Sébastien Buemi took the first race victory of the new Formula E season in Hong Kong. In a breathless race that saw virtually every driver suffer from a crash or a technical issue, championship rival Lucas di Grassi finished second. But the results don’t tell the full story, which saw the lead change hands several times, and high drama throughout the field.
Following an unusual qualifying session, Nelson Piquet Jr started on pole, flanked by his NextEV team-mate, Oliver Turvey. The front of the field made it through the start safely, but behind them the concertina-effect at the second corner saw Ma Qing Hua, António Félix da Costa, Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi (who started on the back row) all sustaining damage to their cars and forcing early pit-stops. Fortunately for di Grassi, a front wing swap was all that was required, and he was able to quickly rejoin the race.
Away from the drama, Piquet was able to build up a comfortable lead in the opening laps. Initially, the NextEV car looked vastly-improved over last season, but Turvey wasn’t able to hold off Sam Bird and Buemi for very long.
Felix Rosenqvist, making his first appearance in the series, was running well until he lost control and slid into the barriers. He was also left no option but to swap cars, leaving him unable to go the full distance but not preventing him from setting the fastest lap overall and picking up his first point.
The chicane that had caused so may problems earlier in the day continued to pose a hazard to drivers in the race. José María López crashed out, leaving his DS Virgin car stuck in the wall and forcing Piquet, the next car on track, to come to an emergency stop to avoid a collision. This allowed Bird and Buemi to sail past, although the subsequent safety car meant they weren’t able to build up much of a lead, and Piquet re-joined in third place.
With the expectation that the safety car would remain on track for several laps whilst the barriers were repaired, some teams took a chance on an early pit stop. Buemi was the first man in to perform a “scheduled” car swap. But the green flag came out very shortly afterwards, leaving a field running several strategies.
Bird and Evans decided to push for as long as possible, each entering the pit lane with just 2% energy remaining. But both men were struck by technical problems: Bird unable to get the second car started for more than a minute, wiping out the advantage he’d built up, and Evans forced to retire.
Enormous credit must be given to the Andretti engineers, who had to build a new car for Robin Frinjs almost from scratch, following his accident earlier in the day. They had it ready in time for him to swap cars at the half-way stage, leaving the team in a strong position to challenge for points.
The lead of the race had a familiar look to it once again: Buemi in P1, and di Grassi closing fast in second. The Brazilian’s hard work and patience had seen him make up 17 places, despite two pit stops. Heidfeld, whose Mahindra car looked very capable, held on in third. Meanwhile, both Félix da Costa and Frinjs made the most of their energy advantage and steadily rose up the field.
Despite dwindling battery readings, the top three managed to hold on, even though in the final stages it looked as though they might be forced to coast over the finish line.
Elsewhere, Stephane Serrazin continued his streak of scoring points in every race with a 10th-place finish, one place behind Maro Engel who will be pleased with 9th in his debut race. NextEV will feel they could have done better, with Piquet dropping out of the points altogether. Despite his best efforts, Bird will be also be frustrated to take nothing from a race he led. Techeetah showed they had the pace, but neither driver could finish the race due to the damage sustained early on.
So whilst it looks like business as usual in the championship standings, its unlikely to stay that way for very long given the strength of the teams throughout the paddock. Luck was with Buemi today; he won’t have such an easy ride in Marrakesh.
|2.||Lucas di Grassi||Abt Schaeffler Audi||18|
|5.||António Félix da Costa||Andretti||10|
|7.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Faraday Future Dragon||6|
Nelson Piquet Jr – 3 points for pole
Felix Rosenqvist – 1 point for fastest lap
Image: Renault racing in Hong Kong © Formula E