Nelson Piquet Jr is the inaugural FIA Formula E Drivers’ Champion, holding on in an exciting final race to defeat Sébastien Buemi by a single point. Also celebrating in London was Sam Bird, who took his second race win of the season in what is his home ePrix.
Adding additional excitement to the already tense championship battle, it was announced pre-race that Buemi and Piquet were both recipients of the FanBoost, along with Piquet’s NEXEV TCR teammate Oliver Turvey.
With the grid jumbled due to a rain-affected qualifying session, Bird started in fourth place and held position through the pit stop cycle. The Briton then started to move forward, making his way past the two Dragon Racing cars of Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Loïc Duval into second position following a Safety Car to recover the car of teammate Fabio Leimer who had nosed into the barriers at Turn 8.
Bird then set about applying immense pressure to leader and pole sitter Stéphane Sarrazin, moving alongside the Venturi driver on several occasions but unable to find a way by. Bird’s challenge was unrelenting, and being forced to defend his lead, Sarrazin’s energy meter reached zero per cent remaining early in the final lap.
The Frenchman managed to cross the line first on the road but was handed a 49-second penalty (time equivalent to serving a drive-through penalty) on the slow-down lap, dropping him to fifteenth place and giving Bird victory. The penalty also ensured both Dragon cars ended on the podium with d’Ambrosio second and Duval third, the combined points scored both drivers also moving Dragon from fourth to second in the final Team’s Championship ahead of Audi Sport ABT and NEXTEV TCR.
For Bird, winning at home was special, having struggled for consistency since winning the second ePrix of the season in Malaysia: “It’s been a mixed season for us at Virgin, but what a way to finish, unbelievable, unbelievable. The race today, great race start in fourth. We were very strong and I was able to attack people into Turn 11, and we made the moves stick which is nice. The strategy was good as well, we were able to go a lap longer than Stéphane [Sarrazin], and hounded him all the way to the finish. I knew that he would be very tight on energy if not over and that was the case.”
The Dragon pair of d’Ambrosio and Duval celebrated a double podium, and credited the team’s development through the second half of the season: “We had a great end to the season since Miami, we have been making steady progress and been very consistent, scoring points in every race. Last race was my mistake but the team has been doing a cracking job, so it’s been really good,” said d’Ambrosio. “We kind of put things into place in the right place, and it’s just going well, so it’s a good momentum for next season.”
Duval agreed, having witnessed a growth in the team’s performance since joining mid-season: “It was not always easy – you have to work a lot with all the systems, but in the end for the team it’s a really good weekend. We finished runner-up in the teams’ championship. When I joined I think it was something like sixth, so that’s pretty cool and I really enjoyed it.”
Behind the podium group was another intense battle, as Piquet, Buemi and Lucas di Grassi fought for the title. Starting from a seemingly impossible position of sixteenth on the grid and with only a five point buffer to Buemi in second, Piquet ran an aggressive strategy to get as many places as possible, including completing an additional lap in his first car compared to his rivals. This resulted in the Brazilian emerging from the pits crucially in front of Buemi’s team mate Nicolas Prost in tenth place.
Leimer’s safety car played out perfectly for Piquet and when the field bunched he found himself on the back of team mate Oliver Turvey. As the race resumed Turvey provided minimal resistance, and with a bold move around the outside of a fast sweeper Piquet was also past Salvador Durán for eighth, where he would stay until the end of the race.
Buemi started in sixth and had moved to fifth as he exited pit lane, but a spin on his out-lap would prove to be costly – while the Swiss driver only lost one place to Bruno Senna, he was unable to get back by. As Piquet made his way to seventh, and in turn regained a one-point lead, Buemi’s desperation to pass really began to show.
He finally managed to get alongside Senna in the final few corners, but was unable to complete the pass – missing out on the title by the slimmest of margins both in the points and on track. Even with the field being promoted one position as a result of Sarrazin’s penalty, the points’ gap between Piquet and Buemi remained the same.
For di Grassi, starting eleventh was a street to far to close out the championship, and while he moved forward to an eventual sixth place finish after Sarrazin’s demotion – splitting Buemi and Piquet Jr on the road – third in the final standings would be where he remained.
Directly after the race, Piquet Jr spoke of how starting so far down the grid almost removed some of the championship pressure on his shoulders: “This morning when it was raining in Group 3 right when I was on track, I just thought things could not get any worse. On the positive side of things it took a bit of pressure away from me because I had nothing to lose anymore. I was at the back of the field, so let’s be aggressive and see what we can do. It worked out – we had an aggressive strategy.”
Piquet’s title is the first ever championship win by a Chinese team in FIA sanctioned competition, and the Brazilian used his victory speech at prize giving dinner to praise those working around him: “Thanks to Adrián [Campos, team owner] and the guys at the China Racing team for believing in me. Thanks to Qualcomm as well for helping us in the beginning. The team did an amazing job, they worked really hard, once we got our first win in Long Beach we realised we had a chance of winning the championship. It’s been incredible.”
With his career having stalled somewhat flowing his acrimonious exit from Formula 1 in 2009, Piquet felt rejuvenated this season: “This has opened my career again. I was able to show my potential. At China Racing we showed that if you put a good group of guys together you are able to fight against manufacturers, you just need to be smart.”
For a new series demonstrating alternate technology, using a racing, social media and fan approach never seen before with close and eventful races all season, the tension and closeness of the London ePrix was the finale that the championship truly deserved.
With the inaugural season now completed, the growth of Formula E steps up a notch ahead of the second season. New manufacturers will join with existing teams as the performance of the cars is increased. The 2015/16 season calendar will be unveiled during July, and in just over 40 days’ time, the first official pre-season test will be underway at Donington Park.
|2015 FIA Formula E London ePrix – Race 2 Final Classification (29 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Sam Bird||Virgin Racing Formula E Team||29||45:48.792|
|2.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Dragon Racing Formula E Team||29||+ 6.973|
|3.||Loïc Duval||Dragon Racing Formula E Team||29||+ 9.430|
|4.||Bruno Senna||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||29||+ 10.147|
|5.||Sébastien Buemi||Team e.DAMS Renault||29||+ 10.689|
|6.||Lucas di Grassi||Audi Sport ABT Formula E Team||29||+ 11.204|
|7.||Nelson Piquet Jr||NEXTEV Team China Racing||29||+ 11.561|
|8.||Salvador Durán||Amlin Aguri||29||+ 12.402|
|9.||Oliver Turvey||NEXTEV Team China Racing||29||+ 14.142|
|10.||Nicolas Prost||Team e.DAMS Renault||29||+ 14.535|
|11.||Daniel Abt||Audi Sport ABT Formula E Team||29||+ 23.170|
|12.||Simona de Silvestro||Andretti Autosport Formula E Team||29||+ 24.610|
|13.||Karun Chandhok||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||29||+ 31.501|
|14.||Alex Fontana||Trulli Formula E Team||29||+ 38.423|
|15.||Stéphane Sarrazin*||VENTURI Formula E Team||29||+ 46.680|
|16.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Andretti Autosport Formula E Team||28||+ 1 lap|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Nick Heidfeld||VENTURI Formula E Team||23||Electrical|
|DNF.||Fabio Leimer||Virgin Racing Formula E Team||17||Accident|
|DNF.||Jarno Trulli||Trulli Formula E Team||14||Damage|
|DNF.||Sakon Yamamoto||Amlin Aguri||6||Collision|
- Sarrazin was awarded a drive-through penalty (applied as a 49-second post-race time penalty) for exceeding maximum energy usage.
Images via FIA Formula E Media