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Nick Cassidy of New Zealand and Envision Racing during free practice 3 of Formula E 2023 Rome E-Prix

Rome Qualifying: Title contenders duke it out in the duels

The scorching streets of Rome provided some exciting battles

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Saturday’s race winner Mitch Evans was upset by Cassidy as three of the title contenders faced off in the qualifying duels. 

Andretti driver Jake Dennis on track at the Rome E-Prix
Cassidy, Dennis and Evans faced off in the duels. (Image credit: @Hankook_Sport on Twitter)

The aftershocks of Saturday’s terrifying crash were still being felt in the run-up to Sunday’s qualifying session. The six-car incident thankfully saw all drivers come away unharmed. It’s reckoned to be the worst crash in the electric racing series’ history.

That everyone walked away from the incident unharmed is a clear testament to the safety features of the Gen3 Formula E car. Jaguar team principal James Barclay described the incident as a “nightmare scenario”, adding: “The most important thing is that the car [the crash structure of the Gen3 car] remained stable. It did its job and protected the drivers.”

Echoing gratitude for the car’s safety features was António Félix da Costa, who was involved in the incident. “The halo saved my life today,” the Porsche driver e-Formula.news. “I’m 100 per cent sure. It was the scariest moment of my life. Buemi and I were the first to arrive there without any warning and, of course, very fast. We didn’t have a chance. I’m just happy that myself and everyone else is okay.”

The sheer magnitude of damage to the cars involved meant there was some uncertainty over which drivers would be able to participate in Sunday’s running. Remarkably, all 22 cars were out on track for Free Practice 3 on Sunday morning.

Leading the pack in FP3 was Mitch Evans, the winner of Saturday’s disrupted race. The Jaguar driver now holds a three-race winning streak in Rome — and will undoubtedly be looking to bring that number up to four.

The Groups

Group A

The DS Penskes were among the first to bank a flying lap, Vergne going fastest with a time of 1:40.203. The Jaguar powertrain then proved that it still had the pace, as Cassidy, Evans and Bird took hold of the top three positions. Nick Cassidy in the Envision recorded a time of 1:38.829. Dan Ticktum clipped the wall through Turn 3, managing to avoid picking up too much damage to his NIO333.

With two minutes on the clock, the drivers emerged from the garage with a set of fresh tyres, embarking on their final flying laps. Cassidy continued to look quick, but Vergne also looked to be on great form. Nick Cassidy improved on his previous time, putting in a lap of 1:38.547. Putting in a strong lap was Dan Ticktum, who managed to secure himself a spot in the duels, knocking out da Costa. Cassidy’s time as group leader was short-lived, as Bird went over tenth quicker than the Envision driver in the final seconds of the session.

Through to the quarter-finals: Bird, Cassidy, Ticktum, Evans

Group B

Sacha Fenestraz was unable to take part in qualifying as his Nissan underwent a battery change. Disappointing news after Fenestraz’s strong performance in Saturday’s qualifying session.

One of the first out on track was Jake Hughes, who suffered a big shunt at the end of group qualifying on Saturday. Buemi pipped Hughes to the top of the time sheets, recording a time for 1.38:562. Although Hughes slotted into P2, he was almost half a second off of Buemi’s time.

Jake Dennis then went fastest overall, almost two-tenths quicker than Buemi. Hughes improved on his time, jumping ahead of teammate Rast to take P3. Pascal Wehrlein then moved into the top four, but remained 0.466s off of Dennis’ time.

Only a few minutes remained as the drivers looked to record their final flying laps. In the drop zone were both the Maseratis, with Saturday’s podium scorer Max Günther down in P10. Hughes went down the run off in Turn 7, whilst his teammate René Rast took hold on P4. Günther was quick to beat that time, taking hold of fourth position, whilst Norman Nato went third fastest in the Nissan.

Title contender Pascal Wehrlein had a tough time of things, only going eighth fastest, leaving his championship hopes in a risky position. That’s neither Porsche through to the duels.

Through to the quarter-finals: Dennis, Buemi, Nato, Günther

The Duels
Quarter final one: Ticktum vs Cassidy

Cassidy took an early advantage over Dan Ticktum, which only continued to grow as the duel progressed. The gap widened from one tenth to four tenths, the Envision comfortably quicker than the NIO333. Cassidy secured his place in the duel over a second clear of Ticktum.

Cassidy goes through to the semi-finals.

Quarter final two: Evans vs Bird

The two Jaguar drivers went head to head, the pair closely matched in the opening stages of the duel. Evans had a 0.02s advantage, but Bird turned that around, opening up a gap of his own. It was marginal at first, before becoming a more substantial gap of 0.141s. Evans was quick to catch his teammate, and soon only 0.004s separated the two Jaguars. Team orders kicked in as Sam Bird went six tenths slower in the final sector, clearly backing off to ensure that title contender Evans could secure himself a spot in the duels.

Evans goes through to the semi-finals. 

Quarter final three: Buemi vs Nato

Buemi was down in the first sector, but soon clawed some time back from Nato. The Envision driver soon went quicker than Nato, but before long found himself losing the car, making contact with the barrier. Buemi’s time out handed Nato a 12 second lead, guaranteeing him a spot in the semi-finals.

Nato goes through to the semi-finals. 

Quarter final four: Günther vs Dennis

Günther was fastest in the first sector, but was soon evenly matched by Dennis, just 0.004s separating the two cars. A strong second sector handed Dennis the advantage, the Andretti driver going over two tenths quicker. Dennis maintained a comfortable lead on Günther throughout the remained of the duel.

Dennis goes through to the semi-finals.

The Semi-Finals
Semi-final one: Evans vs Cassidy

Two of the title contenders went head to head — their first meeting in a qualifying duel. Cassidy had an early advantage over Evans, going over three tenths quicker than Evans. A mistake from Cassidy allowed Evans to close the gap, but the Envision driver maintained an advantage. Holding onto that lead on Evans, Cassidy crossed the line clear of the King of Rome.

Cassidy goes through to the final.

Semi-final two: Dennis vs Nato

The two were initially evenly matched, but it wasn’t long before Dennis eked out an advantage over Norman Nato. The Nissan driver closed the gap through the second sector, but a strong final sector handed Dennis the overall lead.

Dennis goes through to the final. 

The Final: Dennis vs Cassidy

Another face-off between two of the title protagonists, as Cassidy and Dennis went head to head in the final. Dennis suffered some oversteer in the first sector, but managed to maintain a marginal lead on Cassidy. The gap continued to grow – relatively speaking – as Dennis opened up a 0.077s lead on the Envision driver.

Cassidy couldn’t match the pace of Dennis, who was flying his way around the circuit. Dennis maintained a healthy lead over Cassidy. Although the Envision driver managed to shave off some time, he still fell short of pole position. That’s pole position for Dennis and second on the grid for Cassidy ahead of Sunday afternoon’s race.

Starting grid

Following the conclusion of qualifying, Max Günther awaited a decision from the stewards following an investigation into whether there had been a yellow flag infringement.

Featured Image Credit: Danilo Di Giovanni/Getty Images

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