Reigning FIA Formula E champion Sébastien Buemi has started his title defense in the best possible fashion by winning a chaotic Hong Kong ePrix.

The start of the race was won by pole-sitter Nelson Piquet Jr, ahead of his NexTEV NIO teammate Oliver Turvey who was forced to defend early from Sam Bird’s DS Virgin and Buemi.

The early phase of the race saw contact throughout the field as Ma Qing Hua’s Techeetah was forced into retirement and both ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport cars of Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi were shown mechanical black flags for damage to their cars.

The most notable contact came between the two DS Virgins of Bird and his new teammate José María López. The resulting damage forced López to lose positions as he battled to keep control, and it eventually caused the World Touring Car Champion to crash at the chicane.

The biggest loser from this incident was race leader Piquet, who was the first driver to arrive at López’s accident. The Brazilian locked his brakes and ran down the escape road in avoidance, rejoining the circuit down in third place behind Bird and Buemi.

The Safety Car was scrambled to recover López’s car, and it was this moment where the critical strategy calls were made. Renault e.Dams pitted Buemi straight away, swapping cars and resuming, whilst DS Virgin and NexTEV made the mistake of keeping their drivers out, at least initially.

Piquet was called in just as the race was resuming, while Bird pitted under the green flag, with his drop down the order made far worse by a technical problem striking his second car, stopping the Briton from resuming straight away.

At the front, Buemi was now forced to pass his long-time rival di Grassi, who had found himself at the front of the field after the car swaps as a result of his early pit stop. Forced to run an aggressive energy strategy throughout the race, di Grassi was eventually passed by the Renault e.Dams and Buemi went on to take victory by 2.477 seconds.

Di Grassi finished second – a remarkable result given both his starting position and strategy – with his cause aided by third-placed Nick Heidfeld fighting to make it home on the energy available in his car.

Perfect management from the Mahindra driver saw him cross the line just as his batteries hit zero, narrowly holding off Buemi’s teammate Nicolas Prost.

Buemi’s win and Prost’s fourth have given Renault e.Dams the early lead in the Teams’ Championship, as they aim to win that title for a third successive season.

Behind the top four were the two Andretti entries of António Félix da Costa and Robin Frijns, ahead of Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Turvey. Maro Engel (on his Formula E debut) and his Venturi teammate Stéphane Sarrazin rounded out the top ten.

With their strategy mistakes during the Safety Car period, Piquet and Bird dropped to eleventh and thirteenth places respectively.

It was an inauspicious start for the two new teams to the championship: Adam Carroll finished twelfth for Jaguar Racing, whilst teammate Mitch Evans and both Techeetahs of Ma and Jean-Éric Vergne failed to finish.

Post-race, Buemi explained how keeping with the leaders in his first car and making the right pit strategy call were the keys to his victory.

“We had identified a window when we knew we could pit. I was surprised that Sam did not come in,” he explained. “But I’m happy with how it went – it was very tough. In the first car I didn’t have the pace to go much quicker, but in the second car was much more competitive.”

Having started from the last row of the grid and overcoming the mechanical black flag early in the race, di Grassi paid tribute to his team for remaining focussed on achieving a result.

“It just shows that the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team never gives up,” he smiled.

“We had a pretty good start and first lap, but then I think Ma crashed into someone and then I crashed into the crash. The nose was broken and I had to come in and I thought the race was finished. But the mechanics did a fantastic job to keep me on the lead lap. I thought I was just going for fastest lap but the team said ‘No, no, no… we keep pushing’ and then the Safety Car came out…”

Third place for Heidfeld was a nervous battle to ensure he made it to the end of the race, and to the German’s relief he managed to to just that.

“I made up one position on the launch and then I braked very late into the first corner and passed a couple more cars and just hoped that nobody would squeeze me on the exit and I managed to make it stick,” the German explained.

“It was quite tough at the end because I had Nico behind me and when I came across the line the man was holding the ‘last lap’ board and not the chequered flag and I thought ‘Oh no’ but luckily it worked.”

The third season of Formula E resumes in five weeks, as the championship races in Africa for the first time: the Marrakech ePrix on Saturday November 12.

2016 Formula E Hong Kong ePrix – Final Classification (45 laps)
Pos Driver Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. Sébastien Buemi Renault e.DAMS 45 53:13.298 25
2. Lucas di Grassi ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport 45 + 2.477 18
3. Nick Heidfeld Mahindra Racing Formula E Team 45 + 5.522 15
4. Nicolas Prost Renault e.DAMS 45 + 7.360 12
5. António Félix da Costa MS Amlin Andretti 45 + 17.987 10
6. Robin Frijns MS Amlin Andretti 45 + 21.161 8
7. Jérôme d’Ambrosio Faraday Future Dragon Racing 45 + 28.443 6
8. Oliver Turvey NextEV NIO 45 + 30.355 4
9. Maro Engel Venturi Formula E Team 45 + 30.898 2
10. Stéphane Sarrazin Venturi Formula E Team 45 + 31.734 1
11. Nelson Piquet Jr NextEV NIO 45 + 35.256 3*
12. Adam Carroll Panasonic Jaguar Racing 45 + 43.839
13. Sam Bird DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team 45 + 48.058
14. Loïc Duval Faraday Future Dragon Racing 43 Battery
15. Felix Rosenqvist Mahindra Racing Formula E Team 43 Battery 1^
DNF. Daniel Abt ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport 34 Battery
DNF. Jean-Éric Vergne Techeetah 31 Battery
DNF. Mitch Evans Panasonic Jaguar Racing 24 Mechanical
DNF. José María López DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team 15 Accident
DNF. Ma Qing Hua Techeetah 1 Collision

For claiming pole position (3 pts)
^ For posting the fastest lap of the race (1pt)

Image via FIA Formula E Championship

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Mitch Timms

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