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Di Grassi, Buemi fired up as Formula E title fight nears conclusion


2015/2016 FIA Formula E Championship. Paris ePrix, Paris, France. Saturday 23 April 2016. Photo: Glenn Dunbar/LAT/Formula E ref: Digital Image _W2Q2373

Formula E

BERLIN, Germany - Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi are cut from a very similar cloth. Both are seasoned racers. Both enjoyed stints in Formula 1 before going on to enjoy greater success in the FIA World Endurance Championship with major manufacturers.

And both are now preparing for a final scrap for the second Formula E title.

Di Grassi and Buemi have been here before. Last season, they were in the running for the championship until the very last race before Nelson Piquet Jr. edged the pair of them in a tense finale at London’s Battersea Park.

This time around, it’s just the two of them who can realistically clinch the title. DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird is their nearest challenger, but with 44 points separating him from di Grassi in the lead, and given the added weight his car carries due to the twin-motor powertrain design, it seems unlikely that the Briton will bridge the gap.

Di Grassi arrives in Berlin not only as motorsport’s man in form. He has crossed the line first in the last three Formula E races, winning two given his disqualification in Mexico, and picked up his first FIA WEC victory for Audi at Spa two weeks ago. Arguably, only Nico Rosberg (F1), Simon Pagenaud (IndyCar) and Kyle Busch (NASCAR) can boast a similar record of late.

Combining this with an 11-point lead over Buemi in the championship, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is di Grassi’s title to lose. The ABT Schaeffler Audi driver does not see it that way though.

“The championship title is completely open and I don’t do calculations,” di Grassi said. “We just try to optimize the weekend.

“Every Formula E race is a completely different race. It’s a very short day for free practice, qualifying and race. One small mistake or one small problem can lead to a bad weekend.

“Of course we try to optimize and get the most amount of points possible. But because there are 90 points still on the table, everything is very open.

“Being in front of the championship or behind or here or there, we just try to get a good weekend.”

Buemi started the season as the overwhelming favorite thanks to the speed of his Renault e.dams powertrain during testing and the dominant victory he enjoyed at the opening round in Beijing.

However, he has not won a race since the Punta del Este ePrix at the end of last year, with qualifying proving to be an Achilles heel for the Swiss racer so far this season. The loss of the planned Moscow race in June gives Buemi one race less to catch di Grassi, but he is not overly concerned.

“To be honest, whether we have one more race or one less doesn’t really matter. Either way, it could be good or bad for one more race,” Buemi said.

“London, everything could happen with the weather and the track is so special. Here, obviously we want to win, we want to do the maximum like Lucas said.

“But you don’t really think about the championship. You want to focus on small details on the build up to the race, to make sure you have a strong car for the race. And then we’ll see.

“We’ll fight hard, we want to score more points than them, but it’s still very open.”

The track in Berlin will be new for all drivers following the move from the old Tempelhof Airport - currently housing thousands of refugees - to the city centre near Alexanderplatz.

It features a mix of short straights, slow corners and quick kinks, with the slower nature of the track posing more of a challenge to drivers in terms of energy management.

“The amount of energy saving here is similar to Mexico, so you guys have an idea in terms of how much it is, which is one of the highest of the season and probably the highest of the season,” di Grassi explained.

“Like I said many times before, I think Renault came for this year with the best package. As you all know, you have to homologate your hardware at the beginning of the year so you cannot change. You have to race what you homologate at the beginning of the year.

“I think they still have the best drivetrain package. They have a lot of know-how. We also have a very good package and we managed to improve in all the areas that we could during the year to try to match them. I think it all goes down to details. Every race is a different race.”

With temperatures set to be higher in Berlin than they were in Paris, the heat issues that cost Buemi with his tires last time out should no longer be a concern, making him more of a threat to di Grassi.

“I think we should be better, clearly. Looks like we will have to do a lot of saving in the race as well,” Buemi said.

“This is good for us to be honest. We will see in qualifying what happens. Paris was difficult because overtaking was difficult.

“If you were not starting at the front, it was making it a bit more difficult, where here I think it’s a bit more open to pass.

“Here we focus as much as possible during free practice and qualifying to make sure we get a good starting position.”

Buemi and di Grassi may be rivals in two series, but they enjoy a strong mutual respect that is often hard to find in racing. This was clear in a thrilling, hard and fair battle during the 6 Hours of Spa when the two went wheel-to-wheel at some of the circuit’s fastest and most notorious corners.

“When we were fighting them, there was one time when Sebastian was overtaking me and I overtook back, and then he overtook me back again very quickly at Blanchimont,” di Grassi said with a smile.

“Racing is about this, it’s about fighting. Everybody has respect for each other, everybody is fighting. It doesn’t matter if we’re fighting with 1,200 horsepower hybrid machines or 300 horsepower electric cars, the fight is always interesting.

“It’s always fun when you have similar equipment and a very high level of drivers. That’s what I like about racing, being able to fight. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

“The respect and the fairness and the fairplay is always important.”

The Berlin ePrix takes place on May 21.

Follow @LukeSmithF1