Felix Rosenqvist captures first Formula E win in Berlin race one

Photo: Mahindra Racing
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Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist has won in a lot of disciplines and the super, speedy Swede added another win to his resume on Saturday at the Tempelhofring Circuit in Berlin, Germany, his first victory in the FIA Formula E Championship, in what is also the first for the Indian team in the series.

In Round 7 of the 2016/17 championship, this is only the second race points leader Sebastien Buemi has not won. Lucas di Grassi won in Mexico City, Round 4, but otherwise Buemi went five for six prior to today’s race.

Rosenqvist led the opening portion of qualifying before falling to third in the Super Pole session, but quickly got into second off the line behind ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver di Grassi, who took pole. Jose Maria Lopez of DS Virgin Racing got a horrendous start from second and slipped back to fourth.

He hounded di Grassi for the first stint of the 44-lap race around the airport circuit before di Grassi gave up the position into the sweeping Turn 1 just before the pit stop to swap cars. Rosenqvist darted around the outside and would thus have the lead going into the pit stop sequence.

The only concern for him from there was whether he’d be able to follow through with the lead after the car exchange, but he did just that, and controlled the pace for the remainder of the race.

Di Grassi was second, 2.232 seconds behind, while Nick Heidfeld completed Mahindra Racing’s banner day with another third place. It’s the German’s third straight third-place finish and fourth overall this season, for the fourth place driver in points heading into the race.

Lopez finished fourth, while Jean-Eric Vergne was fifth on the road before a time penalty assessed that dropped him to ninth, and Buemi took a pivotal fifth to make something of his day, as we’ll note below.

The Swiss driver qualified only 14th but improved to sixth on the road, a gain of eight positions. That became fifth with a five-second time penalty assessed to Techeetah’s Vergne for an unsafe release in his pit stop, and dropped the Frenchman down the order.

All told, di Grassi cut a bit into the 43-point lead Buemi of Renault e.dams had going into the race, but not near as much as he could have with Buemi doing an excellent job of damage limitations.

It was only a net 11-point swing with di Grassi picking up 21 points (18 for second, three for pole) and Buemi 10 (for fifth), and so Buemi holds a 32-point lead going into Sunday’s action. Theoretically, with di Grassi on pole and Buemi only 14th on the grid, the Brazilian had a chance to score a maximum 25 points for the race win and cut the lead to the teens, but it didn’t happen.

Beyond the top five, Nico Prost was sixth in the second Renault ahead of Sam Bird, Daniel Abt, Vergne and Maro Engel.

Elsewhere, Stephane Sarrazin was 13th in his first drive for Techeetah, neither Faraday Future Dragon Racing car made the points, and neither did either MS Amlin Andretti car, which ran longer in the first stint in hopes of leapfrogging the field on pit strategy, but it didn’t work out.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.