second, but when I dropped behind him I could see the energy coming back and I said lets go for it. It’s the only way I like to do it.”
The Porsche driver had clambered his way through the top 10 and into the top three by Lap 20. With the pack squeezed by a Full Course Yellow on Lap 21, the top four were split by just 1.5 seconds and the scrap for the lead was anybody’s.
Envision Racing’s Nick Cassidy had outdone impressive rookie and polesitter Sacha Fenestraz (Nissan) and Maximilian Guenther (Maserati MSG) through the first round of ATTACK MODE activations – going longer before opting for his initial 50kW boost – and creeping into the lead.
On Lap 24, Da Costa produced an outrageous pass to steal the lead from Cassidy at the trickiest part of the track between Turns 8 and 9 that had been the site of three crashes earlier in the weekend.
He then pulled enough of a gap to take his second mandatory ATTACK MODE and retake the lead but he missed the activation loop – handing the lead to Hyderabad winner Vergne a lap later.
On Lap 21, Da Costa then tried the same stunning overtaking manoeuvre once again, this time on Vergne. Once again there was little room, and he sent it around the outside of Turn 7 into 8 and 9 and on to the race win under severe pressure from JEV.
Fenestraz had made it by Cassidy to take a potential podium but the Nissan driver hit the wall on the final lap, leaving the Kiwi to take third place.
Rene Rast (NEOM McLaren) steered to a cool fourth, a six-place gain, while Sebastien Buemi (Envision Racing) took the flag fifth. Dan Ticktum ensured NIO 333 would score strongly again with a sixth-place finish – two top sixes on the bounce for the Anglo-Chinese outfit which has started GEN3 well.
Reigning champion Stoffel Vandoorne (DS Penske) settled for relative scraps and seventh while his teammate steered to the podium. Norman Nato (Nissan), Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche) and Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren) rounded out the top 10 and the points.
Standings leader Wehrlein in the sister Porsche ran clean into the back of Buemi’s Envision Racing car on Lap 1 – massively overcooking it and forcing an early retirement.
The poor look for the Jaguar TCS Racing team didn’t let up. Sam Bird’s damaged car wasn’t fit to make the start, then Mitch Evans was slapped with a drive-through penalty for an overpower violation, dropping him out of a strong fourth spot at the time, early in the race.
Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis had worked his way up to ninth, looking to capitalise on standings leader Wehrlein’s retirement, but he’d be shot down by a drive-through penalty for under-pressured tyres.
Round 6 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship takes place in São Paulo, Brazil on Saturday 25 March.