In racing, sometimes the best strategy is to focus on keeping your nose clean and not making mistakes while your competitors run into trouble. That strategy was played perfectly by Nyck de Vries, and it's earned him a championship in Formula E.
In a closely contested championship battle that saw as many as 18 drivers enter the weekend with a mathematical shot at the title, de Vries was able to outlast the rest of the field over a doubleheader weekend at the Berlin E-Prix to win the 2021 Formula E Driver's Championship. De Vries secured his title with an eighth-place finish in the season finale on Sunday driving for Mercedes EQ.
The stage for Sunday's championship race was set by Round 14 of the season on Saturday, which saw Lucas di Grassi win in a thrilling finish over Edoardo Mortara. Di Grassi passed Mortara for the lead late in the race, and then held him off to claim the victory by a tenth of a second. Although Mortara missed out on the top of the podium, Saturday's result had set him up well for Sunday's finale -- with de Vries failing to finish, Mortara entered Sunday just three points back of the championship lead with Jake Dennis and others also having realistic chances at the title.
But Mortara's championship hopes were dashed in a brutal crash on the initial start of the finale: Fellow championship contender Mitch Evans' car failed to fire off at the start, leading to Mortara colliding with his stalled car in vicious fashion. Mortara was taken to a local hospital for precautionary checks, which revealed he suffered a microfracture in his fourth vertebra.
We're under a red flag in Berlin after a collision on the start line between two of our championship contenders - @mitchevans_ and @edomortara.— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) August 15, 2021
Great to see both drivers get out of the car ok. They will be going to the medical centre for checks!
🇩🇪 2021 @BMWi #BerlinEPrix pic.twitter.com/Ndg2aEJwOu
"It was a pretty big impact. I'm obviously sore. It's not a major, major injury," Mortara told Motorsport.com, which shared that his recovery timetable was estimated at six weeks. "I am going to take my time anyway because that was the last race. That's my plan. I'm very grateful that I don't need an operation or have a more serious injury."
With both Evans and Mortara out of the race, another championship contender fell by the wayside in an accident shortly afterward as Jake Dennis locked up entering Turn One and hit the wall, ending his title hopes. The attrition made de Vries' path to a title much easier, as he was able to secure the championship with an eighth-place finish while Norman Nato scored the first E-Prix victory of his career.
"It's been such a tough season with highs and lows," an emotional de Vries said after winning the championship. "Everything came down to the last race. We're glad everyone's OK after the start but we drove an incredible race. I felt like a target at times and I just wanted to bring it home once I knew it was fine."
The final points standings had de Vries winning the championship with 99 points, seven more than Mortara in second (92). Mortara was followed by Dennis (91), Evans (90) and Robin Frijins (89).
De Vries is the first driver from the Netherlands to win the Formula E Driver's Championship, and the Team Championship was the first for Mercedes EQ. The Team Championship will serve as a nice parting gift for Mercedes, as Motorsport.com reported earlier on Sunday that the manufacturer will not return to Formula E in 2022.