Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Where it’s All Gone Wrong for Pascal Wehrlein

Having led the 2022/23 FIA Formula E World Championship for over three months, Pascal Wehrlein faces the seven biggest races of his Formula E career, with the German being at serious risk of seeing his title charge fall agonisingly short.

Back at the end of January when the Diriyah double-header took place, Wehrlein was quickly labelled as the title favourite, with it being incredibly easy to see why. After finishing second at the season-opener in Mexico City, the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team driver claimed a famous double victory in Diriyah, launching him to the top of the Drivers’ Championship.

Wehrlein was rapid in qualifying at the start of the season, with him having progressed to the duels in two of the opening three races. As a result, he was in a prime position to capitalise on Porsche’s remarkable energy efficiency, which at the season was far superior over the other manufacturers. He made winning look embarrassingly easy, to the point where Porsche looked unbeatable.

Credit: Simon Galloway courtesy of FIA Formula E

He was capable of breezing his way into the lead whilst still preserving energy, something which saw him and Jake Dennis clear-off into the distance in Mexico City and Diriyah. Following Diriyah, the German boasted a six-point lead in the standings, thanks to having scored sixty-eight points from just the opening three races. In the following six races, he’s scored just thirty-three, highlighting just how much his progress has halted since the opening few rounds.

With the exception of Cape Town and the second race in Berlin, Wehrlein’s qualifying performances have been woeful since his two wins in Saudi Arabia, with Porsche seemingly being unable to extract one lap performance from the 99X Electric Gen3. His qualifying struggles initially weren’t too big a concern, with Porsche’s energy efficiency advantage still resulting in the twenty-eight year-old breezing through the field.

Despite having qualified twelfth in Hyderabad, he worked his way through to finish fourth at the fourth race of the season, something which saw his lead extend to eighteen points. Whilst it wasn’t a big enough lead to theoretically miss a race and still be in front, it was a manageable advantage for Wehrlein. Even when he wasn’t qualifying well he showed that he could still finish amongst the frontrunners, adding to the reasons why he was labelled as the early title favourite.

Credit: TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team

Even when things went horribly wrong in Cape Town, Wehrlein’s lead remained the same, with his title rivals having faltered. Wehrlein crashed into the back of Sébastian Buemi on the opening lap in South Africa, something which many initially thought would see his advantage diminish. With Dennis having also endured a race to forget, Wehrlein’s lead remained at eighteen points following the fifth round despite having retired, almost giving the impression that it was Wehrlein’s title to lose.

He recovered from a shocking qualifying once again in São Paulo, where he stormed through the field to finish seventh despite having started eighteenth. His racecraft and energy management was again flawless; however, something very interesting was discovered. Whilst he did remarkably well to make up eleven places, he didn’t possess the same energy advantage at the end of the race which he did at the start of the season, with Jaguar having seemingly made huge strides forward.

At the start of the year, Wehrlein could qualify anywhere yet still be confident of finishing on the rostrum, due to Porsche’s energy efficiency. São Paulo saw a significant change, with Jaguar powertrains having locked-out the entire podium. However, Wehrlein still extended his championship lead to twenty-four points, proving that consistency was the key.

Credit: TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team

Wehrlein qualified poorly once again ahead of the first race in Berlin, with the German having only claimed fifteenth on the grid. Again, though, he worked his way through the field to finish sixth but the big issue was that Jaguar had all four of their powertrains ahead of the German. As a result, his lead in the standings was reduced to twenty-three points; alas, just one-point less.

Second spot was inherited, though, by Nick Cassidy, who at the time had claimed three podiums from four races. Roll on Berlin Race Two, where Wehrlein did qualify better. He managed to seal sixth on the grid at the team’s second home race; however, he was only able to finish seventh. Cassidy went on to win the race and reduce Wehrlein’s lead to just four points, with the race having been the first time other than in Cape Town where Wehrlein finished lower than where he started.

It was another sign that Wehrlein’s ability to breeze through to the leading places with ease was disintegrating, mostly due to the progress being made by Jaguar in particular. All the Porsche-powered drivers weren’t able to capitalise on having better energy efficiency like they were at the start of the season, something they clearly relied heavily on.

Credit: Simon Galloway courtesy of FIA Formula E

Moving on to the recent race at the Circuit de Monaco and Wehrlein again qualified in the bottom-half of the field. Wehrlein started the ninth race of the season from twelfth, behind all but one of his title rivals. In the race, he again failed to make any significant progress, resulting in him scoring just one-point, which only came due to Sam Bird being penalised. He finished the race in eleventh but was classified in tenth, whilst Cassidy claimed back-to-back wins and a fifth podium from six races.

The result in Monaco saw Cassidy take the lead of the championship by a staggering twenty points, with Wehrlein having fallen to second. It marked the end of Wehrlein’s time at the top, as well as Porsche’s. The team’s recent struggles has seen them lose a forty-two point lead over Envision Racing since Cape Town, with Envision very much being the team with the moment.

Wehrlein is now under pressure to instantly respond in Jakarta next month, with him needing to disrupt Cassidy’s momentum. With Porsche’s energy efficiency advantage gone, though, it’s difficult to see how the former title favourite can get himself back into the fight, due to Jaguar’s superiority as things stand. All four Jaguar drivers have been capable of making the duels at the vast majority of the races this season, whilst Wehrlein has struggled to make the top twelve.

Credit: TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team

So far this season, Wehrlein has made the duels just four times, whereas Cassidy has featured in the final-eight in four of the last five races. With Porsche not having the race pace advantage that they boasted at the start of the season, Wehrlein’s only chance of winning the title this season is to qualify better, given that he physically can’t fight through the field like he could in Hyderabad or São Paulo anymore.

What will potentially work in his and Porsche’s favour, is that there are still three double-headers this season, meaning the side can gather data on the opening day to at least push for the duels ahead of the second race of the weekend. If he can qualify amongst at least the top ten then Wehrlein will still be a contender for the championship; however, a bad weekend in Jakarta and a strong one for Cassidy could see his early season heroics become a distant memory.