Saturday’s Seoul sensation of defeated Formula E title contender Mitch Evans was actually more of a one-shot wonder than a leaderboard topper, and deep down he knew it.
An inevitable championship swell in Stoffel Vandoorne’s title momentum was irresistible from the moment the Mercedes EQ driver left a stadium in London two weeks ago in search of what would happen at another stadium at 5,500 miles away in South Korea.
Evans and Jaguar knew the reality of a certain false dawn ahead of Sunday’s crucial final as they simply didn’t have the pace in fully dry conditions to take on not only the Mercedes-powered quartet but also Avalanche entries Andretti and DS Techeetah.
This would still make it impossible for Evans to secure the required ‘cut and paste’ victory he aspired to just 24 hours earlier when he stood atop the podium in the infamous but magnificent 1988 Olympic cauldron.
Regardless of Saturday’s victory achieved via wet qualifying and a wet race, the writing was on the wall for Evans when he completed the dry free practice sessions on Saturday morning.
Reality had long since dawned and set in at the end of Sunday’s race in which Evans’ seventh place from 13th on the grid was nowhere near enough to snatch the title so that Vandoorne finished second.
“We just didn’t really have a good balance and the overall pace was just off, then obviously we had the rain that saved us,” Evans told The Race.
“Today we tried to make changes to address these issues but we just seemed to be using the rear tire very strong and it just seemed to struggle today to get the lap time.
Vehicle dynamically, it just didn’t click for Jaguar in Seoul when it was dry.
When the team needed rain on Sunday, all they got was sweat. As Evans and his team tried everything they could to improve the balance of his Jaguar I-Type 5, it frustrated as much as it delighted in the wet.
“I couldn’t really get it to work, my thrust limit wasn’t enough,” Evans said of his group qualifying effort that left him languishing in 13th.
It just didn’t come naturally for the Kiwi and when it does it will always be on its back.
Amid a midfield that was bound to shake and crack, especially in the early stages, Evans somehow survived unscathed, as he did in London when team-mate Sam Bird, Antonio Felix da Costa and Edoardo Mortara crossed the track to him.
Despite some progress in the lower parts of the top 10, his momentum then “stalled” and he was “just struggling with the rear tyres” as he unsuccessfully chased Jean-Eric Vergne’s DS Techeetah.
“I gave it my all, it was one of my toughest races but sometimes it depends a lot on the track,” said Evans.
“On paper, this circuit should really have suited us; it’s a proper street track. But the type of surface and the stadium section put a lot of energy into the tire and we couldn’t really make the tire last even after one lap.
Evans naturally wanted to make it more of a fight today because it’s one of his most powerful traits.
But the conditions at the end of Saturday’s clinical win “sort of masked some of the issues” Jaguar faced for Sunday.
“You kind of have a feeling, and towards the end [of race one] it was a bit dry and I was like ‘OK, we’re strong enough, I can hold on but we’re not strong enough’,” explained Evans.
“That’s why we tried to make some changes for today.
“After practice I thought we weren’t too bad, we’re not the fastest but we’re not bad, but in qualifying, when everyone’s on the same tire strategy and going to do that lap. , I just couldn’t do it.
“I guess that’s probably our weakness, which unfortunately is a bit up and down.
“When the car is on it, it’s unbeatable, but sometimes in quality and fair on some of these tracks like Berlin, we just seemed a bit more responsive to those tracks.”
Evans added that he had “no regrets” and that “we gave him a good chance this year” as he and Vandoorne shrugged off what had been a four-way title fight with Edoardo Mortara and Jean-Eric Vergne also.
“We are proud of what we have achieved and congratulations to Stoff and Mercedes,” he said.
“Obviously it’s a great team and to go all the way, my team can be very proud too.”
As Evans’ faint hopes were swept away, Vandoorne basked in a heady haze of rain and champagne after elaborate stadium podium ceremonies.
A season in which he frankly seemed destined for title glory thanks to his remarkable reliability in mustering big runs (scoring in all but one of 16 innings) was well worth being very pleased about.
“Only one win but the consistency we’ve shown this year I think has been impressive, obviously partly helped by the qualifying system,” said the new champion.
“I think it allowed the more consistent riders to excel, the top guys, and it took away a bit of the randomness.
“We had a great story this season: the four of us, we were reduced to three, then today the last two, me and Mitch.”
Vandoorne even managed to surprise himself a bit with the rhythm of his title symphony this season.
“I’m a little bit surprised [at the consistency] to be honest, because I think even in Mexico [his only non-score] we would have scored points if there hadn’t been contact on the penultimate lap,” he said.
“It might have made for a better story. But nonetheless, it’s been an amazing year.
“We built it from Saudi with pole position, second place in race one, then I had a tougher second day but had a really good comeback race.”
While Rome was seemingly built, bought and paid for in one day by Evans and Jaguar with the brilliant one-two that launched their title bid in April, Vandoorne stealthily took a third-and-fifth on a track that clearly favored the Big Cat.
Prior to Rome, Evans had scored just one point in the first three races and was 42 behind then leader Mortara and 27 behind Vandoorne. The two wins propelled him straight to fourth and less than nine behind post-Rome leader Vergne.
“Mitch really started to turn up the heat with two wins there,” Vandoorne said of the Italian round.
“But then our time came in Monaco and I’m super proud to have ticked off that one.
“From there we never really looked back, I was always very consistent, always qualified up front, but even on the days when it was tougher, that’s when I managed to recover. and I think those are the key moments.
“I think if there’s one race that comes to mind, it’s Berlin, the first race.
“I fell back to P13 on the first lap and with a few laps to go I was still fighting for the podium.
“These moments are the ones that made the championship.”