The first Berlin ePrix of the weekend saw Mahindra’s Felix Rosenqvist claim his first Formula E victory. Lucas di Grassi picked up vital championship points, but Sébastien Buemi also scored well despite having started fourteenth on the grid.
Di Grassi started the race from pole, with Jose Maria Lopez alongside him. But the DS Virgin driver had a very slow getaway from the line, leaving di Grassi free to lead the field without any problems in the first few corners. The Mahindra cars of Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld took advantage and moved into second and third, leaving Lopez just ahead of his team-mate, Sam Bird.
A number of fastest laps were set in the opening exchanges, by several different drivers. Nicolas Prost set the fastest time early on, only to then lock up and fall back into ninth place. With the field slightly backed up by the Frenchman’s mistake, Oliver Turvey looked likely to take advantage and make an overtaking move, but he couldn’t find a gap.
Rosenqvist also set a fastest lap time, and was keeping up with di Grassi, although without being in a position to try an overtake. Behind him, Heidfeld was keeping a good pace but proving difficult to pass — Lopez and Bird being frustrated by his good driving.
Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans sustained some damage to his front suspension, which forced him into an early pit stop. Already several laps down, his only outings to the track for the remainder of the afternoon would be attempts to claim the fastest lap bonus point.
Meanwhile, championship leader Buemi was steadily making his way back up the field. His tactic, of waiting for the drivers in front to lift-and-coast before executing his overtaking manoeuvre, helped him to avoid damage and excessive energy usage.
After 20 laps, the gap between leader di Grassi and Rosenqvist was around one second, and closing. As the gap came down, di Grassi seemed to come under increasing pressure, making a series of lock-ups and minor errors as the Swedish driver approached. Rosenqvist was finally able to get past just ahead of the driver swaps, taking the outside line on the approach to turn one.
With the exception of Robin Frijns and Antonio Felix da Costa, all teams executed their driver swaps at the half-way point. Sam Bird was the biggest loser, dropping four places in the changeover. Jean-Éric Vergne would also pick up a 5-second time penalty for an unsafe release into the path of Tom Dillmann.
The top of the timings board now saw Rosenqvist a second ahead of di Grassi, who needs every point he can find if he is to stay in with a chance (however narrow) of challenging for the drivers’ title. A gap of 3.5 seconds back to Heidfeld meant there was little to distract either driver from their battle for the podium.
Both Abt Schaeffler Audi drivers, di Grassi and Daniel Abt, ended up using their Fan Boosts to improve track position and move away from danger after making mistakes. This follows the trend of the Fan Boost being held back by drivers as a defensive aide, rather than to zoom past opponents.
Buemi continued to make up places, including an uncharacteristically late lunge to overtake Bird in eighth place. This put him behind team-mate Prost, who allowed him to pass a couple of laps later. Vergne was the next target, but with news of his penalty on the team radio, there was no need to waste energy on passing him with so little of the race remaining.
At the front, di Grassi wasn’t able to challenge Rosenqvist for the lead, so the Swede takes his first race win on a great day for the Mahindra team. Di Grassi has closed the gap on his title rival, albeit only slightly, and adds another podium finish to his impressive Formula E record.
Update: Scrutineering checks carried out after the race revealed every single tyre on both of Sébastien Buemi’s cars was under the regulation pressure. He was therefore disqualified, ending his record of scoring points in 22 consecutive races. Oliver Turvey moved into the points as a consequence.
Provisional race result
- Rosenqvist (Mahindra)
- Di Grassi (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Heidfeld (Mahindra)
- Lopez (DS Virgin)
- Prost (Renault)
- Abt (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Bird (DS Virgin)
- Vergne (Techeetah)
- Engel (Venturi)
- Turvey (NextEV)
Image: Felix Rosenqvist © Formula E