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Magic Moments of 2018: Santiago Drama

E-racing365’s Sam Smith takes a look back at a dramatic weekend for Formula E in Chile…

Photo: Formula E

We’ve all been on the receiving end of badly-timed power cuts or WiFi meltdowns at racetracks. It often goes with the territory, especially in Formula E.

While it is usually nothing more than a temporary inconvenience – a blip in the working day – imagine for a minute that it happens when you are a team managing a critical phase of a Formula E race.

This is exactly what happened to the Formula E paddock in Santiago one hot and sticky afternoon in Santiago in February.

For Techeetah, it was especially heart-stopping.

This was because at the time of the communications going AWOL their two drivers, Jean-Eric Verge and Andre Lotterer, were running 1-2.

Not only were they at the front of the field, with Vergne leading his rookie teammate, but Lotterer was showing all the signs of having very itchy feet and wanting to snatch the lead of the race.

On the tight, bumpy and challenging street circuit in Chile this was always going to have potential carnage associated with it.

We saw how it played out, but the team didn’t. At least not all of it.

“We lost everything, pictures, radio, the lot,” said Techeetah boss Mark Preston.

“I recall looking at our engineers and trying to get some words out but I couldn’t. I just looked at them as if to say ‘is this really happening?’

“I only actually saw everything when I got home. It was interesting, let’s just say that. To be frank it was a good thing we didn’t see the whole thing in real-time I guess.”

If that were not enough drama then the post-checkered flag kerfuffle sent the controversial atmosphere into orbit.

Ten minutes after the post-race press conference and the elbows-out indignity of the media-pen interviews, I was making the long walk back to the pits with Techeetah’s PR guru Sara Hernmarck who has juggling champagne and trophies.

The atmosphere was joyous but as I made my way into the Techeetah pit the ambience quickly cooled.

Word was already spreading between team members that both of their cars had a cordon around them at Parc Ferme and were being held for reasons beyond the usual technical checks.

The theater was now palpable and I stuck around to see how it would develop.

It soon became apparent that the team had been creative in its interpretation over how it was securing the seatbelts during the infamous car-swap stops.

The topic was already a hot one after the unfathomable decision by the FIA to do away with the minimum time for the stops.

Techeetah was eventually fined €15,000 for each car, as was Dragon, yet teams continued methods to quicken pit stops using a variety of crude devices for the remainder of the season.

Vergne and Lotterer kept their hard-fought result and became the first pair to claim a 1-2 in the series’ history.

It made an absurd situation even more nonsensical and although a Techeetah mechanic suffered light injuries in Mexico City, it was a blessing that no serious injuries befell the paddock for the remainder of the season.

In fact, Techeetah would have been quite within its rights to ask for its money back!

Yet, still the sensation was not over, as the dramatic events even extended to the flight home!

E-racing365 picked up on, but chose not to report upon, a remarkable story which saw two very senior Formula E figures (not in the Techeetah team) almost come to blows at 36,000 feet!

After an argument erupted around the sanction given to Techeetah and a host of lurid accusations the pair almost had to be separated. The feud continues to this day!

It was a turbulent end to an unforgettable weekend of pure sporting drama, one which was pretty typical of the championship itself.

Long may it continue.

Photo: Sam Smith

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thomas

    December 28, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    One of the best races I saw in a very long time. You’ll never get bored with Lotterer. And seeing the last race, we are going for an interesting season

  2. Avatar

    Esteban García

    December 28, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    I was there working for my website and other argentinian media. I screamed to TV screens when I watched that almost crash!. Was an amazing weekeng, which i was closed than ever to Formula E.
    Vergne was very upset to make the media-pen interviews under the sun, maybe this could be changed for next race.
    Very good story Sam, hope to see you in Santiago next month.
    Cheers

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