Sebastien Buemi has won the 2015-16 FIA Formula E Driver’s Championship title, while his Renault e.DAMS teammate Nicolas Prost took his second race win of the weekend at the season-ending London ePrix.
Buemi’s title did not come without significant drama however, as an opening-lap clash with championship rival Lucas di Grassi turned the race into what seemed like a qualifying shoot out, with the two combatants – tied on points – fighting to set the fastest lap of the race to win the title for themselves.
Starting from pole, Buemi won the start and led through the Turn 1 and 2 sweepers, but it was at Turn 3 where the drama unfolded. Prost and di Grassi were side-by-side behind Buemi but in the braking zone di Grassi made heave contact with the rear of Buemi’s car, tearing the rear wing off the Renault, damaging the nose and suspension of di Grassi’s car and taking both drivers down the escape road.
Lucky not to be taken out in the accident himself, Prost inherited the lead as the Safety Car was called and Buemi and di Grassi managed to limp their way back to the pits – although Buemi initially tried to continue sans rear wing before being mechanically back-flagged by the FIA stewards.
Unsurprisingly, the two Renault e.DAMS teammates blamed di Grassi for the collision, while di Grassi pointed the finger at Buemi.
Post-race, Prost said he felt di Grassi “came in 100 kilometres per hour too fast”, while di Grassi claimed Buemi “braked 50 meters earlier than normal” for the corner.
Buemi himself even implied that the crash may have been intentional – with both drivers equal on points starting the race, a tie would lead to a results countback to determine the champion, which di Grassi would win by virtue of having more third place results than Buemi (as both had the same tally of wins and second places).
The incident also effectively handed the Teams’ Championship to Renault e.DAMS, as without a strong points hall from both di Grassi and Daniel Abt the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team would be unable to make up the deficit.
With both drivers making it back to the garage, they switched to their second cars. Given neither would be able to complete 32 laps of the 33 lap race distance on the energy of one car, climbing back to a point-scoring race position was out of the question. The championship now came down to which driver – if either – could set the fastest lap of the race and claim the two bonus points that come with it.
That would seemingly hand the advantage to Buemi given the outright speed of the Renault over the London weekend. Both di Grassi and Buemi received the FanBoost, however this could play no significant part in the outcome as a rule change for season two prevented fastest laps set with FanBoost from counting for the bonus points.
Di Grassi was first to return to the circuit in his second car after the Safety Car period had ended, while Buemi continued to in the garage for the field to settle down and a clean air gap could appear for him to use.
For the other sixteen drivers in the field, the race continued as normal and Prost – whose goal had now changed from supporting his teammate’s title challenge to targeting the race win for himself – went about building a dominant lead, just as he had during Saturday’s event.
This lead was eliminated twice more by Safety Cars – the first to retrieve Sam Bird’s DS Virgin after it had stopped on circuit, while the second was a double disaster to the MS Amlin Andretti team losing Robin Frijns to crash damage as almost simultaneously Simona de Silvestro ground to a halt on track.
As was the case on Saturday, none of the Safety Car periods had an effect on Prost’s dominance as he remained in front during the pit stop cycle and took the race win by 7.633 seconds over Abt, with Jean-Éric Vergne crossing the line in third.
This was to change post-race as Vergne, along with Nick Heidfeld and Antônio Félix da Costa received fifty-second time penalties for excessive energy use – promoting Dragon Racing’s Jérôme d’Ambrosio (who was also incredibly tight on energy use) to third place.
Speaking of his second victory of the weekend, Prost paid tribute to the car his team had provided, especially to pull away after each safety car period: “The safety cars were the main challenge, but the first car especially was flying so I could pull away quite easily every time. Then it’s just a case of remaining focused and not making a mistake. The team gave me a fantastic car this weekend, they don’t get much better than this to be honest.”
Second place equalled Abt’s best-ever finish, which helped him to seventh in the final championship standings: For myself personally of course I’m happy. I think I’ve managed to raise my game a bit in the second half of the season and to finish on a high is always good.”
D’Ambrosio’s surprise podium was a nice end of season boost for the driver who ended fifth in the championship standings.
“It was unexpected,” he said. “We’ve had a strong car in the second half of the season but we’ve struggled in qualifying after two poles earlier on. It was a bit messy at the start and I tried to go a bit longer with the car, and then someone crashed into me – a couple of people actually – I don’t know which one did the damage to the rear wing. It’s really tricky as this track is tough on energy – it’s so tempting to go and get that position – but then you consume more, although you believe that somehow you can manage it towards the end of the race and three of them didn’t!”
The focus for most, however, was the growing shoot out for fastest lap and the championship victory. A 1:27.037 lap from di Grassi was the initial benchmark, and once Buemi finally returned to the track he quickly beat that time, posting a 1:26.056 lap despite hitting traffic. A second lap in clean air further improved that mark to 1:24.582.
This prompted di Grassi to return to the circuit for a second run, initially banking a 1:24.9 second lap before taking aim at Buemi’s time. The Brazilian was fastest through the first two timing points, but faded in the final sector to be one-tenth behind Buemi. His challenge over, di Grassi returned to the pits and got out of his car, effectively conceding the title to Buemi unless another driver went faster – given the tight energy management required at this circuit, such an occurrence was unlikely.
Buemi instead would go faster again, ending the race with a 1:24.150 lap, giving the Swiss driver the championship victory by two points over di Grassi. Prost’s two dominant wins in London promoted him to third in the standings ahead of Sam Bird and d’Ambrosio.
Having missed out on the Season One Drivers’ Championship title by a solitary point, Buemi was pleased to be champion but a little disappointed about the Lap 1 incident with di Grassi.
“The most important thing is that we won both championships. I’m actually sad you know, to win it in that way, but also to see what Lucas did because I was very respectful of his driving, he’s been amazing. Like he’s said many times, his car is very bad and he is a very good driver, and if he was in my car he’d be at least half a second quicker!
“He’s a great driver, he did 24 hours in Le Mans, he never touched a car. He went between Nico and the wall, and I could tell you there was maybe five centimetres and once he braked, I just saw on the camera, he has two options – either go to the right or nail the back of my car and he nailed it perfectly. But a little bit too strong because we both went out.”
Obviously disappointed to lose, di Grassi said he and his team could feel incredibly proud of their efforts throughout the season.
“Congratulations to Sébastien. He’s a strong racing driver and no doubt a deserving Formula E champion. Still, we’re leaving London with our heads held high. We were able to battle for the championship up to the last race – every one of our mechanics, our engineers, our fans and our partners should be proud of this, because so am I. Obviously, we’re disappointed today. But we’ll start thinking about the next season tomorrow or day after tomorrow. We’re going to come back stronger than ever before.”
Having now won back-to-back Teams’ titles and now a Drivers’ Championship, Renault e.DAMS senior manager Alain Prost was overjoyed at the results of both his drivers.
“It was fantastic, we have improved the car a little bit and made it a little bit better for Nico’s style in the last few races. Sébastien was stunning today, we wanted to be on Super Pole for the three points and we got it. We wanted to be champions, we could not expect much more because in these types of races, especially on a track like this, like here in London – it’s tricky, with the weather. You can have a really different situation. It was the target and goal to be champion at the beginning of the year and we did it. It’s not very often that you have a target and you achieve your objective.”
Formula E now moves into its off-season, with teams working to develop their Season 3 powertrains, some of which have already completed some initial private testing. The competition will resume at the new Hong Kong street circuit for the opening round of the new season on Saturday October 9, where the series also will return to 20 entries as Jaguar joins the field.
|2015-16 Formula E London ePrix – Final Classification (33 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Nicolas Prost||Renault e.DAMS||33||56:32.648|
|2.||Daniel Abt||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||33||+ 7.633|
|3.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Dragon Racing||33||+ 22.524|
|4.||Loïc Duval||Dragon Racing||23||+ 23.290|
|5.||Stéphane Sarrazin||Venturi Formula E Team||33||+ 24.984|
|6.||Bruno Senna||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||33||+ 27.174|
|7.||Nick Heidfeld^||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||33||+ 1:07.544|
|8.||Jean-Éric Vergne^||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||33||+ 1:08.002|
|9.||Nelson Piquet Jr||NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team||33||+ 1:14.270|
|10.||Oliver Turvey||NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team||33||+ 1:22.216|
|11.||Antônio Félix da Costa^||Team Aguri||33||+ 1:58.324|
|12.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Aguri||32||+ 1 lap|
|13.||Mike Conway||Venturi Formula E Team||32||+ 1 lap|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Lucas di Grassi||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||18||Battery|
|DNF.||Sébastien Buemi||Renault e.DAMS||16||Battery|
|DNF.||Robin Frijns||MS Amlin Andretti Formula E Team||11||Accident|
|DNF.||Simona de Silvestro||MS Amlin Andretti Formula E Team||9||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Sam Bird||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||6||Mechanical|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Sébastien Buemi||Renault e.DAMS||16||1:24.150|
^ Post-Race Penalties:
Jean-Éric Vergne, Nick Heidfeld and Antônio Félix da Costa were all awarded 50-second post-race time penalties for excessive energy use.
Images via FIA Formula E Championship