Sheer dominance. There is no better way to describe Lucas di Grassi’s performance in the inaugural Paris ePrix as the Brazilian made history by becoming the first driver to officially win back-to-back Formula E events.
The victory is the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport pilot’s third of the season, and confirms his status as both the form driver of the championship and title favourite, despite claiming he was still the underdog in the lead up to the event.
Di Grassi now holds an eleven-point lead over Sébastien Buemi, who managed to fight his way up to third place on the tight and bumpy Paris streets after yet another disappointing qualifying session left the Renault e.Dams driver eighth on the grid.
Starting from second position, di Grassi made the most of too much wheelspin from pole-sitter Sam Bird to jump to the lead and with the exception of the mid-race pit stop cycle, would remain at the front of the field for the duration of the race.
Following di Grassi through into Turn 1 was Bird’s team mate Jean-Éric Vergne, sparking what would be the biggest battle of the race as the two DS Virgin Racing teammates – with incredibly similar car speed – fought for second place.
This fight immediately stepped up a notch at Turn 2 as the two cars made contact, and again as the pit stops approached, but on both occasions Vergne held his nerve and the position with some extremely aggressive defence.
The battle did delay the two DS Virgins, and that allowed the Renault e.Dams pair of Buemi and Nicolas Prost to join and make a four-car train for second place.
Buemi lost some distance to Vergne and Bird after the pit stops, as his car struggled with cold tyre temperatures – the same issue that had affected his qualifying performance. Once the temperature and grip level finally rose, and with the assistance of FanBoost, the Swiss driver was again pushing Bird for the final podium position.
Having seen off a few challenges from Buemi, Bird made a mistake at Turn 1 on Lap 40, locking up and sliding down the escape road. No damage was done and a quick flick-spin brought the Briton back on circuit, however he had not only conceded position to Buemi but also Prost and Stéphane Sarrazin as he re-joined in sixth place.
At this point the Safety Car was deployed following a crash for Team Aguri’s series debutant Ma Qing Hua, and with less than five laps remaining there was not enough time to complete the car recovery and restart the race. This situation was frustrating for many drivers, and Buemi did not get a chance to challenge Vergne for second, nor did Bird get a chance to recover from his mistake. Ultimately, a restart would have been unlikely to have changed the victor of the race, as di Grassi had been in complete control – and having a mostly quiet race on his own – the entire time.
Speaking post-race, di Grassi was particularly happy with his start, as it set a solid platform for such a strong race.
“I think it was the most perfect start we had so far. Sam had a lot of wheelspin and I just managed to avoid getting any,” he reflected. “Jean-Eric also had a very good start and I was looking in my mirrors to make sure that he didn’t get room on the inside. From then onwards I was pushing really hard. After the pit stop, on the cold tyres the car was just sliding for two laps as I tried to build up the temperatures and he caught up a bit. “
Second place for Vergne is his first podium for the DS Virgin team, and was a return to the form shown by the Frenchman during his impressive debut 2014-15 season.
“This season has been very complicated for me so far but the team has helped me go through the procedures. Paris for me was an important race, not just because it was my home race, but because I wanted it to be the start of my season,” he said.
“I didn’t win the race today but I’m on the podium. It was a very clean race from our side and for the rest of the season I’m going to keep pushing for podiums and wins. Of course, I’m extremely happy for the team with DS Virgin being not just English but a French brand with the car manufacturer DS.”
Buemi’s third place extends his incredible streak of consecutive points-scoring finishes to 14 races, and although he has lost more ground to di Grassi this weekend, he is still well and truly in the championship hunt.
“We’ve had some tough running in the last few races,” he said. “We’ve found some answers on our brakes and they worked well in qualifying but here we just lacked temperature as it needs to be hotter to warm our tyres. Our pace over one lap wasn’t good but in the race I think we were the quickest out there today. We caught up to others and overtook so it shows that once everything is up to speed it’s OK. We just have to work very hard up to the end of the season. We had the best package at the start of the season but I don’t think that’s true anymore. We will come back. It’s annoying to be a bit behind in the championship but Lucas did a great job and deserves the win. When it’s hotter it will help us.”
Behind Bird, Robin Frijns (Andretti) and António Félix da Costa (Aguri) scored solid points-paying results in the season-one specification car, with Bruno Senna (Mahindra) and di Grassi’s team mate Daniel Abt rounding out the top ten.
Qualifying had been the best performance seen from the NEXTEV TCR squad all year, but the race did not go as well with Oliver Turvey falling from seventh at the start to thirteenth at the flag, while Nelson Piquet Jr was forced into retirement on Lap 39.
Having caused a clumsy but heavy accident between himself and Mike Conway in qualifying, Nick Heidfeld somewhat redeemed himself by scoring two points for fastest race lap (and with it the official lap record) on his way to a twelfth-placed finish, while Conway was unable to make much progress on the difficult-to-overtake circuit – his 14th place was completely unreflective of his incredible pace in practice earlier in the day.
|2015-16 Formula E Paris ePrix – Final Classification (45 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lucas di Grassi||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||45||52:40.324|
|2.||Jean-Éric Vergne||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||45||+ 0.853|
|3.||Sébastien Buemi||Renault e.DAMS||45||+ 1.616|
|4.||Nicolas Prost||Renault e.DAMS||45||+ 2.142|
|5.||Stéphane Sarrazin||Venturi Formula E Team||45||3.044|
|6.||Sam Bird||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||45||+ 3.856|
|7.||Robin Frijns||Amlin Andretti Formula E Team||45||+ 5.141|
|8.||António Félix da Costa||Team Aguri||45||+ 7.000|
|9.||Bruno Senna||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||45||+ 8.433|
|10.||Daniel Abt||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||45||+ 9.479|
|11.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Dragon Racing||45||+ 10.738|
|12.||Nick Heidfeld||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||45||+ 12.453|
|13.||Oliver Turvey||NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team||45||+ 13.721|
|14.||Mike Conway||Venturi Formula E Team||45||+ 14.833|
|15.||Simona de Silvestro||Amlin Andretti Formula E Team||45||+ 16.049|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Nelson Piquet Jr||NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team||39||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Ma Qing Hua||Team Aguri||38||Accident|
|DNF.||Loïc Duval||Dragon Racing||4||Mechanical|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Nick Heidfeld||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||28||1:02.323|
With three events and four races to go, it is fast becoming a two-horse race for the Drivers’ Championship. Behind di Grassi (126 pts) and Buemi (115 pts), Bird remains in third position (82 pts) ahead of Jérôme d’Ambrosio (64 pts), Sarrazin (58 pts) and Prost (50 pts).
Round 8 of the 2015-16 FIA Formula E championship will be held in a familiar city but new circuit for the series, with the Berlin ePrix taking place around Strausberger Platz, Alexanderplatz and Karl-Marx-Allee on Saturday May 21.
Images via FIA Formula E Championship
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