Jean-Eric Vergne took a record-equalling 16th career ABB Formula E World Championship pole position for the first race of the Diriyah E-Prix doubleheader in Saudi Arabia, defeating Mitch Evans by a slender 0.072s in the qualifying duels final.
It was the DS Penske team’s first pole position since Sao Paulo last year and Vergne’s first since Jakarta 2022, making it his first top qualifier result of the series’ Gen3 era.
Evans went into the final as the clear favorite, being the first driver to break the 1m12s barrier as he defeated Andretti Global’s Jake Dennis in the semifinals. Before that, he beat Jaguar TCS Racing teammate Nick Cassidy, who was the pacesetter in the earlier group stages.
Vergne’s route to the final, his first time advancing to the duels since Portland last year, included wins against Norman Nato — who was fast enough to win any other quarterfinal but for Vergne setting the best lap of the day to that point — and Sergio Sette Camara, who impressed to reach the semifinals for ERT.
Ahead of the duels, the first part of group qualifying was an incredibly competitive collective, with reigning champion Dennis, both drivers with most wins from last season (Evans and Cassidy), the most recent Saudi Arabia polesitter Jake Hughes, two other previous winners (Nyck de Vries and Lucas di Grassi), and round one winner Pascal Wehrlein all battling it out.
NEOM McLaren driver Hughes was a late casualty, being pushed out of the top-four transfer spots by Evans in the closing moments of the session. Envision Racing’s Robin Frijns, Nissan’s Oliver Rowland, Abt Cupra’s Nico Mueller, di Grassi, Mahindra driver Eduoardo Mortara and de Vries also didn’t advance.
In the second group, a traffic jam formed in the final seconds of the session as everyone attempted to set their last laps as late as possible to capitalize on the best track conditions. The strategy didn’t pay off for many though, the low speeds before they started their final flying laps causing many to lose tire temperature.
As a result, only Vergne (who topped that second group) and Nato improved into the top five. Sam Bird in the second McLaren, DS Penske’s Stoffel Vandoorne Envision Racing’s Sebastien Buemi — a surprise victim after his podium finish last time out in Mexico — Nissan’s Sacha Fenestraz (who brushed the wall as he exited the final corner on his last lap) Antonio Felix da Costa (TAG Heuer Porsche), Dan Ticktum (ERT), and Jehan Daruvala (Maserati), the last driver to start his final lap, all failed to advance.
Behind Vergne and Evans on the front row, Dennis will start third, with Sette Camara fourth. Nato will start directly behind his Andretti teammate in fifth, alongside Wehrlein in sixth. Cassidy starts seventh, with Guenther eighth, while Bird and Hughes complete the top-10 with an all-McLaren row five.
Vandoorne lines up 11th, ahead of Frijns and Buemi. It’s then Nissan duo Rowland and Fenestraz in 14th and 15th, with Mueller, di Grassi, Ticktum, Mortara, da Costa (who was penalized three grid places for his collision with Mueller in Mexico City earlier this month) Daruvala and de Vries completing the grid.