In an all-Jaguar shootout for pole, Mitch Evans beat Sam Bird to take pole for the Rome e-Prix, the next to last round of the 2023 Formula E season.
Evans set a blistering late lap to comfortably top the second practice session and continued that pace in the Qualifying shootout.
Evans and Bird headed into the Final knowing they’d achieve their second front-row lockout in Formula E. Evans had been 0.6 seconds quicker than the rest in Free Practice 2, but there was nothing between the two over the opening sector of the lap until a Bird mistake dropped him well over a second back from his teammate. That left the Kiwi to bring the car around to stroll to pole – key in the title fight, though nobody had yet won from pole in Rome.
Standings leader Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) said he didn’t feel quite at one with the car in qualifying. He made the Duels but could only manage seventh.
That said, he’s ahead of his closest title rival Nick Cassidy – the Envision Racing driver down in ninth and third-placed Pascal Wehrlein (TAG Heuer Porsche) also failed to make the Duels – knocked out of Group A at the last by Dennis – and starts Round 13 10th.
Fenestraz faced Bird in the first Semi. The Nissan driver had looked rapid throughout but with the track temperature hitting over 50 Celsius, it looked like it’d be Bird in the Final as Fenestraz slipped up and made a costly error on his lap. The Brit just had to keep it tidy through the last turns to go a second faster than his rival. Fenestraz would have to settle for third on the grid.
Evans faced Buemi with an all-Jaguar Final the outcome if the Kiwi could progress. Evans started promisingly, taking a slender advantage of less than a tenth of a second over the first half of the lap. The factory Jaguar did look the car to beat in the hotter qualifying conditions and it was comfortable in the end – more than a second. Buemi would nevertheless be happy with fourth.
Track temperatures soared 10 degrees from the start of the Groups to hit 48 Celsius at the start of the Duels, enough to give drivers and engineers a headache with the effect that would have on tire behavior and setup.
Dennis square off against Bird to open, and the Jaguar driver strode clear with Andretti’s Dennis looking loose at the rear through the first half of the lap. Bird was able to thread through the lap to an advantage of almost half a second. The standings leader would have to settle for seventh on the grid while Bird made it to the Semis.
Nissan’s Fenestraz had gone quickest by far in his group and faced Guenther on home turf for Maserati. The French-Argentine’s first sector was tidy and precise, with Guenther unable to match him. The gap was a couple of tenths of a second after the opening third of the lap but that had grown to over half a second by the time the German had rounded the Obelisk – the Maserati Tipo Folgore looking like it was suffering with a touch of understeer. Fenestraz kept it clean and tidy to hammer home his advantage and progress while Guenther would line up eighth.
Rast couldn’t capitalize on an early lead over Buemi in the pair’s Quarter-Final duel. The NEOM McLaren driver will start fifth on the grid while Buemi progresses.
Rome specialist Evans looked to prove once again that he’s the Emperor in the Eternal City but had Maserati MSG Racing’s Mortara to get by first. It was tight and the Swiss-French-Italian took an early advantage over a strong opening sector. Evans bit back to take the initiative over the half way stage of the lap but it was as good as neck and neck. From there, though, the Kiwi strode clear to the tune of almost half a second. A comfortable trip to the Semis for the Jaguar TCS Racing driver, so Mortara will start sixth.
Heading into the final flying laps of the opening group, standings leader Dennis held top spot but it was Wehrlein that briefly stole the initiative with the quickest time of the last runs as the clock hit zero. He was shuffled down the top four by Fenestraz – whose time was some half a second quicker than the rest – Bird and Guenther, with the Porsche driver left on the cusp and Dennis out as it stood.
Sergio Sette Camara took a trip down the escape road ahead of the Brit but that wouldn’t distract him as he was able to fire in a time at the last to make it through to the knockouts by the skin of his teeth in third spot, shuffling Wehrlein out in a title chase double whammy.
Group B saw Free Practice 2 topper Evans make progress. He was quickest throughout the session and stayed there as Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren) found the wall amid the drivers’ last efforts. Buemi, Hughes himself and Rast were the others to progress.