Andretti had smashed the headlines ahead of the Mexico City E-Prix with his Cadillac Formula 1 bombshell, but then it made headlines with a performance that surprised everyone, including himself, at the first-ever Gen3 Formula E race.
To be honest, Andretti was relatively unpopular coming into the opening race of the season and the Gen3 era overall.
But perhaps the surprise should be softened a bit given his pedigree and track record over the past few seasons.
After all, it was the first win of the Gen2 era as Antonio Felix da Costa crossed the finish line in Riyadh in November 2018 when Andretti was leading BMW’s FE program.
The team therefore had a deep understanding of how to partner with a major OEM and leverage what they have, and do it quickly, especially with so many variables thrown at teams for 2023.
Then we have Jake Dennis and Andre Lotterer, certainly one of the strongest overall pairings Formula E has ever seen. Andretti was a performance bomb ready to explode in her rivals’ faces, and she did.
How it did so was both clinical and calculated. That will please its auto supplier Porsche, who also had a fruitful day, seeing all of their cars in the top seven spots.
This fact raises a tantalizing question. Is the Porsche Andretti axle the 2023 version of the Mercedes/Venturi works plus customer attack that proved so potent in 2022?
Last season this quartet ran and hid at times, achieving the only time a manufacturer has finished in the top four in an FE race, held in Berlin last May.
Should the combination of Porsche and Andretti have this ability, and do so permanently, then their quiet testing time will be forgotten – if they haven’t already been.
But that’s still early in Gen3. The power curve is barely climbed. In a sense, development is just beginning, and the biggest factor – the tires – and how to tease the sweet spot from them is still being worked out.
It was Andretti and Dennis’ ability to be among those closest to that goal that helped secure Saturday’s overwhelming victory. This meant Dennis inhabited a zone that Pascal Wehrlein and now team-mate Lotterer visited eleven months ago in Mexico with their memorable 1-2 formation finish in the works Porsches.
Like the Tempelhof track in Berlin, the Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez feels like a very special place to win.
That’s because, aside from Gen3’s new exploration, the tarmac is abrasive. In the context of the new super hard Hankook compound, it is therefore just as important to achieve consistent performance in the race as it is to see clearly through the all-important ‘performance windows’ in qualifying. Andretti and Porsche found the sweet spot better and faster than everyone else.
Then there is the measured strategy in Andretti’s race. For 2023, each driver has four minutes of Attack Mode to use across two missions, and can choose whether that’s two equal two-minute runs or a three-plus-one combo.
Dennis chose one and then three. The plan was adjusted when a phantom call to take his first attack mode was canceled. That happened just three corners before he tumbled into the mistake of leader Lucas di Grassi at Turn 1 and then the race opened up for him, although the third of the three safety cars had yet to be negotiated.
Avalanche Andretti team principal Roger Griffiths confirmed to The Race that the team started with a plan, “but as the race progressed we updated it based on our own strategy work”.
“The plan we started with has been changed,” added Griffiths.
‘Then we’ll implement. It was an interesting dynamic and I think it was good to have the variability because not everyone was doing the same thing.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t always the two by four minutes that we had in the past. I think it’s a good step forward.
â€œWe will continue to check how to reach the correct conclusions, but that certainly made it a bit more interesting.â€
Dennis was able to turn on the magic and stretch an “Assault Mode-Neutralizing” gap, meaning he had twice the measure of his pursuers – in terms of strategy and therefore speed.
The Porsche and Andretti axis may only get stronger as the season progresses. Griffiths believes this will be critical to how the two companies continue their uniquely positive relationship.
“If you look at where Porsche was strong and where we were strong, there’s not always an overlap,” said Griffiths.
“I hope that Porsche, who were obviously strong here and the package was strong here, can be just as strong next time.
“But last year in Diriyah we were quite strong as Porsche flew here in Mexico, remember.
â€œJake was on the podium and Oliver (Askew) was ninth (in Diriyah). So hopefully we can give some pointers on how we drove the car in Saudi and hopefully that helps the Porsche guys.
â€œTogether we can somehow increase the overall performance of both teams and continue to have overall success for Porsche.â€
It seems like an obvious point, but in the context of what we’ve seen so far, it’s significant – insofar as you look at the results, you can see that almost every manufacturer team has been outperformed by their customer peers. McLaren beat Nissan, Envision beat Jaguar and Andretti trumped Porsche. It was a surprise.
It was the first time in Formula E that Porsche had driven another Porsche entered by a privateer team. Will the fact that it was struck in Mexico matter?
It could be from a long game perspective that the factory team is under much more pressure to perform as consistently good results have been scarce in their first three Formula E seasons.
But that’s for later. Now Porsche boss Florian Modlinger only sees the positive and tells The Race that “of course we respect each other, but you also race” when it comes to Andretti.
â€œIn general, each team tries to make the best of it to get the most points for each team,â€ he added.
“There is good cooperation in racing. The drivers see that other Porsches are nearby. I’m very happy with what I saw out on the track today.â€
While the young wild ones with Dennis and Wehrlein achieved a double victory for the Stuttgart team, the older hands with Lotterer and da Costa in fourth and seventh place were strong support acts.
Lotterer should arguably have joined his teammate on the podium, but a small part of his race was marred by an issue that Griffiths declined to elaborate on, but said it sparked “a brief discussion” and caused the team it had to do â€œtake some extreme measures that none of us were particularly pleased aboutâ€ .
This was cleared in the final safety car period and Lotterer was able to pressure Jake Hughes and catch the rookie off guard in the chicane when the McLaren driver was momentarily flat-footed when a previous yellow flag was withdrawn as he approached it .
Lotterer’s contribution to Andretti’s strength from the start of the season cannot be underestimated. His knowledge of the inner workings of Porsche will manifest itself as the season progresses and from what we saw in Mexico the infamous bad luck that means he’s still without an FE win in six seasons will certainly be broken in 2023 being.
For the time being, Porsche and Andretti are on the advance together. They weren’t on the ropes in Valencia, far from it, but they allowed their resistance to the shadow box to such an extent that the rivals looked a little tired and flat from the checkered flag on Saturday.