The battle for top spot on the podium came down to the wire at the second Monaco ePrix. Championship rivals Sébastien Buemi (Renault) and Lucas di Grassi (Abt Schaeffler Audi) crossed the line first and second, but with very little to separate them.
The Monaco circuit is notoriously narrow, so there was a relatively cautious start. A number of cars picked up damage though, José Maria Lopez picking up a broken nose and rear wing in the melee. Nick Heidfeld and Sam Bird both avoided trouble and made up places quickly.
Nelson Piquet Jr repeated the performance of several drivers in the qualifying session and bumped the barriers. The shunt didn’t appear to cause any damage, and he managed to keep pace with Lucas di Grassi for a considerable period of the race. Meanwhile, at the front, it was business as usual as Buemi built a commanding lead over the rest of the field, lap by lap.
DS Virgin’s woes deepened when Bird caught too much of the chicane’s kerbs and slammed into the wall on lap seven. He kept the car moving, and was able to scuttle into the pit lane. Despite the best efforts of the mechanics, repairing the damage cost the Briton too much time. Three laps down by the time the car had been hammered back into shape, his only chance of points could now only come from setting the fastest lap time.
Meanwhile, Lopez was also forced to pit having been shown the ‘meatball’ flag. Although only a lap down, this signalled the end of his race, too.
Back out on track, Maro Engel and Feliz Rosenqvist entertained the crowd with their battle for sixth position. The Swede’s Mahindra car looked to be faster, but around the tight, twisty track — and against Engel’s stubborn defending — he was unable to find an easy way past. Behind them, Daniel Abt pulled a surprise manoeuvre on Robin Frijns, and his presence added additional pressure to the scrap.
18 laps in, the gap between Buemi and di Grassi had widened to five seconds. Not far behind, Jean-Éric Vergne was battling for third with Piquet. Vergne, Techeeta’s best hope of big points this season, thought his best opportunity to pass would be by taking the outside line around turn three. After a few practice attempts, he finally committed to the move, but the gap wasn’t enough. Piquet held his line on the exit, and the resulting clash dragged JEV into the barriers. The safety car was deployed.
At the first sign of trouble, teams immediately spotted their chance to pit and swap drivers, safe in the knowledge that safety cars at Monaco typically spend several (short) laps out on track. But there was little advantage to be gained: with every garage making the same decision, the driver swaps barely affected the running order.
Jérôme d’Ambrosio was briefly prompted double-yellow flags when he had a problem with his car and stopped out on track. Resetting the car got him moving again, but only so far as the pit lane. Both he and team-mate Loïc Duval would take it in turn to spend time back in the Faraday Future garage throughout the second half of the race.
Towards the front, Piquet seemed to be struggling with his pace, but held up to pressure from Engel, Rosenqvist and Abt in the chasing pack. Rosenqvist must be applauded for effectively managing his own race strategy after his steering wheel display started displaying the wrong lap count and then his radio failed.
In the first half of the race, Buemi had opened up a commanding lead and looked comfortable. But with seven laps to go, and despite the Swiss having used his Fan Boost, di Grassi had brought the gap between them to less than a second. Suddenly, he was all that could be seen in the Renault’s mirrors. Buemi also appeared to be concerned about his energy management (although both men had the same reserves available).
Nevertheless, the battle meant both drivers began setting their best lap times of the race. At one stage, only 0.4 seconds separated the two. But di Grassi couldn’t keep up the pressure consistently enough: with three laps remaining, it was back up to 1 second, and although they crossed the line nose-to-tail, Buemi never looked in danger of ceding first place.
- Sébastien Buemi (Renault)
- Lucas di Grassi (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Nick Hiedfeld (Mahindra)
- Nelson Piquet Jr (NextEV NIO)
- Maro Engel (Venturi)
- Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra)
- Daniel Abt (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Esteban Gutierrez (Techeetah)
- Nico Prost (Renault)
- Mitch Evans (Panasonic Jaguar)
Fastest lap: Sam Bird (DS Virgin)
Image: Monaco ePrix © Formula E