Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird has dominated an eventful Putrajaya ePrix, leading home championship leader Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi at the end of the 31-lap race.

Having set the fourth-fastest time in qualifying, penalties to Nicolas Prost (driving infringement in the Beijing event) and Jérôme d’Ambrosio (exceeding maximum power usage allowance) saw Bird start from second on the grid, alongside Oriol Servià. Additionally, Buemi was put to the rear of the grid when his car was found to be underweight after qualifying. Katherine Legge, Bruno Senna and Nick Heidfeld were announced pre-race as the Fan Boost recipients.

2014 Putrajaya ePrix start

Servia may have won the start, but he couldn’t live with the pace of those behind.

Servià won the start, holding off a strong challenge from Bird into Turn 1. Behind, Daniel Abt struggled to get away from third on the grid and fell to the rear of the field before the first corner. Almost immediately, the safety car was called to clear debris left from two opening lap incidents: Katherine Legge lost control and hit Michela Cerruti, while Andretti Autosport debutant Matthew Brabham made contact with Nick Heidfeld and spun at the hairpin.

Racing resumed on Lap 5, with Bird passing Servià at Turn 4, with Trulli following suit into second place at the final corner. The Safety Car was again deployed on Lap 9 to remove Heidfeld’s damaged car. Light contact during an aggressive pass by Franck Montagny forced the Venturi driver into the barriers, damaging Heidfeld’s right front steering and suspension.

The Safety Car returned to pit lane on Lap 12, and Bird cleared out at the front of the field, building a 5.5-second lead by the end of Lap 13. Behind, a train of cars involving Jarno Trulli, Karun Chandhok, Servià, Nelson Piquet Jr and Bruno Senna battled for second place. Senna used his Fan Boost in an attempt to pass Piquet, but instead brushed the wall and bending his steering; the Brazilian battled on until the compulsory pit stop when he could change to a ‘straight’ car.

The majority of the train pitted on Lap 17, except for Senna and Bird. The latter continued out on circuit well ahead of the battling pack until Lap 19, with the Virgin driver running down to 3% energy remaining before switching to his second car. Post pit stop drive-through penalties were handed to both Trulli (energy use infringement) and Montagny (speeding in pit lane). Meanwhilem contact with the wall when Trulli moved across onto his car put Piquet out of the race and earned the Italian veteran a post-race time penalty.

At the completion of the pit stop cycle Daniel Abt – who had gained track position when he pitted under the Lap 9 Safety Car – led the race, but was circulating at five seconds per lap slower than Bird as he attempted the seemingly impossible task of extracting 21 race laps of battery energy from one car.

With five laps to go, Bird caught Abt and the German provided little resistance to the Briton; the chasing pack came through a lap later and Abt eventually finished tenth.

Bird would remain unchallenged to the chequered flag, with his large lead enabling him to ease up on energy usage – his Virgin Racing car finished with 19% energy remaining, whilst most other competitors had well less than 10% still available.

Clean racing and smart pit strategy had brought di Grassi and Buemi – who started 18th and 19th respectively – along with Prost, into contention in the battle with Senna for second. Di Grassi and Buemi secured their podium positions when Senna lost the back end of his Mahindra at Turn 9 on the final lap, the right rear corner of the car making heavy contact with the wall.

An elated Bird said afterwards: “The weekend went really well, we were quick from the first outing and we were quickest in practice. Qualifying didn’t quite go our way as I think we were not in the best group for doing a fast lap time but we put that right in the race.

“The first stint I was able to get a very good gap which meant we could take it easy and not make any silly mistakes, do some lift and coasting, and coast to the finish. I have to dedicate this win to a good friend of mine who is very ill. It’s very sad what’s happened to him and this one is for Jules [Bianchi].”

More than satisfied with his race, di Grassi was pleased to finish on the podium after starting from the rear of the field:  “This was beyond my expectations. Everyone is here to win, everyone is pushing to the limit as this track has proven once and for all this car is very tricky to drive even if you have done all the testing. The tiniest margin can ruin your whole weekend and that’s what happened in qualifying from my side and then to come all the way from the back of the grid on a street track to second is an amazing feeling. I felt I had a much better race than in Beijing where I won.”

Buemi detailed his pleasure to finally get a result after strong pace in pre-season testing had not yet translated into ePrix pace: “I’m really happy I have to say. We were really good in testing and then when we came to the first race it just didn’t go well. It went bad today in the qualifying which is quite strange, we did some set up changes that didn’t work so well but I felt the strongest in this car and finished third.”

The win moves Bird to second in the Drivers’ Championship standings, three points behind di Grassi, with the top two drivers already having a large points lead on the rest of the field. Audi Sport Abt (45 points) holds a one-point lead over Virgin Racing in the Teams’ Championship.

Round 3 of the FIA Formula E Championship will be held on the streets of Punte del Este, Uruguay, on Saturday December 13.

2014-15 Formula E Putrajaya e-Prix – Final Classification (31 laps):

Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Sam Bird Virgin Racing Formula E Team 31 51:11.979
2. Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT Formula E Team 31 + 4.175
3. Sébastien Buemi Team e.dams Renault 31 + 5.739
4. Nicolas Prost Team e.dams Renault 31 + 9.552
5. Jérôme d’Ambrosio Dragon Racing Formula E Team 31 + 13.722
6. Karun Chandhok Mahindra Racing Formula E Team 31 + 17.158
7. Oriol Servia es Dragon Racing Formula E Team 31 + 18.621
8. António Félix da Costa Amlin Aguri 31 + 19.926
9. Jaime Alguersuari es Virgin Racing Formula E Team 31 + 20.053
10. Daniel Abt Audi Sport ABT Formula E Team 31 + 45.663
11. Ho-Pin Tung China Racing Formula E Team 31 + 55.833
12. Stéphane Sarrazin VENTURI Formula E Team 31 + 56.626
13. Matthew Brabham Andretti Autosport Formula E Team 31 + 1:05.036
14. Bruno Senna Mahindra Racing Formula E Team 30 Accident
15. Franck Montagny* Andretti Autosport Formula E Team 30 1 lap behind
16. Katherine Legge* Amlin Aguri 28 3 laps behind
17. Jarno Trulli* Trulli Formula E Team 28 3 laps behind
Not Classified
DNF. Nelson Piquet Jr China Racing Formula E Team 22 Accident
DNF. Michela Cerruti Trulli Formula E Team 7 Damage
DQ. Nick Heidfeld VENTURI Formula E Team 14 Car Swap
Fastest Lap Lap Time
Jaime Alguersuari es Virgin Racing Formula E Team 20 1:24.429

* Montagny, Legge and Trulli were each issued with 23-second time penalties for causing a collision during the race. Heidfeld was disqualified for not changing his car within the confines of his designated pit box.

Images via FIA Formula E Championship Media

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Mitch Timms

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Professional motorsport engineer and all-round tech head.