Formula E triumph for Antonio as Cape Town sizzles

Africa came of age as a motor-racing destination of the future over the weekend with the successful hosting of the fifth leg of the ninth season of the 2023 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship Series in Cape Town, with ‘the Mother City’ joining the likes of fellow-hosts London, Berlin, Monaco, Sao Paolo and Hyderbad.

Over five hundred years ago, Portuguese explorer-sailor Vasco da Gama was the first from Europe to round the Cape of Good Hope.  Yesterday (Saturday 25 February) another Portuguese pioneer, Antonio Felix da Costa, was the first to round the final bend of the lightning-fast Formula E racetrack at Green Point to win the race in a thrilling climax.

Antonio da Costa – racing to victory on the Green Point circuit. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

Da Costa (TAG Heuer Porsche) overtook Jean Eric Vergne (DS Penske), winner of the previous Formula E race in Hyderabad, India, in the final stages to win by 0,281 seconds, with leader for much of the race, Kiwi Nick Cassidy taking third for Team Envision Racing.

Winner of the 6th Formula E season, Da Costa endured some challenging years before moving to Porsche last November, where he is enjoying a new lease of motor-racing life. And he was over the moon at the win in just his fourth race for Porsche. “I can’t believe it – it’s been an amazing city to race in,” remarked Da Costa. “I’m happy to be here and hope to return.

Leader for much of the race, New Zealand driver, Nick Cassidy, in his Envision Racing car (Photo – Stephen Granger)

“It was an incredible race. So many things happening – so much overtaking. It was about getting into position, keeping calm and staying with strategy. The team was amazing to guide me through it. Thanks to all those who have kept believing in me.

“The journey hasn’t been easy at all, but as an athlete you can never give up and it came my way today. We have a few more things to do to the car – it’s not delivering 100% and we’ve got more to give. But today I’m just happy to celebrate the win.”

A blow to many fans was the news that the Mahindra-powered cars had been withdrawn from the race, due to rear-suspension challenges, leaving Africa’s sole racer, Kelvin van der Linde, in the commentary box, rather than on the starting grid, at the start of the race.

Cape Town – voted the prettiest course in the Formula E season (Photo – Stephen Granger)

The 2023 Formula E season started last month in Mexico before moving to Cape Town from Hyderabad in India. It was clear that drivers and commentators had fallen under Cape Town’s spell.  “We’ve raced in some beautiful cities, but Cape Town has got to be the prettiest race track in the world,” race announcer Vernon Kay remarked, his sentiment repeated many times during the course of the weekend.

And the signs are positive for more of the same, as the consensus is that the Mother City put on a first-rate show, on a weekend when it lived up to its recognition of the ‘Event Capital of Africa’, also hosting the start of the longest-ever leg of the Ocean Yacht Race and the final of the women’s Cricket World Cup.

“We have a contract with FIA for five years to host the Formula E event,” explained chair and co-founder of the local e-Movement, Iain Banner. “But that was dependent on a successful first event this weekend. This was delivered beyond expectation. I spoke to several Formula E people who said that Cape Town was their most enjoyable series event ever.”

Tickertape! From left, Western Cape premier Alan Winde, Formula E co-founder Alberto Longo, Mayor of Cape Town Geordin Hill-Lewis and Iain Banner, Chairman & Co-Founder e-Movement (Pty) Ltd celebrate the overwhelming success of Formula E Cape Town. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

A sold-out crowd of 25 000 in the trackside grandstand seats and thousands of others in various standing room viewing points witnessed the action on a perfect summer’s day – a heady mixture of speed, colour, high speed crashes and …. silence!

For petrol-heads, the roar of carbon combustion is part and parcel of motor racing, and some hesitate to embrace the silent electric car which underpins this relatively new addition to the sport. 

But E contains a strong message of sustainability, points the way to a greener energy future and the new face of the sport and the silent engines provide opportunity for a richer kaleidoscope of sound, including the swoosh of slipstream, the screeching of brakes and the gasps, groans and cheers of spectators.

With cars pushing out the 600KiloWatts of power and reaching top speeds of over 320 kph, speed around the circuit is the name of the game, but Formula E is as much about careful strategy as absolute speed.

Top three – winner Antonio da Costa is flanked by runners-up Jean Eric Vergne and Nick Cassidy. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

With each car and driver allocated a fixed amount of energy to be consumed during the race, conservation of energy is critical. Decisions on when to use maximum power and when to conserve, even surrendering favourable positions to strike later, can make all the difference come podium time.

Intriguingly, no driver who has started in pole position on the grid has won this season, and the ebullient Da Costa continued the trend after starting way back in 11 th position, having missed out on the pre-race dual success.

Prior to the race, a knockout competition around the Green Point circuit, judged to be the fastest in the world, decided the top positions on the starting line.

French-Argentinian Sacha Fenestraz won final of the dual knock-out contest to claim pole position. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

And it was French – Argentinian Sacha Fenestraz (Nissan), who pipped German Maximilian Gunther (Maserati Racing) in the final duel to take pole, with Kiwis Nick Cassidy (Envision Racing) and Mitch Evans (Jaguar Racing) starting on the second row of the grid. Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Penske) and the Da Costa’s Porsche teammate, Pascal Wehrlein of Germany were the next on the starting grid.

Early race crashes allowed Da Costa to move up to 7th.  Thereafter, a combination of poor execution and ill-judgement on the part of several drivers and patience, consistency and brilliance on the part of Da Costa saw him flash across the finish line a slit second ahead of his erst-while teammate, Vergne.

The joy of victory – Antonio da Costa shares his Formula E Cape Town triumph with the TAG Heuer Porsche team. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

The brilliance came in the form of carefully timed and courageous moves, first when he overtook Cassidy on the 24th of the 32 laps to move into second and next when he shot past Vergne on the outside, just two laps before the finish.

“I knew it was going to be tight,” said Da Costa. “But they were strategic moves.  I wanted to be behind him (Vergne) towards the end, but I left it late and took some risks. Luckily they paid off.”

Rwandan / South African / Belgian racing driver, Naomi Schiff’s presence on the commentary team and her informed comments pit-side made a significant impression. Born in Belgium to a Rwandan mother and a Belgian father, Schiff grew up in SA and now lives in the UK, where she has become an important part of the Sky Sports commentary team.

Antonio da Costa – sharing the love with local supporters. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

She began her career in South Africa, racing single seater Formula VW cars at age 16, before moving up to win the 2014 Clio Cup China Series and the KTM X-Bow GT4 24 hours in 2015. 

“I grew up in Cape Town – I’m so excited to be here for Formula E,” said Schiff.   “This is where I learned to race – there is such a supportive motor racing community in SA.

Antonio da Costa greets thousands of fans with the 2023 Cape Town Formula E trophy. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

“Role models are so important, so I try my best to support young fans – it’s great to see how many young girls are out there, interested in the sport.”

Western Cape premier, Alan Winde, shares a joke with Springbok rugby captain, Siya Kolisa, at the presentation. (Photo – Stephen Granger)

Results: ABB FIA Formula E World Championship series – Cape Town