Renault e.Dams’ Sébastien Buemi has stormed from fifth on the grid to win the Punta del Este ePrix for the second year in a row, reclaiming the lead in the Formula E Driver’s Championship in the process.
Pole sitter Jérôme d’Ambrosio held the lead at the start, while Sam Bird immediately moved by Loïc Duval for second and Buemi jumped Lucas di Grassi into fourth.
D’Ambrosio then set about building a 1.8-second lead, but it was Buemi cutting through the field that grabbed the crowd’s attention. Showing the pace that gave him provisional pole before a mistake in the Super Pole session, the Swiss driver passed Duval for third at the hairpin on Lap 4 before moving past Bird into second on the next lap.
Once in clean air, Buemi caught up to d’Ambrosio straight away – gaining 1.5 seconds on the Belgian in one lap alone – and on Lap 8 he secured the lead with a move on the Dragon Racing driver at Turn 17.
Behind the leaders, Duval and di Grassi moved by Bird and when the top five all pitted on Lap 18, Buemi had built a 4.3-second lead.
A brilliant pit stop from the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team combined with slower stops for both Dragon Racing cars of d’Ambrosio and Duval allowed di Grassi to jump from fourth to second in the pit lane, while Bird also gained a position on Duval.
The Briton was not to hold this position for long, as a battery management system issue on his out-lap brought the DS Virgin car to a halt. A full course yellow was called to clear his car, bunching the field and putting di Grassi into striking range of Buemi, however he could not find a way to challenge the Swiss driver who steadily built a 3.5-second lead he would hold to the end of the race. As an additional show of how much pace was in Buemi’s Renault Z.E 15 he also claimed the two bonus points for fastest lap, almost four-tenths faster than any other driver.
D’Ambrosio and Duval staged an all-Dragon Racing battle for the final podium position, but it was d’Ambrosio who held of the attacks of his team mate to claim third place. While the top four cars remained relatively close on track – under seven seconds separated Buemi and Duval at the finish – there was then a large 14-second gap back to Nicolas Prost who had a relatively uneventful race on his way to fifth.
The latter stages of the race were highlighted by an intense battle between reigning champion Nelson Piquet Jr and FanBoost winner Jean-Éric Vergne for seventh place. Having moved up from the rear of the grid Vergne attempted a pass on Piquet at the hairpin on the second last lap, with the drivers making contact as Piquet completed a switchback to remain ahead.
Battling to keep the Frenchman behind, Piquet lost the rear of his car into the Turn 15 chicane later in the lap, making heavy contact with the barriers and ending his race. Piquet’s NEXTEV TCR team mate Oliver Turvey was hit with a penalty mid-race and ultimately finished twelfth, having been released from his pit stop by his team before completing the minimum permitted pit stop time.
For Buemi the race win moves him back to the lead of the driver’s championship on 62 points, one point ahead of di Grassi, with d’Ambrosio a long way behind in third place on 28 points. With teammate Prost finishing fifth, the result also moves the Renault e.Dams team to the top of the Teams’ Championship standings, two points ahead of ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport.
Making positions in the early laps was, in Buemi’s view, critical to overcome his compromised Super Pole and fifth place starting position: “The start was really important for the outcome of the race. Pulling away from the clean side of the grid meant I could jump di Grassi and then close in and pass D’Ambrosio and Bird in the opening laps. I was ahead and lost a lot of time under Full Course Yellow. Normally you get a 10 second countdown from the race director but the boards were already out so I backed off, I didn’t want to take the risk. It’s good to bounce back from Putrajaya but Lucas is really close and consistent so we have to remain focused.”
Admitting second was the best they could hope for in the race given Buemi’s pace, di Grassi payed tribute to his team’s outstanding work during his pit stop: “Today second was the maximum we could achieve with Renault again showing they have the car to beat. Also this result is thanks to my team who did a really good job in the pitstop where I moved ahead of both Dragon cars. I managed to catch Buemi and tried to manage the gap but he was too fast, they have been the quickest in the first three races. He’s the man to win the championship but if he doesn’t do it we’ll be here to do it.”
While disappointed to not convert his first pole position in to victory, D’Ambrosio enjoyed another tough but fair battle with his Dragon Racing team mate: “Getting both Dragon cars in the top-five was a good achievement. Starting from pole you want to win the race but realistically the other cars are faster. I just did my own race. Loic and I had a close one here as in Beijing, I didn’t have much energy left and was in a close fight. I was under pressure but managed to hold on.”
The Formula E Championship now takes another seven week break over the Christmas and New Year period, returning to South America for Round 4 in Buenos Aires on Saturday 6 February 2016.
Image via ASN Media / FIA Formula E Championship