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The O’Keefe Notebook: Diriyah E-Prix, race 1

So there we are – Formula E Season Six is officially a-go-go. Sam Bird and Virgin Racing prevailed in the first race of the season after Alexander Sims started on pole, TAG Heuer Porsche and Mercedes EQ broke their podium ducks at the first attempt, trying hairstyles were rocked by the men in fireproofs and the return of Big Boy Memes is upon us. And I’m here to dive through it all.

Ugh, Mercedes look rapid. Are they gonna dominate here too?

Um, no. Let’s get to the point here – Formula E doesn’t do domination. Many a team’s tried it, many a team’s failed because there’s about five others at the very least buzzing around in their ointments. Mercedes EQ are a capable outfit, one born out of last season’s HWA Racelab entry to they’re not full-blooded debutants, but their 2-3 with Stoffel Vandoorne and new gun Nyck de Vries was mightily impressive nonetheless.

And then the panic arose. Oh no, Mercedes have already been batting the F1 baseball for sixes in the entirety of the hybrid era, and here they are with the same game plan and execution. Well no, there’s no need to worry the FE unpredictability lottery will run out of tickets just yet. That 2-3 on the grid became a 3-6 at the flag, after a fortunate Group 4 seeding aided their qualifying efforts with a rubbered-in track. 

That’s not to take anything away from Mercedes EQ, they were stellar throughout the entire day and were for so long in contention for top honours. But no, they’re not running away with it. No-one does. BMW i Andretti were expected to wipe the floor with everyone after winning Diriyah in 2018, and were 1-2 at Santiago with a comfortable lead. Antonio Felix da Costa and Sims muscled up, had an incident, and that scenario was crushed. Even Techeetah’s two Drivers’ title wins and one Teams’ win were barely different to the closely-fought McLaren/Ferrari rivalry of F1’s late 2000s. Chill, take a seat and it’ll all be grand. 

Who let Jean-Eric Vergne and Pascal Wehrlein look that good?

Honestly I need to find this out too. No way they’ve managed to style theirselves that suave without divine intervention. Pascal’s ditched the curly hair so loved by many across Season Five and gone for a bad-boy manbun which… suits him really well? How I do not know but he’s made it work, even with the slim pickings for facial hair. Go Pascal.

Jean’s beard is also coming along very nicely, along with hair that looks as though it’s a wave of keratin ready for Cornwall surfers to try out on their boards. It’s a style which screams aggression befitting of the series’ only dual champion, but also an understanding of what’s in. Honourable mentions have to go to his ex-Techeetah teammate Andre Lotterer, who is ever the prime Daniel Craig replacement of the Formula E grid. 

Why does Alexander Sims have such rotten luck?

I think he broke a mirror, walked under scaffolding and looked a black cat in the eye all in the same day, that’s my hunch. Because there’s no denying this man has had a trying time of securing that elusive first Formula E win, or indeed results he’d look so nailed-on for during an E-Prix weekend.

Now don’t get me twisted, I’m not going to say it was bad luck that undid him of today’s win – that’s down to Sam and the Virgin guys being too strong, as well as the mastery of sage swordsman Andre and energetic Belgian waffle Stoffel – but you’d be hard pressed to find many drivers that are more due a breakthrough than Alex over here. With the BMW i Andretti package looking as ripe as it does, however, expect him to finally be on the smiling end of fortune and claim that first E-Prix win. 

Oh, and would you look at that. That was my Race 1 note and oh boy did it age well… Race 2 victory. One where Alex led from the start and commanded throughout. Maybe his luck really is about to turn, especially given he’s heading the Drivers’ standings departing Diriyah on 35 points.

Now that you mention Sam and Virgin Racing… could they win the lot this season?

Would I bet against them? No. Would I bet for them? Also no. It’s Formula E for the love of Oriol Servia, you just can’t call it at the start. But I will say this – it’s as good a time as ever for Sam and his team to shed the ‘nearly guys’ tag and show the rest of the grid what’s for. They clearly have a rapid car at their disposal, the Audi customer powertrain is very handy and with an unchanged line-up ‘settled’ is the theme.

Virgin are a slick organisation who know how to keep their star performers happy, and the hunt for a capable foil to Sam’s consistent brilliance appears to have ended with Robin Frijns. It can’t go without saying, it was actually Robin who was the highest Virgin driver in the Season Five Drivers’ standings, so we’re not talking an obedient number two by any means. They keep it clean, there’s a great dynamic there, don’t bet against Virgin or indeed Sam for the top prizes. Or for them, at least not yet. And no, the Race 2 double DNF changes none of this bit’s validity.

So is the season worth watching?

Well this one goes without saying. 

Can FanBoost last alongside Attack Mode?

For now it can, but I’d imagine that before too long plans to phase it out or at least reinvent FanBoost to stand tall away from Attack Mode’s shadow will be put in place. Many people are still engaging with the format and the bottom line is that’s what matters, that’s why it’s here and continues to be tweaked with. Not to mention both played their parts in a thrilling first race today. FanBoost has life in the tank yet.  

*that* podium ceremony, yay or nay?

Yay every day. Diriyah knows how to turn on the style and what says ‘hey look at these cool dudes and where being good in the electro races can take them’ than a gigantic podium? I’m almost tempted to put it alongside the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez’s ceremonies for starry-eyed amazement. Bonus points for ‘Let’s Stand Together’ blasting out for everyone to hear while Andre dwarfs Sam and Stoffel in the pictures in Race 1. 

Are the Big M8-esque memes back?

Oh you better believe it. There’s no getting away from the fact Andre is a colossus of a man, a skyscraping tower of a racing driver… or at least compared to Sam on that podium, and the shortest driver in the field, Mercedes EQ’s loveable Nyck. As such the memes have already begun about Giga Lotterer (very much aided by myself) and the spirit of Big M8 is not, after all, immune to spreading to the drivers themselves. Also the Big M8 is out, FExtra.20 is in. Formula E’s said to be like the new WEC, and even the memes are cross-compatible. 

Is Formula E the new touring cars, what with its manufacturer involvement?

Formula E can be seen as the new lots of things because of the manufacturer influx, tbh. Touring cars? Well we have BMW, Audi, Nissan (who were once upon a time Renault)… it’s attracted every recent former DTM manufacturer too. Mere days ago it was labelled as a new Bundesliga with the Germanic investment being poured into it. Truth is it’s Formula E and it’ll stand on it’s own merits, all the while throwing us a nostalgic bone to whatever other series we saw this much involvement be given.

Is Bruno Giacomelli really the #BestDriverInTheWorld?

Not until he sticks the racing gloves back on and proves his mettle in *this* series, he ain’t.


If you have more questions you want me to discuss, feel free to send them to


Picture source: FIA Formula E Media