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SEASON REVIEW: Sluggish Start Costs Audi Title Defense

A slow start to the 2018-19 season cost Audi a teams’ title defense…

Photo: Formula E

The assumption was even before the start of the 2018-19 season that along with DS Techeetah, the Audi team, or Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler to give it its official title, was a hot favorite for silverware.

While the final points standings attest to such obtuse predictions even before a wheel had turned, the fact of the matter was that actually Audi on the whole probably feel slight disappointment with its campaign.

A return of two wins and a final result of fourth in the driver’s standings for Lucas di Grassi is a reasonable one but a deeper dig reveals that the team actually collected its lowest points score since the second campaign in 2015-16 when there were even three fewer races.

But such were some expectations that Allan McNish’s typically well-balanced appraisal gave a forthright reflection.

“Maybe we’re a bit disappointed at the moment but when we look back on it we fought back very well and improved in a lot of areas from last year and that stands us in good stead going forward,” McNish told e-racing365 after the final race in New York.

“You look back over lots of other races and that’s when the points [lost] rack up. You have to look at where the competition was better and where we didn’t quite hit the spot and it’s a very honest and analytical way of looking at it and that’s the way we do things.”

After an erratic start in the first two races, Audi came into its won at Santiago when di Grassi put in one of the laps of the season to claim a brilliant pole.

That the joy was short-lived due to a convoluted braking anomaly which penalized and neutered the achievement seemed only to spur the team on further.

At the next round di Grassi scored Audi’s third straight win on Mexican soil and in the most dramatic circumstances possible. It was a victory of blockbuster status and will infatuate motorsport fans for years to come.

In a season where any kind of consistency was almost impossible to come by, Audi started to get some kind of big point rhythm going after di Grassi took a stout second in Hong Kong.

Photo: Formula E

Yet for the Brazilian, the 2018-19 season will not be remembered as a vintage one. There were some errors in races, notably at Marrakesh where he wiped out Wehrlein, and there was also frustration, most visually with some histrionics at Bern after the red flag.

Generally though Formula E’s most vocal and recognisable driver was again on top form and his wins in Mexico and Berlin were clinical on very different levels.

Di Grassi stays for a sixth season in 2019-20 and while consistency and continuity, two vital attributes in Formula E continue, there is a growing feeling that by spring of 2020 he will have to make a key decision in his career.

Does he stay and become a true Audi ‘lifer legend’ or go for one new big racing challenge before his polymath instincts truly kick in for this natural born entrepreneur.

Daniel Abt didn’t have as much of a headline-grabbing season as he had enjoyed in 2017-18 when he had equalled di Grassi’s brace of wins.

Abt is still often slightly patronized on his status in Formula E by some. The theory being that his wins in Mexico and Berlin in 2018 would address these and put them to bed once and for all, yet still there were whispers in the spring that his position in the team was under threat.

However, five strong points scores in the final six races appeared to nullify that and the German’s third place drive in Paris, for a second consecutive season, was from the very top drawer.

Abt’s new race engineer Chris de Coninck formed an immediate bond with his charge and a rhythm of consistent points scoring was found in the second half of the season.

Abt told e-racing365 in New York that he felt more comfortable knowing his immediate future and that it helped his performance in the final two races. This though was not something that team principal Allan McNish generally subscribed to.

“If you look at last season (2017-18) he blew everyone away at Berlin and he was confirmed after that,” said McNish.

“Personally I think he put in some very strong performances this season and I expect he will get even better next term.”

The facts were that Abt finished Season Five as close as ever to di Grassi points-wise. Just 13 separated them in the standings.

Photo: Formula E

Off-track, Audi was at the forefront of several political flashpoints, including the Nissan-gate saga in which it was certainly a prominent force in the maelstrom of objection to the Japanese manufacturer’s twin-MGU setup.

Then there was the curious incident in New York City when Jean-Eric Vergne’s ‘radio gaga’ incident seemed to light a fuse within some members of the Audi team.

This then amplified itself to a frosty stewards room on the final day of the championship and momentarily served a bitter pill to what should have been a more edifying finale.

Audi now prepares for its toughest season to date with the quadrupling up of major German manufacturers as Porsche and Mercedes join the grid.

Publicly, Audi, like indeed the other three powerhouses, will likely dismiss the intra-German battle, but the reality is that a large amount of eyes will be on this battle as one of the more fascinating sub-plots of the 2019-20 season.

Expect Audi to not only revel in that, but to also take its shunting off the top pedestal by DS Techeetah very badly indeed. History tells us that when the four-rings gets wounded, it doesn’t get mad; it doesn’t get even; it tends to just win again.

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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