A breathless, bizarre and incident-packed Mexico City ePrix saw Lucas di Grassi pick up his first win of the season in the most unlikely of circumstances.
An unusual-looking grid, further affected by penalties for Jérôme d’Ambrosio and super-pole winner Daniel Abt (both for incorrect tyre pressures) had NextEV’s Oliver Turvey starting from the front, and DS Virgin’s José María López alongside. Championship leader Sébastien Buemi could only reach 7th, and di Grassi back in 15th.
Turvey made a clean getaway from the line, but there was immediately plenty of action taking place behind him. Nick Heidfeld overtook Jean-Éric Vergne in the run to the first corner to take third. Da Costa lost several places when he locked up while attempting to overtake Sam Bird, but managed to rejoin the race quickly.
A concertina effect on a busy turn three saw several cars make contact. The most significant incident being Stephane Sarrazin rear-ending a near-stationary Lucas di Grassi. The shunt broke di Grassi’s rear spoiler, which he managed to have replaced whilst the safety car was out on the following lap. Nicolas Prost was ordered to come in by the stewards for damage he sustained, but was also able to rejoin the race without losing too many places.
José María López, who is beginning to look very comfortable in the Formula E car, was keeping up the pressure on Turvey in the early laps – not only by remaining in the British driver’s mirrors, but also maintaining a significant energy advantage. Indeed, his strategy appeared to be based around saving energy by not making any superfluous overtaking attempts and simply staying at the front of the field for the opening stint.
Things took a rapid change when Turvey’s car suddenly lost power on the start/finish straight, and his car came to a stop at the pit exit. Increasingly-desperate attempts to clear the error weren’t enough to prevent him from being lapped. Eventually he had to abandon the vehicle, prompting the second safety car period.
With 27 of 45 laps remaining, Di Grassi took a gamble and swapped cars. Under normal racing conditions, this would have left him with too little energy to finish, but even a few more laps under the safety car could swing the odds back in his favour. From virtually last, he had little to lose.
Meanwhile, the field had settled into two distinct packs. Heidfeld (in second) and the two Jaguar Racing cars (in seventh and eighth) were both holding up traffic behind them. With these gaps now closed up, Vergne was soon battling for second.
The Techeetah team then made a tactical decision of their own, choosing to pit a lap earlier than the rest of the field (with 6% energy remaining) in an attempt to undercut the German. It worked, although Heldfield’s pit stop over-ran and lost him 2 places anyway.
At the half-way stage, the rest of the field began the car swaps. Di Grassi and D’Ambrosio found themselves the lead and second-place respectively – although both with around 25% less usable energy than Lopez (now third) and the chasing pack. Their lead, initially around 30 seconds, was slashed by a third appearance by the safety car. This time triggered by Loïc Duval stopping on the exit to turn 3. Crucially, every second under the safety car extended the range of their cars.
Lopez was put under significant pressure by Vergne, who attempted to drive the Argentinian off the road before semi-seriously complaining that he was breaking track limits. Nevertheless, it looked as through he would have the pace to hold on for victory until a disastrous overtaking attempt saw him lock up and spin off at the end of the home straight. He was then fortunate to avoid being hit by Buemi, who did exactly the same thing in a bizarre copy-cat move.
Nicolas Prost gave the fans in the stadium section some late excitement when he nudged Nick Heidfeld into a spin. Finding his car 90° to the track, he was helpless to avoid being hit by team-mate Felix Rosenqvist, which put both cars out of the race.
With a handful of laps remaining, it became clear that D’Ambrosio would not have enough energy remaining to hold on to second place, if he could finish at all. Vergne, who is desperate to stand on the top of the podium, became increasingly frustrated by D’Ambrosio’s defensive approach. By the time he found a way past, it was too late to catch Di Grassi, who by now simply had to keep his car on the track and cross the line for an incredible race win.
Sam Bird managed to avoid much of the drama, although was involved in a number of daring overtaking moves. His third-place finish will be a consolation prize for the DS Virgin team. Mitch Evans finished fourth as a result of the Mahindra crash, a fantastic result for him and for Jaguar Racing; team-mate Adam Caroll also in the points. Esteban Gutierrez found it tough to keep hold of his position on his debut race, especially with so many of the “quicker” drivers behind him, but picked up his first point with a tenth-place finish.
- Lucas di Grassi (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Jean-Éric Vergne (Techeetah)
- Sam Bird (DS Virgin)
- Mitch Evans (Jaguar)
- Nicolas Prost (Renault)
- José María López (DS Virgin)
- Daniel Abt (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Adam Caroll (Jaguar)
- Nelson Piquet, Jr (NextEV NIO)
- Esteban Guiterrez (Techeetah)
Image: Lucas di Grassi © Formula E