Nicolas Prost converted pole position into a dominant victory in the first race at the London ePrix, while the battle between championship contenders Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi provided the centre of attention.
From pole, Prost built a strong lead which he held through the pit stop cycle. With thirteen laps to go a Safety Car period was called for a crash between Daniel Abt and Robin Frijns, and the bunched field, combined with a small amount of falling rain threatened to derail Prost’s control over the race. The Frenchman, however, stayed calm on the restart to maintain the lead and again pull away, eventually beating home the Mahindra of Bruno Senna by 5.244 seconds.
Third place was claimed by DS Virgin Racing’s Jean-Éric Vergne who inherited the position from Oliver Turvey, the Briton losing NEXTEV TCR’s first podium of the season when he clipped the wall with three laps to run.
Speaking post-race, Prost was happy to get a victory after an at times inconsistent season: “It’s been an up and down year for me, so it’s really nice. I was very confident coming here as in the last few races we’ve been very competitive and to be honest the team gave me a fantastic car all day long. It’s the kind of race you want to have. When I see Bruno’s helmet in the pit lane I get goosebumps. It’s really nice, he’s a friend and it’s nice to be on the podium with him here.”
The last time that a podium in Britain shared the names Prost & Senna was the famous 1993 European Formula One Grand Prix at Donington, and for Bruno Senna it was a relief to finally score his first Formula E podium.
“Today I finally got to second place,” he said. “There’s always one more if you’re in second, but today I had no chance against Nico [Prost]. He was faster, I was trying to keep up with him but also at the same time I had to do my race. Ultimately the safety car put things on the back foot, especially because the guys behind had a bit more energy. Today was all about being safe on the track, and we did a good job. The team did a great job. The team was working well with the car and I had no issues. Qualifying, we finally got to Super Pole without being disqualified as well! Everything went to plan and here is the result.”
Having crashed in the first qualifying group, Vergne received a huge stroke of luck when rain fell before any other qualifying groups could set a time, leaving him in fifth on the grid. With a significant repair required to one of his cars before race start, the Frenchman paid tribute to his DS Virgin Racing team for making the podium result possible.
“I’m really happy but I owe this one to the team,” he said afterwards. “I have to say that I have been very unlucky in the past few years but today I had a huge amount of luck. I had a crash and then the rain came, and no one could beat my time that I did on 170kW, I got lucky. The team has done an amazing job to fix the car on time.”
Fourth and fifth places were filled by the championship combatants in di Grassi and Buemi. With the variable weather in qualifying leaving the pair in tenth and twelfth on the grid respectively, they quickly started to move through the field together, running nose to tail in ninth and tenth positions by the end of Lap 2.
As pit stops approached, team strategy handed di Grassi an advantage as his ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team mate Daniel Abt let him though easily, before making life incredibly difficult for Buemi to complete the same pass – Abt even receiving a warning for changing direction more than once while defending.
As Buemi finally battled by Abt, di Grassi moved past Sam Bird, with Buemi passing Bird as the Brit pitted a lap earlier than those around.
The championship challengers were again nose to tail after completing their own stops, and soon the pair moved past Frijns. Following the Safety Car, di Grassi made contact with Vergne while trying to pass for fourth, damaging his front wing in the process. With a hobbled car di Grassi came under fire from Buemi with FanBoost, but ultimately it was the Swiss driver who slipped up as Bird moved back by Buemi at the Turn 14-15 chicane with three laps remaining.
Despite Buemi’s complaints that the move occurred under yellow flags displayed for Turvey’s crash, Bird refused to yield the position. The positions were reversed at the last possible moment though, as Bird ran out of energy exiting the final corner letting Buemi and Antônio Félix da Costa through on the run to the finish line.
With di Grassi and Buemi ending the race in fourth and fifth respectively, di Grassi’s championship lead has been extended to three points – slightly more than the one-point buffer at the start of the race meeting, but still small enough for a single positional change during Sunday’s final race or the bonus points for pole position and fastest lap to have a major impact on the outcome of the Drivers’ Championship.
Sunday’s track action sees the whole process from Saturday repeated again, with two practice sessions, four qualifying groups and Super Pole before the tenth and final race of the 2015/16 FIA Formula E Championship goes green at 16:04 local time (UTC+01:00).
|2015-16 Formula E London ePrix – Final Classification (33 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Nicolas Prost||Renault e.DAMS||33||53:56.653|
|2.||Bruno Senna||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||33||+ 5.244|
|3.||Jean-Éric Vergne||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||33||+ 8.195|
|4.||Lucas di Grassi||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||33||+ 8.914|
|5.||Sébastien Buemi||Renault e.DAMS||33||+ 10.052|
|6.||Antônio Félix da Costa||Team Aguri||33||+ 10.908|
|7.||Sam Bird||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||33||+ 10.986|
|8.||Nick Heidfeld||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||33||+ 11.264|
|9.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Dragon Racing||33||+ 12.106|
|10.||Mike Conway||Venturi Formula E Team||33||+ 12.456|
|11.||Simona de Silvestro||MS Amlin Andretti Formula E Team||33||+ 13.079|
|12.||Stéphane Sarrazin||Venturi Formula E Team||33||+ 15.918|
|13.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Aguri||33||+ 38.400|
|14.||Nelson Piquet Jr||NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team||33||+ 52.028|
|15.||Oliver Turvey||NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team||30||+ 3 laps|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Loïc Duval||Dragon Racing||23||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Robin Frijns||MS Amlin Andretti Formula E Team||19||Collision|
|DNF.||Daniel Abt||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||19||Collision|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Nelson Piquet Jr||NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team||29||1:25.783|
Image via Michelin Sport