The first ever motor race around the streets of New York city was a story of “firsts”, and packed full of dramatic twists and turns. With the championship leader absent, the door was left open for his rivals to capitalise. But the race was to throw up plenty of surprises for would-be champions.
Alex Lynn, with only a couple of testing sessions’ experience of driving a Formula E car before this weekend, found himself on pole position after a fantastic performance in qualifying. But his lack of experience let him down at the start, as he took too-wide a line into the opening corner and allowed 2nd-placed Daniel Abt to take the lead.
Behind them, Sam Bird moved up into third with a similar manoeuvre on Jean-Éric Vergne. Nelson Piquet Jr took a gamble by darting down and around on the outside line, but the concertina effect meant there were no gaps available and he gained little from the move.
Virtually every car at the back of the field made some contact in the cramped opening turns, and the action was nose-to-tail for the opening few laps. Mitch Evans’ steering broke in one such collision, forcing him out early and leaving him to attempt setting the fastest lap in his second car.
The field quickly split into two distinct groups, with the leading five ahead by several seconds from Jérôme D’Ambrosio, Oliver Turvey, Stephane Sarrazin, Piquet and Lucas di Grassi. The NextEV drivers enjoyed good pace early on, moving up through the field. D’Ambrosio soon found himself sandwiched in between Piquet and di Grassi, picking up damage to front and rear wings coming out of the hairpin at turn one. He too was forced back to the pits.
At the front, Lynn was keeping pace with Abt and managing his energy well. But team-mate Sam Bird was clearly annoyed at his “over-defending”, and both drivers were given a warning from the garage to calm down. Nick Heidfeld overtaking Vergne on lap 10 gave Bird and Lynn a window of opportunity to switch places, and soon Bird was immediately on Abt’s tail, and setting faster sector times.
Renault, out of the spotlight for the first time, were not enjoying the best of starts. Running back in 17th and 18th, they would have been stone-last had there been no retirements.
With Daniel Abt starting to sound nervous on the radio about managing his energy whilst having to defend against Bird so vigorously, DS Virgin obviously began to smell blood. Bird, already in striking distance, began to faint moves, but still had to take care not to leave himself open. At this stage, there were still only 2 seconds separating P1 and P5.
Nevertheless, he saw his chance on lap 16, taking pole on the inside of the turn 1 hairpin. A domino effect then saw Heidfeld take third from Lynn, only for the British driver to then lose fourth to Vergne on the very next lap. Now on a charge, JEV moved up into third on lap 19. Meanwhile, Sarrazin had pushed hard, and had joined the leading pack.
Di Grassi, the most likely contender to take Sébastien Buemi’s crown, was also making up places well and had pulled himself up into sixth position as the race approached the half-way stage.
Hope and despair
With the driver swap window open, DS Virgin were the first to pull the trigger. Bird and Lynn came in, but Abt, Heidfeld and Di Grassi all stayed out for an extra lap, thanks to their superior remaining energy. The early move worked fantastically, with Bird maintaining his lead and Lynn holding on to a valuable fifth place.
But pleasure soon turned to agony when Lynn’s driveshaft snapped whilst negotiating the chicane section. He was able to ease the car out of harm’s way, leaving it parked on the next straight (where it remained for the rest of the race), but his day was over.
Once again, Di Grassi found himself in a tight spot, behind Rosenqvist and ahead of Heidfeld. Despite using FanBoost to close the gap, he wasn’t able to get past for several laps, until finally his pressuring was enough to force an error from Rosenqvist. Losing the back end of the car, which spun 180° into the barriers, the rear spoiler was left hanging off the back of the car. Shown the “meatball” flag, the Swede rejoined the race after a swift repair, but only in an attempt to pick up bonus points.
Mahindra’s day was to get worse, still. Heidfeld then pulled up after breaking his right rear suspension, resulting in the new-look safety car making its first appearance.
With five laps to go, it looked as though the race could end under safety car conditions. That certainly would have suited Sam Bird, who now had Vergne (and the rest of the field) bunched up behind him. But when the green flags were waved with two laps of racing remaining, Bird has a great restart and kept the Techeetah driver at bay.
There was still time for some last-minute drama, though. When Daniel Abt out-braked himself on the final hairpin, he not only allowed Sarrazin through to make it a double-podium finish for Techeetah, but he almost collided with Di Grassi in the process. From third with less than a lap to go, he finished way outside the points down in 14th.
- Sam Bird (DS Virgin)
- Jean-Éric Vergne (Techeetah)
- Stephane Sarrazin (Techeetah)
- Lucas di Grassi (Abt Schaeffler Audi)
- Loïc Duval (Dragon Racing)
- Oliver Turvey (NextEV)
- Pierre Gasly (Renault)
- Nico Prost (Renault)
- Robin Frijns (Andretti)
- Adam Carroll (Jaguar)
Image: Alex Lynn © Formula E