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SEASON REVIEW: Audi’s Winning Fightback

Audi fought back from a barren start to Season Four to take the teams’ silverware…

Photo: Formula E

As expected, the newly-titled Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler took the teams’ silverware last season, but it was far from the dominant display much feared before the season began.

In fact the team was more or less completely absent from the first quarter of the 2017-18 campaign and barely troubled the scorers as a chronic technical problem threatened to completely derail its season.

Now, e-racing365 can reveal for the first time that the actual issue was believed to be a tiny fault within a PCP of the memory board on the inverters.

It is believed that possible vibrations could have resulted in one of the microscopic parts contributing to the failures and retirements.

It was this which the team forensically chased for weeks back at its Neuburg base and subsequently found just prior to the Mexico City weekend in March.

By this time though the issues had effectively ended Lucas di Grassi’s dreams of retaining the driver’s title.

Despite a valiant comeback in the second half of the season, including some stunning performances, the first four races inflicted terminal damage to a title challenge.

Indeed, the Mexico City weekend was also scuppered for di Grassi. This was thanks to a hangover penalty from the previous failure and subsequent joker usage from Santiago.

It was only in Punta del Este that di Grassi got a clear run, and on that occasion an error on his part (he wasn’t the only one) in Super Pole, when he hit a track marker ‘floppy bollard’, cost him a likely first win of the campaign.

Still, he managed to take his first points as he shadowed a belligerent Jean-Eric Vergne all the way to the line.

Actually, the Punta race more or less summed up di Grassi’s season. It was generally a tale of fighting back from a tough qualifying performance and then chasing down the big points.

Why di Grassi struggled so much in qualifying was not immediately clear but the statistics don’t lie, and the outgoing champion lost out to teammate Daniel Abt five to seven.

“I would say some combinations of driver and technical package worked better than others either be it in the race or qualifying,” team principal Allan McNish told e-racing365.

“We worked hard and pushed during the course of the season with what you are allowed to change in terms of the way we approached it. I think we actually made a step forward from last year no question about it.”

“We were more consistently competitive once the problem was solved. We still need to improve though.”

It was the outgoing champion di Grassi though who collated the more points thanks to a sensational run from Punta del Este onwards where he finished no lower than second in each race.

He took almost all of his 144 points in the final seven races to claim the runner-up position.

It was arguably his finest season, but it was just that the record books will starkly record a campaign which didn’t start until the first quarter of the season was already completed.

Winner Abt Finally Emerges

Daniel Abt completed his strongest campaign since the start of Formula E in what was a breakout season for the 25 year-old.

Abt was a race winning proposition from the get-go in season four, taking an on-the-road win in the second Hong Kong race.

Being stripped of this win for an irregularity regarding bar-coded seals and sloppy paperwork by the team only appeared to make the German dig deeper as the season wore on.

A clumsy attempted pass on Alex Lynn at Marrakesh apart, he was pretty much faultless throughout the season.

After finally taking a win at Mexico City, Abt had his day-of-days on home ground in Berlin, taking a crushing victory. It was one so supreme that it hands down beat and seemed to unsettle teammate di Grassi.

The ripples of this, whether directly or not, were felt all the way to New York City when the Brazilian put an unnecessarily robust move on Abt just after the pit stops when an air of confusion reigned as to team strategy within the race.

It sets up a possible mouth-watering clash between the two for Season Five with reports emerging that Audi could retain and even stretch out its powertrain efficiency advantage.

Abt showed last season he has matured in to what most suspected him of harbouring. This was capability to execute wins and setup possible title campaigns.

The final weapons in Abt’s armoury appear to be relatively simple, according to McNish.

“Having Daniel being an official factory driver was very important thing for him and he stood up to that task very well. That’s a personal point of view really,” he explained.

“It is probably an easier situation for him to answer to Audi rather than ABT and I think he has grown-up because of it.

“We put a lot of effort in ensuring the team structure supported him in the sense that he could show what he has a lot more. He responded well and at Berlin in particular he was magnificent.”

Abt now goes in to Season Five on a serious high and should be considered a genuine title contender.

Audi looks strong once more as Formula E enters its second epoch.

With another team, Virgin Racing, set to run its evolved powertrain then it will become increasingly hard for its direct opposition to penetrate the podium positions that threaten to be largely annexed by the ‘four rings’ of Audi.

Photo: Formula E

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

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