22-year-old Max Gunther had a difficult debut season with Dragon in Formula E season five, but his speed was always obvious – a point proven when BMW i-Andretti decided to pick him up to replace the departing Antonio Felix da Costa. After losing his maiden podium in Riyadh due to a penalty, he dusted himself off to qualify on the front row for the third race of the season in Santiago.
He then lost out to Pascal Wehrlein at the start to run third, a position he stayed in after the first round of Attack Mode uses. But the timing of his second Attack Mode proved perfect – he managed to get ahead of Wehrlein and then started reeling in race leader and pole-sitter Mitch Evans, who’d already used up both of his. With just a few seconds of the extra power mode remaining, Gunther had one opportunity to get ahead – and he made it sure to make it count.
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He then pulled out a small lead over Evans, but the job wasn’t done yet. The Techeetahs of Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa were flying through the field. Vergne’s charge was halted when his bodywork starting to foul the front wheel (a legacy of earlier contact), leaving da Costa to hunt down the leaders. And hunt them down he did, taking almost a second a lap out of them.
After dispatching Evans, he then caught up to Gunther and took the lead with a rather forceful move at the hairpin. It looked like that was race over, but by pushing hard in the extremely high temperatures da Costa had overheated his battery and had to manage his pace. Despite the frustration of being passed in such an aggressive manner, Gunther kept his cool and launched a counterattack as da Costa defended for all he was worth.
However, on the last lap, Gunther managed to get a run going around the long, curved Turn 8. With his car in slightly better shape, he was able to keep on the power for slightly longer and got the job done around the outside, going on to win his first Formula E race – becoming the youngest to do so in the process – in superb fashion.
Da Costa held on for second ahead of Evans, with Wehrlein in fourth. Away from the front, things were typically manic, with plenty of ill-advised lunges, contact, and penalties.
Championship-wise, the net result is that Stoffel Vandoorne now tops the points standings courtesy of a sixth-place finish as Alexander Sims ended up being an early retirement. And yeah, I know we’re only three races into the season, but the top 11 drivers in the championship are only separated by 20 points. It looks like it’s gonna be another close one…