Lucas di Grassi has staged a remarkable last-to-first comeback to win an extraordinary Mexico City ePrix, with the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team guiding the Brazilian’s race strategy to perfection.
After a shocking qualifying session where he was 18th fastest (and promoted to 16th on the grid following penalties being applied to other drivers), matters became worse for di Grassi on the opening lap when his car’s rear wing was broken following mid-pack contact with Maro Engel at Turn 3. After attempting to press on, di Grassi was forced to pit under Safety Car conditions on the third lap for a replacement wing to be fitted, re-joining the race in 20th – and last – position but crucially still on the lead lap and in contact with the pack.
At the front of the field, pole-sitter Oliver Turvey made a clean start and led away from José María López, however the Briton’s NextEV NIO slowed on to the front straight as he completed his twelfth lap and eventually stopped on circuit. Race control called a Safety Car period to recover Turvey’s failed car, giving ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport the opportunity needed to game on a result for di Grassi.
The Brazilian completed his mandatory car-change pit stop under this Safety Car on Lap 17, re-joining the rear of the pack for the restart and needing to manage the energy consumption of his car over an almost unheard-of 28 laps. For any chance of a result di Grassi (along with Jérôme d’Ambrosio, who had made a similar strategy call to pit under safety car) would require each car in front to complete their pit stop under green flag conditions, and that is exactly how it played out.
At the completion of the pit stop cycle di Grassi found himself leading from d’Ambrosio, with the chasing pack led by López around 30 seconds behind – but without the burden of extreme energy conservation, the field were closing the gap quickly.
Ultimately the gap wouldn’t matter, as a third Safety Car period was called when d’Ambrosio’s Dragon Racing team mate Loïc Duval stopped on circuit with a battery issue.
With the field now closed up, it seemed at the restart that it was now López’s race to lose – but d’Ambrosio became di Grassi’s greatest ally. The Belgian was hell-bent on keeping second place and began defending strongly from the advances of López, who eventually pushed too hard and spun at Turn 1, ending his challenge.
With di Grassi moving away in front, Jean-Éric Vergne now took the fight to d’Ambrosio and lap after lap could not find a way through, although contact was made several times. On lap 43 of 45 Vergne finally completed the pass by squeezing through at Turn 2, but there were simply not enough laps left for the Techeetah to catch and pass di Grassi who held on to claim the most improbable of wins by 1.966 seconds.
Third place was by no means sorted yet though. Following Vergne’s pass, d’Ambrosio continued to defend but ultimately ran out of energy on the final lap, handing the final podium spot to DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird. What should have been a strong points result became a nightmare for Mahindra, as Nicolas Prost spun Nick Heidfeld in the stadium section. The Jaguar of Mitch Evans managed to slip past both as chaos unfolded, but Heidfeld’s Mahindra was left broadside to the oncoming traffic and was collected by the next car – his team mate Felix Rosenqvist.
This melee promoted Evans ultimately to a fourth-place finish – scoring Jaguar’s first points in Formula E – which became a double celebration for the team when his teammate Adam Carroll finished eighth.
Prost ended the race in fifth, ahead of a recovering López, Daniel Abt and Carroll. Ninth place was taken by Nelson Piquet Jr, while on his debut in the series home-town hero Esteban Gutiérrez scored a point with tenth.
The sheer elation was evident in di Grassi’s voice over the radio to his team after crossing the finish line, and his jubilation continued post-race, with the Brazilian rating his performance one of the best in his career.
“What an incredible change of fate, but actually that’s what Formula E represents, there are such ups and downs,” he beamed afterwards.
“You can have a bad weekend or good weekend – the level of the drivers is so high. Somebody crashed into my back, broke the rear wing and there was a Safety Car. I managed to open a gap, keep on just using regen, just trying to be as energy efficient as possible, just focusing on my race as much as possible until the last corner and then just celebrated like crazy. For me it was one of the best races of my life, in terms of how I drove, how energy efficient I had to be, so I’m very pleased.”
By contrast Vergne was disappointed post-race, the Frenchman was adamant that d’Ambrosio’s action had cost him the victory.
“I have very mixed emotions, I think this race was ours – 100 per cent,” he fumed.
“What d’Ambrosio did was totally unacceptable, he just doesn’t know how to defend, he crashed too many times into me, forced me to go off the track – so I’m not a fan. He changed direction many times, so I’m very frustrated but on the other hand I’m happy that I’m here for the championship. We started very far away but I know I’m in the right team with the right car to win the championship. I think we’re coming back a little bit better and we’re getting stronger every race as a team.”
Di Grassi’s victory also ended the unbeaten run of championship leader Sébastien Buemi. The Swiss driver entered the event in a position so strong that he could not be knocked off from first in the standings and it was lucky for the Renault e.DAMS driver that this was the case, as he endured a difficult race.
Having moved up to fifth prior to his pit stop, Buemi slipped back towards the rear of the top ten before making an almost identical error to López at the same corner on the same lap – Bumei and Lopez were even briefly parked side-by-side in the Turn 1 run-off. This mistake pushed Buemi out of the top ten – ultimately an 13th place finish was the result – with the only consolation being the solitary point for fastest lap of the race.
With di Grassi victorious and Buemi only scoring one point, the Drivers’ Championship standings have been blown wide open as the series moves to Europe.
Buemi (76 points) now holds a lead of just five points over di Grassi, with the second Renault e.DAMS of Prost in third place (46 pts). Vergne’s second podium in a row has him placed fourth with 40 points, ahead of Bird (33 pts) whose season tally stands at two podiums and two DNFs across the four races.
While di Grassi’s win has also closed the Teams’ Championship standings, Renault e.DAMS (122 pts) still hold a significant lead over ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport (91 pts). The top two teams are a long way ahead of a close battle for third position, currently held by DS Virgin Racing (43 pts) ahead of Techeetah (40 pts) and Mahindra (37 pts).
The FIA Formula E Championship will now begin its European leg with a return to the Monaco ePrix on Saturday May 13. Buemi won this event when Formula E last raced there in 2015, and the championship leader will no doubt be looking to re-establish his dominance there in 2017.
|2017 Formula E Mexico City ePrix – Final Classification (45 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Lucas di Grassi||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||45||56:27.535||25|
|2.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Techeetah||45||+ 1.966||18|
|3.||Sam Bird||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||45||+ 7.480||15|
|4.||Mitch Evans||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||45||+ 9.770||12|
|5.||Nicolas Prost||Renault e.DAMS||45||+ 9.956||10|
|6.||José María López||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||45||+ 10.631||8|
|7.||Daniel Abt||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||45||+ 11.694||6|
|8.||Adam Carroll||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||45||+ 13.722||4|
|9.||Nelson Piquet Jr||NextEV NIO||45||+ 14.156||2|
|10.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Techeetah||45||+ 15.717||1|
|11.||Robin Frijns||MS Amlin Andretti||45||+ 21.459|
|12.||Nick Heidfeld||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||45||+ 27.232|
|13.||Sébastien Buemi||Renault e.DAMS||45||+ 1:01.365||1*|
|14.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Faraday Future Dragon Racing||45||+ 1:09.646|
|15.||Stéphane Sarrazin||Venturi Formula E Team||44||+ 1 lap|
|16.||Felix Rosenqvist||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||43||Collision|
|DNF.||Maro Engel||Venturi Formula E Team||38||Retired|
|DNF.||António Félix da Costa||MS Amlin Andretti||32||Retired|
|DNF.||Loïc Duval||Faraday Future Dragon Racing||25||Retired|
|DNF.||Oliver Turvey||NextEV NIO||12||Retired||3^|
* For claiming pole position (3 pts)
^ For posting the fastest lap of the race (1pt)
Images via FIA Formula E Championship