BMW Andrettti driver Antonio Felix da Costa secured his first Formula E pole position at the 2018/19 season opener in Ad Diriyah, prevailing in a reformatted qualifying session.
Heavy rain had led to both FP1 and FP2 being cancelled and replaced by one 40-minute practice session just 30 minutes before qualifying.
The four qualifying groups were compressed into two, with Groups A and B featuring 11 cars each.
On a still damp track, da Costa – who was fastest during pre-season testing in Valencia – set the benchmark time in the first group, with a 1m17.728s to beat NIO’s Tom Dillmann.
Dillmann, who finished the session in second place and just 0.165s adrift of da Costa is under investigation following the session. The Frenchman is accused of failing to follow qualifying protocol, after he completed several laps at 200kW throughout Group A’s 15-minute segment.
Despite the change in group format, the usual qualifying rules were applied regarding the number of laps allowed meaning that drivers could only complete one 200kW lap before a 250kW hotlap.
If Dillmann receives a penalty, Jose Maria Lopez will be promoted to the front row of the grid. He beat season two champion Sebastien Buemi to third on the timesheet.
The four fastest drivers set their times in the first group, despite theoretically facing the damper track conditions.
Drivers in the second group were, however, compromised by two red flags. FE rookie Maximillian Gunther stopped on track after making contact with the wall during his hotlap, while IndyCar bound Felix Rosenqvist crashed at the final corner in the dying moments of the session.
The yellow flags for Rosenqvist’s stranded Mahindra heavily compromised Alexander Sims, Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet Jr, who were all behind the Swede on track and had to back off.
Sims ended up 17th, with Massa and Piquet in 19th and 20th. Rosenqvist qualified slowest of all.
Setting his best lap early in Group B and avoiding the late drama, ex-McLaren F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne secured fifth in his maiden FE qualifying session.
Virgin’s Sam Bird ended up sixth ahead of reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne, who lost time on his rivals with a slower final sector.
Robin Frijns and Jerome d’Ambrosio finished eighth and ninth while Andre Lotterer qualified 10th. Lotterer was also part of Group B and lost time on his hotlap with a snap of oversteer at Turn 16 which sent him off-line.
Reigning teams’ champions Audi struggled to 11th and 18th for Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt respectively. Di Grassi complained of a “lack of grip” which compromised an otherwise clean lap.