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The Jaguar of Sam Bird on track in Rome

Rome Qualifying: A front row lockout amidst difficulty for the title contenders

Mitch Evans continues his terrific form around the streets of the Italian city

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Mixed fortunes for the championship contenders as Jaguar assert themselves as the team to beat.

Mitch Evans with a Jaguar engineer
Title contender Mitch Evans maintains his strong form in Rome. (Image credit: Jaguar TCS Racing on Twitter)

Ahead of qualifying, the early pace was set by two of the championship contenders. Free Practice 1 saw Pascal Wehrlein go fastest, setting a time of 1:39.632. That time was surpassed by Mitch Evans in Free Practice 2, who was quicker than Wehrlein by almost two seconds.

Although they traded fastest laps, Wehrlein and Evans looked to have the pace in both practice sessions, with both drivers finishing within the top 5. Championship rival Nick Cassidy didn’t share such fortune, only placing as high as P13 in FP1.

Evans could be the one to watch around the streets of the Italian capital. The Jaguar driver has three Rome E-Prix victories to his name, as he utterly dominated last year’s doubleheader. But heading into the race weekend it’s Jake Dennis who leads the standings — albeit by only one point.

The groups

Group A

Porsche’s Pascal Wehrlein was the first to bank a lap, winding his way around the narrow Roman circuit. Sacha Fenestraz was second to embark on a lap, and was immediately quicker than Wehrlein in the first sector. Though Wehrlein remained quickest of the pair, ABT’s Nico Müller was the first to top timesheets.

Müller’s time was soon smashed by the two Andretti’s as Jake Dennis set a time of 1:39.618. Bird and Fenestraz upped their game, getting in between the Andretti drivers. Dennis remained fastest, holding a two-tenths advantage on the Jaguar of Sam Bird.

Meanwhile, cameras cut to the DS Penske of Stoffel Vandoorne clattering against the barriers at Turn 7. The Belgian driver sustained damage to his front wing. With only a couple of minutes to go, the DS Penske driver was still yet to set a quick lap.

As the final minute of qualifying approached, the drivers bombed their way around the circuit in an attempt to secure a place in the top four. Wehrlein jumped up to the top of the timesheets, but that time was quickly pipped by championship leader Jake Dennis. But perhaps the most impressive of all was Nissan’s Sacha Fenestraz, who went fastest with a lap time of 1:38.912.

Through to the duels: Fenestraz, Bird, Dennis and Günther

Group B

The bright green Envision of Sébastian Buemi headed out on track, putting in a lap of 1:39.459. Nick Cassidy was just under two-tenths off of his teammate, whilst the Nissan’s continued to look quick as Norman Nato went third fastest. The McLarens were soon to prove themselves as a force to be reckoned with as Hughes and Rast went second and third fastest respectively.

Stealing Buemi’s thunder was Jaguar’s Mitch Evans, setting a lap time of 1:39.300. Meanwhile, there was a mighty lockup from Lucas di Grassi as he made his way into Turn 7. Both Mahindras were languishing at the bottom of the timesheets, with Di Grassi almost four seconds off the pace.

With thirty seconds left on the clock, the drivers re-emerged from their garages as they attempted to secure a flying lap. Evans remained the man to beat, but a crash from Hughes red flagged the session.

As Hughes tackled a high-speed section of the circuit, the McLaren driver lost the rear over the bumps. Hitting the barriers twice, the front of the McLaren sustained heavy damage. Thankfully, Hughes was unharmed.

The session’s premature end could change the landscape for Saturday afternoon’s race. Unable to put in a lap, championship protagonist Nick Cassidy missed out on the duels. Also unable to progress was Wehrlein’s teammate Antonio Félix da Costa.

Hughes was dropped down to P11 for bringing out the red flags; as a result, Mortara was now through to the duels. Even if Hughes had remained in duels contention, there was no way the British driver would be able to compete. His car had sustained very heavy damage to the chassis, leaving the McLaren mechanics with a hefty

Through to the quarter-finals: Evans, Buemi, Rast, Mortara

The Duels

Ahead of the duels, there was uncertainty in the pitlane. It looked as if Sam Bird had had his Group A time deleted for failing to slow under a yellow flag. This would mean Bird would be unable to compete in the duels, crucially meaning that title contender Pascal Wehrlein would be promoted in his stead.

It soon became apparent that Jaguar was appealing the decision. As Bird hopped back into the car, it looked like the appeal might have been successful. Unfortunately for Jaguar, the stewards seemed unmoving, and it was believed that Wehrlein would compete in the duels.

Except — surprise! It was announced that the stewards would, in fact, be reinstating Sam Bird’s lap time. Bird was in and Wehrlein was now out, reshaping the state of the championship battle once again.

Quarter final one: Günther vs Dennis

Weather update: it’s hot in Italy. As the duels got underway, the track temperature had risen by over 10 degrees from the start of the group sessions. Jake Dennis was the first out on that blisteringly hot track.

As Dennis wound his way around the circuit, the rear of the Andretti looked a little unstable. The Jaguar of Sam Bird, on the other hand, seemed far more assured. Bird tackled the corners and uneven track surface with ease, opening up a clear gap to Jake Dennis. Once the gap opened, Bird’s advantage over Dennis remained clear. The Jaguar finished over three tenths ahead of the championship leader, knocking Dennis out of the duels.

Bird goes through to the semi-finals.

Quarter final two: Fenestraz vs Günther

Sacha Fenestraz immediately opened up a gap to Max Günther. The Nissan maintained its pace from the group stages. What was a gap of just over a tenth soon became an advantage of half a second. The young Nissan driver made it look almost easy, securing himself a place in the semi-finals.

Fenestraz goes through to the semi-finals.

Quarter final three: Rast vs Buemi

René Rast was out on track gunning for his first semi-final appearance of the season. Whilst Sébastien Buemi opened up a slight gap to Rast, the McLaren driver was quick to catch up — and soon leapt right ahead. As Buemi grappled with the undulations of the track, Rast maintained a two-tenths advantage over the Envision.

Buemi was quick to fight back, clawing chunks of time out of René Rast. The veteran driver soon surpassed Rast, claiming his place in the next stage of the qualifying battle.

Buemi goes through to the semi-finals. 

Quarter final four: Evans vs Mortara

Evans, who has historically performed well around Rome, began the duel a tenth down on Mortara. But the Jaguar driver was soon to catch up, and a strong second sector put him ahead of Mortara’s Maserati. Once the advantage was in Evans’ pocket, his didn’t let it out of his grasp. The championship contender crossed the line comfortably clear of Edoardo Mortara.

Evans goes through to the semi-finals.

The Semi-Finals
Semi-final one: Fenestraz vs Bird

Rookie driver Sacha Fenestraz was the first out on track, holding a marginal time advantage over Bird. Bird leapfrogged Fenestraz, but the Nissan driver began to catch up, with just 0.001s separating them. Fenestraz took a more significant lead over Bird — until a significant gap opened up between the two.

Sam Bird suddenly had an eight-tenths lead over Fenestraz, and it appeared that the Nissan driver encountered some difficulty in his second sector. Bird went on to cross the line a second clear of Fenestraz, locking in his position in the final.

Bird goes through to the final.

Semi-final two: Evans vs Buemi

Following on from Bird’s performance, the Jaguar continued to look strong. Evans opened up an early gap to Buemi, which only continued to grow as they wound their way around the streets of Rome. A poor lap from Buemi handed Evans a mighty lead over the Envision driver, as the Kiwi finished over two seconds ahead.

Evans goes through to the final.

The Final: Evans vs Bird 

It’s an all-Jaguar final, the British team having asserted themselves as a dominant force throughout the qualifying session. All this, even amongst the earlier uncertainty over Bird’s Group A lap time. Jaguar has certainly been the star of today’s show.

Bird was the first to embark on his flying lap, but it was Evans who opened up an early lead. The gap between the two was marginal – just 0.007s – until a strong first sector from Bird handed him a more substantial lead.

It all came undone for Bird though, as a mistake from the Brit passed the lead to Mitch Evans. The title contender maintained a second lead over teammate Bird, which only continued to grow. Evans cruised to pole position, opening up an almost two-second gap over Sam Bird.

Your starting grid for the Rome E-Prix

Featured Image Credit: Jaguar TCS Racing on Twitter

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