The Debrief: The strategy behind Max’s Tokyo E-Prix win

Maserati MSG Racing’s Chief Engineer, Cyril Blais, debriefs our first win of the season with insights powered by Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

The 2024 Tokyo E-Prix was one of the biggest race weekends in Formula E history. Arguably, it was also the biggest victory of Maximilian Günther’s career.

Winning one Formula E race takes skill. Winning two is a testament to a driver’s talent. But winning five? That’s an exclusive club, reserved for the very best in the business.

Max’s victory on Saturday in Japan marked his fifth trip to the top step of the podium. It was our 10th as a team, and the 25th time we’ve featured inside the top three.

With our first victory of Season 10 on the board, Maserati MSG Racing’s Chief Engineer, Cyril Blais, debriefs the Tokyo E-Prix weekend using insights powered by Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

“Our weekend in Tokyo was incredible. The team has put in a tremendous amount of hard work this season, and to have that effort realised with a win feels very special,” says Cyril, who was named as Formula E’s Engineer of the Year in 2023.

“When you look at our performance, I think it was clear that we were in a strong position before we went to Tokyo – we were competitive in Mexico City and Diriyah, and Max’s recovery in São Paulo indicated the kind of pace that we have as a team.

“Tokyo was a new circuit for everyone, but we prepared extensively, and this meant that we were in a better position to anticipate performance from one session to the next.

“Having versatility in Formula E is super important, and through small refinements, we were able to evolve. After placing third in FP1 and FP2, we knew we had the pace to finish on the podium.”

A crucial performance from Max in qualifying moved that aspiration one step closer to reality. By setting the fastest time in Group B, he progressed to the duels, first facing Pascal Wehrlein.

Max outpaced the Porsche driver to advance to the Semi-Finals, and by defeating Sergio Sette Camara, it was onwards to the Final against Oliver Rowland.

Despite edging ahead of the Nissan driver in Sectors Two and Three, Max was pipped to pole position by only 0.021 seconds, but from second on the grid, was in the perfect striking position.

“We wanted to hold second off the line at the start of the race,” explains Cyril. “This would have allowed us to use the pace of [Edoardo] Mortara’s Mahindra and [Sergio] Sette Camara’s ERT to open up our own strategy options.

“Unfortunately, Max was starting off the racing line, and because this area was wet in FP1 and FP2, it was extremely dirty, so there was barely any traction from a standing-start.

“We lost second place on the first lap, and this put us in a difficult position because we had to change our strategy immediately, but we were patient and I think we adapted well.

“Max took his first Attack Mode after Mortara and Rowland, and we saw that we had enough of a gap to overcut Edo. It was close, him and Max raced hard and fair, but we didn’t pass him through strategy which meant that we had to do it on track.

“Overtaking, in general, was quite difficult in Tokyo and every team was well prepared. They knew exactly where to save energy and where to deploy it in order to defend. This is what Mortara did.

“Max showed great confidence, made the move and after that, it was a waiting game because we were planning when to take our second Attack Mode.”

Between Max’s first and second Attack Mode activation, a key shift took place inside the top-10 as both Andretti and Porsche drivers started to move up the order to apply pressure on the podium.

“The Porsche and Andretti drivers were closing in quickly mid-way through the race, and this put us between a rock and a hard place,” continues Chief Engineer, Cyril.

“We had two options – we could either protect and save the podium, or go big, attack Rowland, and go for the victory. After the Safety Car, the choice was very clear. We went aggressive.

“As a team, we’re fighters. We never want to settle for second or third, so we went for the win. It came with some risks, but we adapted, responded, and reacted to the race very well.”

Late in the race, Max battled hard and overtook Rowland on lap 25, but with one Attack Mode still to take, continued to push, all with the aim of building a big enough gap to mitigate the time loss upon activation.

“Pushing hard to build a gap so late in the race has a very big impact on your energy consumption and your saving targets,” says Cyril.

“It was a high-risk play, but with real-time data insights that we received from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, we knew that it was a strategy that would work and could deliver us the win.

“Before we made the move to build the gap, we were comfortable and had more energy than the cars around us, but by taking the lead and having clean air, you also lose the slipstream which has an impact.

“After Max took the lead, we saw that Rowland was able to recover some energy in the final five laps. We came under attack several times, and it was down to the wire.

“Max remained calm, he fended off two attempted overtakes on the last lap, kept position, and delivered the win. It was a faultless drive from him, and in the end, everything paid off.”

On the other side of the Maserati MSG Racing garage, Max’s team-mate, Jehan Daruvala, also showed promising signs in Tokyo, but after securing a strong start, an accident removed him from contention.

“Jehan was very, very unlucky in Tokyo,” Cyril continues. “As the only rookie on the grid, he’s on a very steep learning curve this season, but he shows more and more promise after every single session.

“Our qualifying didn’t go as we planned, but he had a competitive start to the race and made up some good ground in the opening laps.

“In Formula E, the racing in the midfield is very hard, and Jehan was taken out from behind through no fault of his own very early on, which is a shame.

“Every weekend we race, we can see Jehan getting closer and closer, and if our performance aligns, we’ll hopefully be able to target the top 10 with him at Misano.”

As Cyril mentioned, Formula E’s 10th season will resume with the Misano E-Prix – the Maserati brand’s home race – on 13-14 April, 2024. As always, hopes are high.

“We’re five races into this season, and we’ve raced on four very different tracks, but as a team, we’ve shown great promise and potential at every single circuit we’ve visited,” adds Cyril.

“Having the versatility to be on the pace in very different environments is a crucial ingredient in Formula E, and right now, we know that we can be competitive almost every weekend.

“Knowing that and working with that confidence is a great source of motivation for everyone in the team. I’m confident that we can continue to achieve great things this year.

“Misano is up next, and it’s another new circuit, but we’ll remain grounded, take the same approach, follow our process, and hopefully, we can be in the running once again.”