Antonio Felix da Costa owes Nelson Piquet Jr dinner.
The Cape Town E-Prix winner basked in a deserved Cape of Good Hope sunset in Cape Town on Saturday evening but unlike his Hyderabad podium earlier this month, hope and fortune played no part in perhaps the best victory of the eight he has now claimed in Formula E.
The Porsche driver was supposed to go for dinner with Formula E’s first ever champion Piquet on Friday evening but was instead stuck at the track mulling over data with his Porsche engineers.
That Piquet was present as a TV commentator was apt because his father was the victim of a similar brave dummy manoeuvre via a fired-up Nigel Mansell at Stowe Corner in the British Grand Prix 36 years ago.
‘The move’ that da Costa pulled off to seal Cape Town victory was exquisite and deserves to be lauded from the nearby Lions Head peak.
It would be neat to say that the 2019/20 champion had percolated the pass in his mind and played it out as he teed old team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne’s DS Penske up. But da Costa is as much about instinct as he is about clinical precision.
HANG IT IN THE LOUVRE 🤌
— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) February 25, 2023
It just so happened that he delivered both with his decisive move for the win – as he went to the outside of Vergne through an ultra-fast kink then squeezed through on the inside at the daunting Turn 7 left-hander that followed, earning cheers from the packed grandstands that lined this exceptional racetrack.
“I had no idea that place was an overtaking place,” da Costa, who had fallen behind Vergne because he had to make an extra visit to the attack mode loop after failing to hit all the sensors, told The Race.
“I knew it was the area where we were lifting the longest and if your energy is limited that’s where you’re going to be lifting the longest, but going around the outside on a right-hander, I’ve never tried that before.”
That didn’t deter him, even though in the back of his mind he, like all of us, had seen “a few crashes this weekend where going offline can be the end of your day”.
Da Costa threw caution to the wind, stalking Vergne to look and see if the instincts were as strong as he thought. They definitely were.
They were supported by a dry run earlier in the race when he snatched what was then the lead from a distracted Nick Cassidy. It worked then, could it work again against a driver who knows him inside out from being a team-mate at DS Techeetah for the last three seasons?
“I couldn’t sit behind him [Cassidy] the entire time,” explains da Costa.
“It was hard following him through the high-speed corners of eight and nine and I wasn’t close enough for [a pass into the slower Turn] 10 and he closed the door a few times, so I knew I needed to surprise him.
“I made that one work but then JEV obviously knew about it, so he started defending into that one.”
But da Costa knows Vergne just as Vergne knows da Costa.
“I know the guy super well and the first time I was behind him and I was super close and he defended I knew he was aware that that was my spot. So I had to sell him a small dummy and luckily that worked out.
“Honestly I don’t plan these things but they keep happening to me like the Monaco one [in 2021 when he swept past Mitch Evans at Beau Rivage] as well.”
This time though there was a touch, but it came once the move was sealed.
“I touched him once when I came back to the right because I had to avoid the wall and I had to save my car coming into [Turn] 9 but I did think ‘ahh f**k maybe we did touch slightly,'” da Costa admitted.
Somewhere in the racing myths of racing time Mansell must have been smiling. But this time so was a Piquet as the commentating Nelson Jr went into rapture over the move which had similarities to the one that beat his father in 1987.
“I actually I asked Nelson to go to dinner with me last night, and I invited him to dinner but I was a bit late leaving the track,” said da Costa.
“I didn’t leave the track until almost 10pm so obviously I told him to eat without me.
“I love Nelson. But look, I don’t plan these things but I do have this tendency to create these crazy TV moments I guess.”
While his move was a sizeable cherry on the cake, the substance of da Costa’s win – which was achieved from 11th on the grid – was actually created in the first half.
When the energy numbers came up for the first time he was nearly 2% up on almost everyone else.
“I was just saving a lot of energy, waiting for the race to come to us,” da Costa confirmed.
“These races are long. I told my team I wanted to go forwards early, that was impossible.
“In the end, I’ve been here a while and sometimes 45 minutes feels like a short race but there is so much going on. I just patiently went through it and we did it.”
Vergne was sportingly magnanimous afterwards.
There was no Mansell/Piquet 1987 antipathy here. The pair had some fractious times as team-mates but the mutual respect is very real.
That possibly contributed to da Costa’s emotional state afterwards. Ever the sportsman, he acknowledged Vergne’s words of: “I’m very happy for him; he did a fantastic race, a very good move as well.”
“You know,” da Costa said, “when you win a race like this, beating a driver like JEV, it tastes so sweet. Because you know you’ve really earned it.
“And believe me we really earned that one today.”