Formula E: Julius Baer 2023 São Paulo E-Prix Preview
The 2023 Julius Baer São Paulo E-Prix this Saturday will complete a hat-trick of new host cities in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship so far this season.
The race in Brazil follows back-to-back Formula E debuts in Cape Town and Hyderabad and is set to be another highlight of Season 9 and the beginning of the GEN3 era in the championship.
Hometown hero and former champion Lucas di Grassi (Mahindra Racing) hails from the city and will be joined by compatriot Sérgio Sette Câmara (NIO 333 Racing) as the 22 drivers prepare to race on the 2.96km 11-turn circuit at the Sambadrome, which a month ago featured the exotic floats and dancers of the São Paulo Carnival.
“I can’t wait to race in São Paulo,” said the first Formula E 100-race ‘centurion’ and Season 3 champion, Lucas di Grassi.
“I’m from São Paulo, I was born just a few minutes away [from the track] and grew up there. It’s going to be amazing racing in front of my home fans. It’s been a dream since the first Formula E race. It has been close a couple of times and hasn’t quite happened but after 10 years of hard work and persistence it’s finally happening in Season 9 and for the start of GEN3. It’s very emotional for me to be racing there.”
“The circuit at the Sambadrome looks like it will be amazing and the thousands of people that like to join carnival and spend some time in Brazil will be able to stay for the race, Zero Summit and the big music festival happening all on the same weekend. I’m sure the passionate Brazilians will fill up the grandstands.”
ABT CUPRA’s Robin Frijns will return to racing this Saturday in Brazil. Having been out with injury since the first race of Season 9, the Dutchman will be back behind the wheel aiming to score the team’s first championship points in GEN3.
The season so far:
The inaugural Cape Town E-Prix entertained another sold-out crowd on Formula E’s maiden trip to sub-Saharan Africa, with Table Mountain providing a backdrop unmatched in elite motorsport. One of the most memorable, and certainly the fastest E-Prix in Formula E history followed.
The ultra-high speed circuit proved to be a real leveler with veterans Sébastien Buemi (Envision Racing), Sam Bird (Jaguar TCS Racing) and Edoardo Mortara(Maserati MSG Racing) caught out by the challenge ahead of the race and rookie Sacha Fenestraz(Nissan Formula E Team) clocking the series’ all-time fastest lap to seal his first Julius Baer Pole Position.
The race was one to remember, as two former teammates with three titles between them in António Félix da Costa (TAG Heuer Porsche Formua E Team) and Jean-Éric Vergne (DS PENSKE) fought to the last for the top step of the podium. Da Costa drove a storming race from 11th on the grid to his first win for the team after producing carbon copies of one of the most outrageous overtaking moves you’ll ever see for the lead.
With a quarter of the season complete heading to Cape Town, Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team) led the way in both the Drivers’ World Championship while the Stuttgart manufacturer had set about dominating the Teams’. A win-double for the German in Diriyah followed a podium in the season-opener in Mexico City.
Hyderabad proved a test for the Stuttgart manufacturer, with a technical issue throwing the German’s weekend into jeopardy. They found the cause of the shunt, though, and Wehrlein recovered to fourth.
In Cape Town, Wehrlein escaped relatively unscathed once again with a healthy 18-points standings lead intact after he got it wrong on the brakes into Turn 9 and wiped Sébastien Buemi and himself out on Lap 1. It was “clearly my fault,” said Wehrlein. As dominant as he and Porsche have been, this is Formula E and he will think himself lucky those around him in the standings also tripped up – not least Mexico City winner Jake Dennis in the Porsche-powered Avalanche Andretti, who managed just 13th.
Porsche and Wehrlein may be leading the way in the standings but that’s not the full story. Sam Bird and Jean-Éric Vergne have led only a handful of laps fewer than the German and second-placed Jake Dennis.
Bad luck and that Hyderabad clash between the Jaguars has stunted the team’s points tally despite strong pace and progress as the development race continues at lightning pace. You need only look at Envision Racing sitting second in the Teams’ table with their I-TYPE 6 to get an idea of Jaguar’s potential. Consecutive non-scores are never a good thing, but the season is young with 11 rounds to come starting with São Paulo this Saturday there’s plenty of time for change.
Vergne looks to be the driver on form at the moment, and Wehrlein will have his eyes trained in his mirrors as Formula E’s only double champ followed a vintage defensive drive to take the top spot in Hyderabad with second in Cape Town. The Frenchman will be looking to capitalize with a hat-trick of silverware in São Paulo.
GEN3’s flying start:
For eight races, the polesitter has failed to convert the race win, with the GEN3 car throwing up plenty of opportunities for overtaking – da Costa coming from 11th on the grid in Cape Town and Wehrlein from ninth in Diriyah two prime example. Only one prior race in Formula E history has been won from lower (di Grassi in Mexico 2017, from 15th). Cape Town also proved to be the closest race finish in 22 rounds at just 0.281 seconds.
Brazil and São Paulo – the home of motor racing legends:
The legendary Ayrton Senna: triple Formula 1 World Drivers’ Champion and twice a winner at Interlagos, on home soil in São Paulo; Emerson Fittipaldi – another F1 title winner hailing from the city and a two-time champion no less; and Rio de Janeiro-born Nelson Piquet Sr., another triple champ set the tone for motorsport’s storied heritage.
The country has a passion unmatched for motorsport, with generations growing up watching their heroes and idols representing their country on the world stage.
“When I was a kid, I was watching Formula 1,” said NIO 333 Racing’s Sérgio Sette Câmara. “The culture is very big in Brazil and the reason for that is it goes from grandparents to parents and into the children.
“I remember watching races with my grandpa, my father and my uncle and they were all influenced a lot by Emerson Fittipaldi; Nelson Piquet (Sr.) too. Of course, they pass that on to us kids and we really learned to appreciate our idols.
“The driver that was really at the top when I was a kid was Felipe Massa because he was at Ferrari, winning races. You saw that and thought: ‘wow, he’s driving the famous red car and winning races; that’s what I can be – that’s doable’. I really think he was the one that inspired me, alongside Rubens (Barrichello) because they were winning races and at the top level of motorsport when I was a kid.
“I was there at Interlagos at the last corner in 2008 where he lost out on the F1 title to Lewis (Hamilton) at the end. It took 10 minutes for the whole crowd to realise what had happened.”
In Formula E, there are Brazilian heroes that have pioneered electric motor racing at the top level, bringing the country’s motorsport heritage to a new, ever-passionate audience. Season 3 champion Lucas di Grassi is a proud São Paulo native. Nelson Piquet Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps to win a title at the pinnacle of the sport as he sealed the inaugural Formula E championship in 2014/15.
Massa has been part of the series, too, in his time with Venturi – as has the great Ayrton Senna’s nephew Bruno and Felipe Nasr. Sette Câmara and di Grassi fly the flag this weekend, with expectant home support to cheer them along.
WHEN TO WATCH
Free Practice 1 for the Julius Baer São Paulo E-Prix gets underway at 3:30 PM EDT on Friday, March 24th.
Free Practice 2 follows at 6:30 AM EDT on Saturday with qualifying from 8:40 AM EDT.
Round 6 of Season 9 gets underway from 1:00 PM EDT.
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