The Envision Racing duo of Nick Cassidy and Robin Frijns started the opening round of the 2021–22 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship line astern under the lights at the Diriyah E-Prix, and after a difficult start, Cassidy claimed a solid seventh with a top three finish within range.
Both drivers starred in the brand new qualifying format, with Robin Frijns going quickest in Group A as both he and team-mate Cassidy made it through to the quarter finals for the new head-to head knockout.
Following a thrilling debut for the new qualification system, Cassidy ended up sixth and Frijns seventh. A few hours later when the lights went out to start the 45-minute-plus-one-lap race, as the pack filtered through the opening right-left sequence of corners, the Envision Racing duo maintained their formation flying throughout the opening couple of laps, albeit running two positions back from their qualifying slots.
At the 15 minute mark, the Mercedes pair of Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries headed the field as the season’s first safety car period was triggered by a coming together between Frijns and Oliver Rowland.
The contact relegated the Dutch driver to 14th place, and following the departure of the new Porsche Taycan safety car, the significantly strung-out pack got back to racing and Cassidy promptly activated his Attack Mode along with a clutch of rivals.
Cassidy clocked up the fastest lap of the race with 23 minutes left and held seventh position and chased down Jaguar’s Sam Bird. As the minutes ticked by, Cassidy’s race became a comfortable, and rather lonely, seventh place with Lucas di Grassi further down the road, and Porsche driver Pascal Wehrlein following.
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All that changed in the blink of an eye, as the final 10 minutes saw a clash between the drivers battling for the podium. Jake Dennis and Andre Lotterer made contact at turn one, compressing the field and giving Cassidy a shot at sixth place with a podium in sight.
Cassidy kept his powder dry at the rear of the four-car train scrapping for a podium, in a battle that brought the race to life in the closing stages. The Kiwi driver looked to pip Di Grassi for sixth with just under 10 minutes remaining, however the Brazilian found some extra pace, took the initiative and seized fifth place from Lotterer.
In due course, Cassidy was all over Lotterer in the closing stages and the two-time Formula E polesitter made a textbook move to claim sixth as the race entered the closing eight minutes, managing to keep within lunging distance of Di Grassi and Bird as the chequered flag approached.
It was all change once again for Cassidy on the final lap. Despite defending admirably from a rapid Edoardo Mortara, the Envision Racing driver ended up being passed in the final few metres by the Venturi driver, finishing one place back from where he started in the desert, but with a decent points haul from race one of the season.
“It was an interesting race today,” stated Cassidy after the race. “Not perfect, and definitely room for improvement, but we got some good points and the car was fast. Managed to score my first fastest lap in Formula E, and it is looking good to score points tomorrow, so there’s a lot to look forward to this weekend and the rest of the year.”
For Cassidy’s team-mate, despite a frustrating opening race ending in a 16th place finish, there remains plenty of promise as the teams and drivers lick their wounds and reset for Saturday’s second race in the desert. “I think we had good pace in qualifying,” reflected Frijns, “which we showed today. I’m hopeful for a strong qualifying and we’ll hopefully move forward and challenge the Mercedes cars in qualifying and in the race. Let’s see what happens”
As Formula E welcomed a new qualifying format, the Envision Racing team-mates emerged as masters. In Group A, Frijns powered and slid his Audi e-tron FE07 to fastest in Group A, and Cassidy made a very good fist of following suit in Group B, emerging as the second fastest runner, ensuring both drivers made the knockout phase.
“Qualifying went very well with Robin in first place in his group and Nick running second fastest in his,” commented Managing Director & CTO at Envision Racing Sylvain Filippi. “It was also very close in the duels with hundreds of seconds making the difference. In the race, despite the overall result, I think it is quite promising for the season.
“Nick managed to stay with the leading group and despite the race not going Robin’s way, his pace was good. Overall we look competitive, which is the main thing, so we can build on that.”
Race results: Diriyha E-Prix
1. Nyck de Vries
2. Stoffel Vandoorne
3. Jake Dennis
4. Sam Bird
5. Lucas di Grassi
6. Edoardo Mortara
7. Nick Cassidy
16. Robin Frijns
Fastest lap: Nick Cassidy, Envision Racing – 1:09:207