Saudi Arabia was the venue to kick off the first race of season 5 in Formula E, there was a lot to be excited by; new cars, drivers teams and a new attack mode to be used during the race.
A rain-effected qualifying gave Antonio Felix da Costa and BMW i Andretti Motorsport their first pole position. Lucas DiGrassi, both Envision Virgin and Nio cars would be thrown out of qualifying due to the cars exceeding the 250kw limit on their laps times.
As the cars lined up on the grid to start the race; pole man da Costa angled his car towards to pit wall, he reversed to adjust his car but still wasn’t able to straighten his car up. As the race went green the Portuguese driver made a good enough start to retain his lead into the first turn while Sebastien Buemi passed Jose-Maria Lopez for 2nd.
Edoardo Mortara would lock his wheels and crash his car into the wall on the first lap in the same type of incident he suffered in practice, he was able to continue but had to crawl back to the pits to replace his nose.
Felix Rosenqvist would be the first retirement of the season in his last race in Formula E, he crashed his car in qualifying and had to pull over after only a few laps in the race with car issues, it wasn’t as fitting send off to a driver who has had so much success in Formula E. Gary Paffett would soon join Rosenqvist on the sidelines, it was turning out to be a miserable afternoon for HWA; Stoffel Vandoorne started 4th but struggled for race pace and a train of cars was building behind him.
Both Techeetah cars were starting to fly, after Vandoorne was dispatched the soon joined the battle between Lopez and Buemi, they would both find themselves ahead of the battling duo and in 2nd and 3rd after a brave overtake by Vergne around the outside of Buemi.
Vergne would then take chunks out of da Costa’s car until he was right behind him, he would eventually pass the BMW but would the have to serve a drive-through penalty along with teammate Andre Lotterer, Alexander Sims and Felipe Massa for technical infringements. Lotterer would then use his attack mode to overtake da Costa but after the penalties da Costa was back in the lead of the race followed by Buemi, Lopez and Jerome D’Ambrosio.
Lopez would make multiple attempts to pass Buemi but couldn’t keep it on track but eventually made the move stick forcing Buemi wide and allowing D’Ambrosio to also pass Buemi. Lopez would attempt to gain his attack mode but missed the zone and as a result lost a position to D’Ambrosio.
Despite their drive-through penalties both Vergne and Lotterer were insight of the leading pack such was their pace advantage but Lopez would damage his suspension on a curb forcing him to park his car on the circuit and bringing out the safety car.
This would see Vergne in 3rd and with da Costa without a significant lead, most drivers opted to take the opportunity to trigger their final attack mode as the safety car came back in. With D’Ambrosio having already used his 2 attack modes he was a sitting duck and Vergne breezed passed him, da Costa managed to hold on in the final moments to just pip Vergne across the line to take his second ever Formula E victory.
The top ten were as follows:
- Antonio Felix da Costa BMW i Andretti Motorsport
- Jean-Eric Vergne DS Techeetah Formula E Team
- Jermome D’Ambrosio Mahindra Racing
- Mitch Evans Panasonic Jaguar Racing
- Andre Lotterer DS Techeetah Formula E Team
- Sebastien Buemi Nissan e.dams
- Oliver Rowland Nissan e.dams
- Daniel Abt Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler
- Lucas Di Grassi Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler
- Nelson Piquet Jr Panasonic Jaguar Racing
Felipe Massa and Stoffel Vandoorne may not have scored any points but had impressive debuts. Stoffel Vandoorne managed to do something that he failed to do all season in F1 this year and that was out-qualify his teammate, not only did he do that but he qualified 5th which became 4th after Tom Dillman’s penalty. His race pace wasn’t as strong but according to the team there was an issue with the car which hampered his performances.
Massa was affected by yellow flags on his flying lap and could only qualify 19th which would become 12th after penalties were applied. He showed plenty of aggression passing 2 cars in one corner of the first lap and later on made a late move in the same place on Stoffel Vandoorne, prior to his drive-through penalty Massa was well within the points which would have been a triumph on debut.
After their impressive form at the end of last season many expected Audi to be a force to be reckoned with but struggled in the season opener. Sam Bird was the highest Audi drive-train qualifier with 6th but with all Audi’s except Abt disqualified from qualifying it made the afternoon tougher. Audi showed last year that their race pace was the best of the field so we expected to see them climb back through the pack with ease but it wasn’t to be, after all the retirements and mid-race penalties the factory Audi’s could only manage 8th and 9th with the Audi powered Virgin cars only 11th and 12th. Let’s hope Saudi Arabia was only a blip for the German Manufacturer otherwise they’re in for a long season.
Driver of the Day: Jean-Eric Vergne
The reigning Formula E champion demonstrated why he was the current champ and why he must be considered as the favourite for the tile this year. His race pace was immense and had such confidence on the brakes making overtaking a breeze. Even after his drive-through penalty he managed to cross the line in 2nd, consistency was Vergne strong point last year and has begun his title defence in a strong way.
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