In Audi's final weekend in the all-electric series, Lucas di Grassi claimed victory in the first of this weekend's doubleheader events in Berlin, fending off Venturi's Edoardo Mortara in a frantic drag race to the line.
The result means that Mortara shoots up from ninth place coming into the weekend to move into second in the driver standings, three points behind Mercedes' Nyck de Vries with one race to go in the 2020/21 ABB FIA Formula E championship.
De Vries failed to score points in the race after having to pit following an early puncture. Envision Virgin Racing's Robin Frijns was also out of the points, while Sam Bird failed to finish after coming to a halt on lap 8 with a technical failure on the Jaguar.
The weekend opened with 18 drivers still mathematically in contention for the title. Having just been confirmed as returning to the Andretti Autosport team for season 8, Jake Dennis rewarded the squad by topping both of the two practice sessions which were largely without incident, although Robin Frijns glanced the wall in turn 4 in FP2.
However Dennis wasn't able to repeat that performance when it came to qualifying, and he was pipped to the top in Group 1 by a tenth by current series champion António Félix da Costa in the DS Techeetah. He duly missed out on the superpole round and was relegated to eighth on the grid.
Da Costa in turn didn't have quite enough speed to take the top spot, with his team mate Jean-Éric Vergne going fastest by 0.073. As a result of this close outcome locking out the front row of the grid, the team admitted it would need some 'loose' team orders for the race to avoid any clashes that could cost them a shot at the championship.
The second row saw di Grassi and Mortara lining up side-by-side, and the third row consisted of Norman Nato in the second Venturi alongside Sébastien Buemi (Nissan e-Dams). Meanwhile the top names in the championship were starting near the back, with Mercedes' Nyck de Vries in 19th and Frijns in 23rd, and Jaguar's Sam Bird lining up in 15th as the result of a three-place grid penalty held over from London.
When the lights went out for the first of this weekend's two races on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon at the Tempelhof former airfield, the two Techeetahs behaved impeccably and fell into line with no changes among the top five. Mitch Evans got an early jump on Buemi for sixth, while Bird had to get his elbows out to climb to 13th after a rough start.
After six relatively calm and straightforward laps, Porsche's Andre Lotterer was first to take his single eight-minute attack mode activation, followed by Alex Sims next time by. Lotterer was quickly able to pick off Nick Cassidy, the Envision Virgin Racing car having already haemorrhaged multiple positions. Pascal Wehrlein also triggered attack mode but clashed with Oliver Rowland as he returned to the racing line, earning the Porsche a costly puncture.
Terminal technical problems for Bird left the Jaguar grinding to a halt at the exit of the final corner on lap 8, triggering a brief safety car. The top six were unchanged at the restart but Buemi was soon losing positions, allowing Audi's Rene Rast to move in front of Dennis to take seventh ahead of Oliver Rowland and Max Guenther. Rast then used attack mode to pick off Evans for sixth, swiftly followed by further successful passes on Nato and Mortara.
The lead had also changed hands, with da Costa picking up the lead from Vergne. It wasn't merely a case of team orders, with the Frenchmen rapidly losing further positions to di Grassi and Rast in short order. Vergne's problems appeared to be shared by his team mate, with da Costa soon losing the lead to di Grassi and then slipping behind Rast, Mortara and Nato in quick succession. With his attack mode now expired, Rast's storm to the front then waned, allowing Mortara to go to the front on lap 20 ahead of Nato and di Grassi.
Having got to the front, the Venturi pair of Mortara and Nato also now ran out of attack mode, allowing di Grassi to take back second spot. With just over a minute remaining of his own attack mode, di Grassi managed to regain the lead of the race on lap 27. Evans used the last seconds of his own attack mode to line up a successful pass on Nato for third place: Dennis was unable to follow him through leaving him in fifth ahead of Vergne and da Costa, and Guenther now in eighth ahead of Rast who had paid the price for his phenomenal earlier surge.
In the final minutes of the race, the top two pulled away to safety while Evans was left struggling to retain third place. It bunched up the cars behind him who engaged in some enthusiastic jockeying for position, but no one was quite able to pull off a decisive move by the time the chequered flag appeared. The closest battle proved to be at the front with Mortara putting everything he had into a final lap pass only to be out-dragged to the line by an energy-critical di Grassi who narrowly held on to claim his 12th series victory.
Behind the top three, Nato was best of the rest ahead of Dennis, Vergne, da Costa, Guenther, Rast and Lotterer with Buemi having slipped to 11th just in front of Mercedes' Stoffel Vandoorne followed by Rowland, Cassidy, Frijns and Dragon's Joel Eriksson.
Ten points now covers the top seven in the drivers standings with de Vries still top despite failing to score after suffering a puncture. Mortara is second followed by Dennis, Evans, frijns, di Grassi and da Costa. All are still firmly in contention for the title, as is Bird who is in eighth but only 14 points off the leader. In the team standings, Jaguar have a four point edge over Techeetah, Virgin and Audi.