Sebastien Buemi has remained undefeated in the third season of the FIA Formula E championship by taking victory in the inaugural Marrakesh ePrix.
It wasn’t a straightforward result for the reigning champion, however, as a pre-race penalty relegated the Renault e.Dams driver from second to seventh on the grid.
Buemi’s on-board fire extinguisher was found to be 3.25kg below the minimum permitted weight following qualifying, and while the car as a whole was above minimum weight – therefore the extinguisher provided no performance advantage – the extinguisher was deemed to be low on pressure and a safety breach. A statement from the team suggested an unseen leak was the cause of the breach, but accepted the five-place grid spot penalty and €2,500 fine.
With Sam Bird now promoted to the front row of the grid, pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist jumped ahead at the start and built a four-second lead.
Techeetah’s Jean-Éric Vergne found his way past Bird in the early laps, and when Rosenqvist pitted his Mahindra on Lap 16 the Frenchman did the same.
Buemi, meanwhile, had been moving forward from the start. Despite conserving to make up for excessive energy use in the opening laps, the Swiss driver quickly dispatched teammate Nicolas Prost, the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport car of Daniel Abt and NEXTEV’s Nelson Piquet Jr in quick succession.
Buemi completed his car swap a lap later than the leaders, and emerged in fourth place behind Rosenqvist, Vergne and Bird.
Having moved past Bird, Buemi survived a small scare with a mistake at Turn 11, before one more obstacle was removed when Vergne was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in pit lane – a mistake caused by a failed pit-lane speed limiter button on his steering wheel.
Lap by lap the six-second gap to Rosenqvist was reduced, and by the time Buemi reached the rear of the Mahindra on Lap 27, the Swede was very much in energy-conservation mode.
Ultimately it was a move into Turn 11 that gave Buemi the lead, outbraking Rosenqvist on the outside. From there, Buemi was unchallenged and moved clear to extend his record of Formula E victories to eight, and completing an eighteenth consecutive point-scoring finish.
Post-race Buemi noted that the extra lap in his first car allowed for a more aggressive driving style in his second stint, critical to moving to the front ant taking victory.
“I had a bad first lap because I consumed a lot of energy and you don’t want that, but then I started to overtake people but obviously, Felix and the other guys had a very big advantage,” he said after the podium celebrations.
“After a few laps I realised I was going to go longer so, I knew that I would have the edge in the second stint, and then it was looking very good towards the end of the first stint but I had a big mistake in turn 11, the one just before the pit entry, I braked too late and I lost the regen [regeneration] and nearly went off. When you take the lead, it is always great but you know, all the overtakes were good, maybe the one with Sam and Felix were the best because they were putting me in a good position.”
Not needing to conserve energy at the same level as Rosenqvist, Bird also made his way by for a second-place finish. Having had a very large crash during Practice 2, Bird attributed the result to the hard work of his team to repair the car.
“I need to buy the boys a couple of beers tonight, because they worked really, really hard,” he said. “It was a big shunt actually, a lot of damage but yeah the race was OK. We still have a lot of work to do, we struggle in some areas, the circuit is quite different to the ones we normally go to. So our car didn’t behave as brilliantly as the two guys sitting next to me, we struggled a bit more for the balance today, but even so to come home with 18 points today is pretty strong.”
After taking his, and his Mahindra team’s first pole position earlier in the day, Rosenqvist was happy to have scored the team’s second podium in as many rounds. The Swede conceded that he was unable to challenge Buemi and Bird for the victory.
“It started off went pretty well. For me it felt like I was maximising what I could do with speed in the corner and so on where we could actually find a lap time and when I heard that Seb and Sam were behind me that I knew they were on another level and there was no way I was able to compete with that, as I was already very tight on energy,” the series rookie said.
“I think we did what we could today with the preparations we had and it’s really good for us to have two podiums already. I think qualifying has been strong for us but definitely there are some steps to take in the race but looking at Hong Kong, this is already really good.”
Behind the top three, Nicolas Prost took fourth place and combined with Buemi’s points the Renault e.Dams team now has a commanding lead in the Teams’ Championship standings, with the French squad now on 74 points – more than double the second-placed ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport and Mahindra teams who are tied on 36 points. Prost also now sits third in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Fifth was taken by Lucas di Grassi; the Brazilian overcoming a poor twelfth place in qualifying to maintain second place in the points standings, 22 points behind Buemi. His teammate Daniel Abt crossed the line in sixth, ahead of the NEXTEV of Oliver Turvey.
Vergne ultimately finished in eighth place, falling from fifth after serving his pit-lane penalty as the electronics in the Techeetah’s steering wheel completely failed late in the race.
The top ten was rounded out by the second Mahindra of Nick Heidfeld and José María López – the only driver in the field to have previously raced at this configuration of the Circuit Moulay El Hassan – who took his first points finish in Formula E. The bonus points for fastest lap went to Faraday Future Dragon Racing’s Loïc Duval.
With the Moroccan event now completed, Formula E will now take an extended Christmas and New Year break, returning for the South and Central American leg of the championship on the streets of Buenos Aires on Saturday February 18, 2017.
Images via FIA Formula E Championship
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