Morocco’s Formula E race revealed an unlikely hero
A sunny Marrakech hosted the Moroccan round of the Formula E championship this weekend. With the usual thrills and spills we’ve come to expect from FE (crashes, contact, skids, and spins), it was DS Techeetah’s Antonio Felix Da Costa that took the chequered flag and shouted excited things down the team radio.
His weekend is well known by now, so it would be foolish to bring any further attention to it. Instead we should take a look at the other end of the grid, and the camaraderie that occurs when a group of strangers all join forces to support a common cause.
Yeah, there were fights for middling positions too, but they played second fiddle to one of the most heartwarming drives of the day: NIO 333 FE TEAM’s Ma Qinghua. Were it not for BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Alexander Sims’ DNF, Qinghua would have come dead last. Instead he came 23rd out of a possible 24.
Being sat in the grandstand at race start and seeing the field whirr by, the usual sense of excitement fell across the crowd. There was a hint of contact, some hefty sounding mechanical clunking as the cars clipped and dropped off the apex of turn five, and all seemed well.
That was until the backmarker, Qinghua, started dropping further and further behind. We’d see the DS Techeetah cars sandwiching a BMW, the rest of the field flying by as tightly as they could, trying to get some delicious points to add to their championship standings, or maybe even a fancy new cup to put on the mantle. But as they flew by, the man from NIO was further and further behind.
At first, there were confused looks. Was the car ok? Was the driver ok? Why is he taking so long? The car looked quick enough, but each lap the gap between Qinghua and the pack was widening. The gap got so large that when he pitted part way through the race the crowd wasn’t surprised, but we were a little disappointed — because we loved him.
Our man. Hero
See, as the gaps got bigger, we waited for him. The crowd’s cheer swelled to applause as he appeared around the corner. Each time the adulation was louder. After all, the louder you cheer for someone the better they’ll feel and, hopefully, do in the race.
Soon enough the gap between him and the back of the pack was longer than the time between him and the race leaders. We all knew he would be lapped, it was just a matter of when.
Watching the big screens to see what was happening when the cars weren’t jetting past the grandstand, we saw marshals deploy blue flags — the sign that a racer needs to move over because a faster car is coming through — and you could sense a collective sinking of hearts. Our man had been lapped. Yet still, whenever we saw him barrel by we cheered. There were faster drivers out on track, but they weren’t our guy.
At the end of the race, as the cars were doing their lap of honour, we applauded the runners and riders, but they weren’t our primary concern. We wanted OUR hero to come through. And when he did, hoooo boy did we cheer. Qinghua pulled in and stopped to hear our appreciation, which only spurred us on further. He may not have been the fastest that day, but he was our favourite.
In a post race press release, NIO 333 FE TEAM admitted that it had been a tough day. Qinghua’ s pit visit was to get a jump start on the motor, which can’t have felt great. He commented: “It’s a tough weekend struggling for pace the whole time. Unfortunately due to a system error, I wasn’t able to show my best performance today. I’m happy to be able to finish the race. The team put in quite a lot of effort today and we can see some improvements. We will keep fighting.”
Say what you will about Formula E, it’s a great series. The cars are evenly matched and the competitors can be delightfully open about their performances. There have been some memorable moments, there’s tons of contact, and the racing is pure. And, in this case especially, a bunch of strangers banded together to celebrate a new hero.
The next round of Formula E is on April 4th in Rome, let’s hope Qinghua is there and has a better time of it. There’ll certainly be a group of fresh fans tuning in to see how he does.