Felix Rosenqvist took the chequered flag at Sunday’s Berlin ePrix, but was denied victory after a disastrous mix-up by the Mahindra pit team resulted in him being handed a penalty. This handed first place to Sébastien Buemi, who was disqualified from Saturday’s race due to incorrect tyre pressures.
It was a great start to the race for Rosenqvist, who started on pole. Buemi, in second, din’t get away quickly from the line, allowing the Swede to rapidly open up a two-second lead. This also bunched up the rest of the field, with cars having to go three abreast in order to navigate the opening corners. Only Maro Engel was unlucky enough to pick up enough damage to end his race, although he later took to the track in an attempt to set the fastest lap time.
Buemi wasn’t off the pace for too long, and halved the gap to first within the opening laps. His progress looked positively glacial compared to Nick Heidfeld, though. Starting from the back of the grid after a problem with his car in qualifying, the German driver made up eight places in the opening five laps in front of his home crowd.
Oliver Turvey appeared to be struggling with his NextEV car when he lost two places in quick succession to Abt Schaeffler Audi’s drivers, Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt in quick sucession. Nicolas Prost was the next driver to take advantage on the following lap.
Both DS Virgin cars qualified strongly, although the gap between them and Buemi was widening with every lap. Sam Bird seemed to be struggling with grip more than team-mate Jose-Maria Lopez. Nevertheless, he remaining on his tail, and attempted to overtake him around the outside of turn one. Lopez immediately cancelled his energy saving coast and held his line, nudging Bird into the run-off area and knocking him down two places to 6th in the process.
With both drivers clearly rattled by the move, the cars behind them were able to take advantage of the situation; Jean-Éric Vergne passing Lopez and Nicolas Prost overtaking Bird in the aftermath.
As the race approached the halfway stage, Heidfield began to drop back down the order, coming in to the pits in 13th despite managing his usable energy superbly. It would prove to be an unlucky “13” for the team. Just as he began to swing across into his garage for the car-swap, he was forced to take evasive action to avoid Rosenqvist, who had been cleared for release by his lollipop man.
Heidfeld’s quick reactions not only avoided a collision, but also gave his teammate enough room to steer around his car and re-join the race. The minimum pit stop time absorbed some of the delay, and both drivers maintained their on-track position, but it was clear that the stewards would be looking at the incident.
Bird re-took the place lost to Prost thanks to his quick swap, with Rosenqvist leading on track ahead of Buemi, Vergne, di Grassi and Abt.
A relatively uneventful period followed on-track, but with confirmation of a stewards’ investigation, eyes began to turn to the timing screens to see how the race could pan out. When confirmation of a ten second penalty for Rosenqvist came through, victory for Buemi was all but assured, and the focus turned to the gap back to “third”.
Vergne couldn’t hold on to that position. Increasing pressure from di Grassi pushed him into a mistake on turn one and lost him the place. Daniel Abt tried to squeeze him at the same spot on the next lap with his Fan Boost, but JEV held his line and made Abt think again.
Buemi no longer needed to pass Rosenqvist, but also deliberately held back to avoid putting any pressure on him: after all, he knew that forcing a mistake could allow championship rival di Grassi to pick up more points. As it transpired, the gap back to third was 12 seconds — enough for the penalty to only rob the Swede of one podium step.
- Di Grassi
Image: Maro Engel © Formula E