DUBAI: Joy. Terror. Relief. And disappointment.
In less than 24 hours, Edoardo Mortara experienced it all at the Diriyah E-Prix.
In the still relatively novel world of Formula E, the man affectionately known as “Edo” was involved in two incidents that, rightly and then almost tragically, shone a light on the electric one-seater series like rarely before.
On Feb. 26, ROKiT Venturi Racing’s Swiss-Italian driver finished second in the season-opening Diriyah E-Prix, having pulled off an overtaking maneuver that even now, weeks later, continues to defy the laws of physics.
The next morning, as he practiced for the second of the weekend’s double-header of night races, his brakes failed, forcing him to crash head-on into a barrier.
An emergency trip to hospital thankfully showed no serious physical damage, but for a few terrifying moments he was not in charge of his own destiny. In his own words, he was a “passenger”.
“It was not nice,” Mortara said with a heavy dose of understatement.
“Luckily for us drivers, and luckily for me these [accidents] don’t happen that often. We had a technical issue with the car, the brakes didn’t work. I couldn’t do anything, but I’m glad that I have no major injuries, that I’m feeling healthy. Mentally, psychologically I’ve got absolutely no issues. I can’t wait to be back in the car in Rome.”
Rome is where the third and fourth rounds – and second venue – of the 2020-21 Formula E season will take place, and Mortara – seven-time winner at the Macau Grand Prix – says he’s hungrier than ever to get going again. Not surprisingly, he’s happier discussing his second-place finish in Saudi than what happened the following day.
“The Friday race went really well for us,” he said.
“The weekend went really well, we were quite competitive, I never finished outside the top five or six in every session. We had good qualifying sessions, we were in Super Pole. And the race also went well for us, we showed good signs of competitiveness that weekend. We’re extremely happy about that and hopefully we’re going to have more weekends like this.”
The celebrations when Mortara crossed the finish line, particular by Team Principal Susie Wolff, were arguably the highlight of the weekend.
“You cannot believe what relief it was to get the season off to such a strong start because a lot in motorsports is about momentum,” Wolff, who joined ROKiT Venturi Racing 2018, said.
“We had obviously had a poor end to season six which had made us even more determined, but we just needed that energy of the podium back into the team.”
More than just the podium finish, there was that move.
“The double overtake from Edo will go down in history as one of the moves of Formula E and it was very exciting for us to watch the race,” she added.
“The second race was out of our hands with a technical issue, but to see how much pace the car has is hugely encouraging.”
Mortara had recovered sufficiently to return to the Diriyah circuit, and was even passed fit to race.
In the meantime, ROKiT Venturi’s two Mercedes-engine cars – as well as the two Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team cars – had been barred from taking part in the qualifying until further investigation, meaning he and team-mate Norman Nato would have to start from the back of the grid.
“Things unraveled very quickly, because from us having the accident, suddenly it became clear that there was an issue with the brake in the car, and the FIA declared that all four cars couldn’t compete in qualifying,” said Wolff.
“For us it was simply controlling the controllable and managing the uncontrollable. And that situation was simply out of our hands because we are the customer team. We had to make the best of the situation, we couldn’t repair Edo’s car in time.”
“In hindsight I think that was the best outcome, that he didn’t participate in the race,” she said.
“I don’t think physically that would have been the right decision. But he was very keen to get back in the car. Having been a racing driver, I realize that after you’ve had a big shunt, you are keen to get back out. But then, it was just damage limitation.”
Mortara will be back in the car on Saturday and Sunday as Wolff and her team look to press on from what will still be seen as a strong start to the season, with 18 points leaving the Venturi Racing sixth out of 12 teams in the early championship table.
Neither driver – fourth in the drivers’ standings with 18 points – nor Team Principal, however, are reading too much into the results.
“I don’t think just because we had a strong start to the season that it’s a guarantee for continued success,” Wolff said.
“We will turn up in Rome next weekend starting from zero again and very much want to demonstrate what our potential performance can be. In Formula E there are so many variables, like the qualifying format which work against you if you are high up in the championships. It’s simply about keeping our feet on the ground and taking each event as it comes.”
“Consistency is the key to success overall in Formula E, and consistency is one of the big challenges in Formula E,” she added.
“Because of the one-day format, it just needs one small incident and that can have quite big impact, so we need to minimize the errors, make sure that we can find that consistency, and I think the one big difference to last season is that I do think we have a stronger package than previously so that gives me optimism.”
Mortara, now in his fourth season at ROKit Venturi Racing, echoes Wolff’s caution but sees positive signs that the car is an improvement on the one he drove last season.
“Clearly we are more competitive than before,” he said.
“The problem is that everyone is working, everyone is taking steps forward so you cannot really judge your work compared to the others. Maybe they are taking even bigger steps. This is what we are going to discover. I’m pretty optimistic and positive about this season, I’ve got good confidence and feeling about the car. That’s already a good sign.”
This weekend saw the hosting of the first ever Extreme E series in AlUla, Said Arabia, which Wolff believes will help raise the profile of electric car racing further. But challenges remain.
“I think Covid was impactful for every sport but particularly for Formula E because we race in city centres, which really compromised what our business model is,” Wolff said.
“But we’ve signed some great broadcasting deals recently which means our reach will be much greater. I do think there’s great management team in place at Formula E. But we’ve got to see the numbers grow and in the end everything is data driven these days and the numbers will show if we’re growing with enough pace. But I certainly believe in the platform and hope to see that grow her the next few seasons.”
While Mortara sees more drivers being attracted to the format in the coming years, he believes that Formula E and electric racing have earned the right to be mentioned alongside some of the more established motoring events.
“It needs to have even more hype than what it has now,” he said.
“There is Extreme E, but these are the only two motorsport championships directly promoting sustainability. I would love to see more hype around these two championships because they deserve that.”
“Formula E has done incredible work and hopefully in the future it can keep on rising,” Mortara said. “We’ll get the recognition we deserve.”
And this time, for all the right reasons.