It was a case of history repeating for Sébastien Buemi in as the Renault e.Dams driver won the Monaco ePrix from pole position. Having also won the race from pole in 2015, this time Buemi had to contend with a spirited challenge from long-time rival Lucas di Grassi.
From the race start, the top four of Buemi, di Grassi, Nelson Piquet Jr and Jean-Éric Vergne moved away in order, with the leading pair building a comfortable gap between themselves and the chasing pack.
Early race misfortune struck both DS Virgin drivers, with José María López sustaining contact damage to both his front and rear wings, while Sam Bird clouted the wall exiting the Swimming Pool. The Briton limped back to the pits and swapped to his second car, aiming for – and claiming – the fastest lap points, before retiring after 36 laps when his energy ran out.
Vergne continued to place increasing pressure on Piquet ahead, with the battle coming to a head on Lap 21. Having made a better exit from Turn 2, the Frenchman attempted to pass around the outside of Piquet into Turn 3. The Techeetah managed to get his nose ahead in the braking zone, but Vergne turned in before completely clearing the NextEV NIO and the two cars made repeated side-by-side contact as Piquet moved along the inside of the corner. The real drama occurred on the exit of the corner, however, as the two cars continued in contact and pushed out into the wall.
Vergne was out on the spot, with the violent shake of his steering wheel injuring his right hand. The Frenchman complained of being unable to move his hand after getting out of the car and has been sent for X-rays, the concern magnified by the Paris ePrix scheduled for one week’s time.
Piquet, by contrast, only lost a position to Nick Heidfeld as the accident unfolded, and proceeded back to pit lane to swap out of his damaged car. The need to recover Vergne’s stranded car prompted a Safety Car at the same time, which lead to the entire field pitting for their car swap within a lap and allowing Piquet to maintain fourth place.
When racing resumed on Lap 26, the latest installment of the Buemi vs di Grassi rivalry really began to unfold. The battle raged throughout the remainder of the race, however the Swiss driver used his FanBoost to grow the lead at one stage to 1.6 seconds.
Di Grassi and Buemi were in a class of their own – the battle for the lead put 13 seconds on third-placed Nick Heidfeld – and while di Grassi brought the gap back to 0.320 seconds through lapped traffic at the end of the race, the Brazilian simply could not find a way by. Forced into a 25-lap race stint in an intense battle, both drivers had to keep energy management in mind as well, with neither having any reserves left as they crossed the line.
A tenth Formula E victory for Buemi was the result, which post-race Buemi described just how hard he was made to earn it.
“In the first stint I managed to pull a little gap, but Lucas was using a bit less energy than me. When the Safety Car came out we knew we had to try to learn from them [ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport] after what they have done in Hong Kong and Mexico by stopping very early, so that was the right call and then we knew it was going to be very difficult because to finish we would have to save quite a lot of energy,” he recalled.
“I managed to build a bit of a gap just to be safe and he played with me a bit because when we were passing the guys who were a lap down he consumed a little bit more than expected so I had to do the same. Then he did two laps where he kind of backed off, which was good for me, but in the end we both finished with nothing left.”
For di Grassi, while he felt he had a car capable of winning the race in the second stint, Buemi’s experience in defending – combined with the short Monaco circuit – meant he just could not grab the lead.
“On the first stint the pace was not really there but we were saving much more energy. In the second stint I was trying to keep up with him,” he explained.
“I had around one per cent more than him, so I knew if I had the right strategy I could attack him in the end. The problem is here in Monaco there is nowhere to overtake and if you’re an experienced guy like Séb you know how to close the door. Also I would never go for a gap where you cannot overtake or I would risk all the race. If he’d left any door open, or any of the straights were longer than 360 metres, for sure I would have had a go.”
Heidfeld ran a quiet race to claim third place – his second podium of the year – and in doing so claimed a piece of history in becoming the first driver to score podium finishes at Monaco in both Formula 1 and Formula E.
Piquet finished in fourth, however his second stint was just as busy as the first; the Brazilian fought with Maro Engel’s Venturi for most of the run home, with Felix Rosenqvist and Daniel Abt close behind.
Esteban Gutiérrez scored his second Formula E points result in as many races by finishing eighth, receiving a final-lap bonus place as Robin Frijns’ Andretti ran out of energy and fell down the order. Buemi’s Renault e.Dams team mate Nicolas Prost and Jaguar’s Mitch Evans claimed the final two points positions; the pair was promoted a position following a 33-second penalty handed to António Félix da Costa for an unsafe pit lane release.
The Drivers’ Championship is now very much a two-horse race, with Buemi (104 points) holding a 15 point lead over di Grassi, with Prost (48 points) in third place now a massive 41 points further back. Vergne’s DNF luckily had minimal impact, as the Techeetah driver holds fourth place with 40 points, while Bird sits fifth on 34 points.
Renault e.Dams (152 points) remain in control of the Teams’ Championship, ahead of ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport (115 points), with another large gap back to Mahindra Racing (60 points) and Techeetah (45 points).
The series’ teams and drivers have little time to reflect upon Monaco, reconvening this coming Saturday (May 20) for Round 6, the Paris ePrix at the Circuit des Invalides.
Image via LAT