Lucas di Grassi has produced a faultless drive to win the Saturday race of the Montréal ePrix, in doing so taking the lead in the Drivers’ Championship as long-time title rival Sébastien Buemi was disqualified post-race for a technical infringement.
Di Grassi led away from pole position and set about building a comfortable lead, coming under no pressure during the opening stanza of the race.
This came to an end when Buemi made a pass on Faraday Future Dragon Racing’s Loïc Duval, and Nick Heidfeld attempted to follow Buemi through. Duval and Heidfeld made contact, breaking the suspension of Heidfeld’s Mahindra and causing a full course yellow.
Most cars took this caution period as the opportunity to pit for their car swap, with di Grassi easily holding his lead throughout. Prior to the stops, Stéphane Sarrazin was in second place for Techeetah, which he held through the pit stop phase, ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and Jean-Éric Vergne. Rosenqvist’s stop was slow, handing third to Vergne, the Frenchman soon also moving past his teammate in pursuit of di Grassi.
At the time it seemed like di Grassi was too far ahead, but a spin into the barriers for DS Virgin Racing’s José María López brought out the Safety Car. López had been working with team mate Sam Bird to move forward through the field after technical issues in qualifying buried both DS Virgin Racing cars at the back of the grid, but the Argentinian pushed a little too hard and came unstuck.
With Vergne now right on his tail, di Grassi masterfully deployed his FanBoost on the restart to build a small buffer, although Vergne remained ready to pounce if the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver made a mistake. This mistake never came, and di Grassi crossed the line to take his second race win of the season, and with it 25 championship points to add to the three he earned for claiming pole position.
Where di Grassi’s race was relatively smooth, Buemi’s was filled with much more drama. Having sustained a heavy crash during the morning’s second practice session, the Renault e.Dams team had to rebuild Buemi’s second car around a new monocoque in time for the race – including installing a new battery unit, which carries a 10-place grid penalty.
The net result of the penalty saw Buemi relegated from second place on the grid – right alongside di Grassi – to 12th place. It was here in the rough and tumble of the midfield that Buemi’s day instantly became tougher.
The Swiss driver made contact with Andretti’s Robin Frijns on Lap 1, bending the steering in the Renault. Buemi adapted to the issue by changing his grip on the steering wheel and pressed on despite the problem, and had moved into tenth place when the full course yellow was flown for the Duval/Heidfeld clash.
Buemi was now right on the tail of di Grassi’s teammate Daniel Abt, and the pair clashed both in and out of pit lane. Feeling Abt was intentionally holding him up to give di Grassi a bigger points advantage, Buemi repeatedly bumped into the rear of the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport car though pit entry, before jumping ahead through the car swap. With Abt now the trailing car, the German returned serve by bumping into the rear of Buemi as the cars accelerated out of pit exit.
Buemi set about moving further forward through the top ten, with the safety car for López’s crash providing exactly what the Swiss needed to bunch the field again. Conveniently, the car ahead was team mate Nico Prost, who quickly let Buemi through on the restart, and just as importantly began defending from the continued advances of Abt.
With Rosenqvist tagging the wall, Buemi soon moved by the hobbled Mahindra into fourth and set about challenging Sarrazin for the podium. The pair was wheel to wheel throughout the final lap but ultimately Sarrazin held on for third, Buemi forced to settle for fourth across the line.
Behind, Abt eventually found his way past Prost to cross the line in fifth, ahead of Bird, Prost and Jaguar’s Mitch Evans in eighth. Frijns was placed ninth at the flag, while Rosenqvist limped his damage Mahindra to tenth place.
With the points for the win and bonus points for pole position, di Grassi had converted a 10 championship point deficit at the start of the day to a (at the time) six-point lead.
It was a performance which prompted to claim: “Today, we had our best day in Formula E. I stand here with 28 points at the right moment. So I think the secret is very easy, just keep it calm, try to do the best you can, try to motivate everyone around you, try to push them for the last two races of the championship.
“In Formula E it can go from good to bad with one decision, so you never know. Today we did the job, tomorrow is a completely different day, completely different environment but we are going to try to do the same as we did today.”
Having resisted Buemi’s advances, Sarrazin celebrated his third place giving his new Techeetah team a double-podium result.
“It’s amazing, I’m new in the team at TECHEETAH so to be back on the podium again is really good,” he said.
“In the race I was missing a bit of pace and JEV [Vergne] was flying and Lucas was really fast at the front. I saw Buemi coming in my mirrors, he braked really late. We were side by side and he touched me a bit, but it was the last lap and I had to defend my podium. I know he’s fighting for the title, but I had to give my best for the team.”
Having parked their cars in the post-race parc ferme area, Buemi clashed with three drivers. Unsure of which Andretti driver made contact with his car on Lap 1, Buemi initially argued with Frijns’ teammate António Félix da Costa, before focusing his concerns on Frijns.
He then found Abt, and made his thoughts on the pit lane entry/exit clashing clear to the German. It was an unbelievable outburst, and undoubtedly a sign of the pressure of losing a comfortable championship lead.
Worse news was to come for the Swiss, however, when Buemi’s second car – the one essentially rebuilt as a new vehicle – was found to be four kilograms below the minimum weight post-race.
While the stewards considered the situation that Renault e.Dams had found themselves in to build the car in just five hours – the tub of the car was visible in the race as just bare carbon fibre, such was the time pressure on the rebuild – they found the four-kilogram deficit simply too much to ignore as exceptional circumstances. As has been seen several times in Formula E, a technical infringement of this scale means exclusion from the race results, and suddenly Buemi had lost the 12 points scored for fourth place.
Now 18 points behind di Grassi, Buemi can still mathematically win the title on Sunday, but with a maximum of 29 points still available the Brazilian is not the clear favourite to win his inaugural Formula E championship. A result of fifth or better in the final race of the season will make di Grassi champion regardless of Buemi’s performance across the day.
The final race day of the 2016/17 FIA Formula E championship at the Montreal ePrix will follow the same schedule as Saturday’s running, commencing with the first of two practice sessions at 08:00 local time (UTC-04:00). Qualifying begins at 12:00, with race start set for 16:00.
|2017 Formula E Montréal ePrix – Race 1 Final Classification (35 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Lucas di Grassi||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||35||56:55.592||28*|
|2.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Techeetah||35||+ 0.350||18|
|3.||Stéphane Sarrazin||Techeetah||35||+ 7.869||15|
|4.||Daniel Abt||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||35||+ 8.592||12|
|5.||Sam Bird||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||35||+ 8.913||10|
|6.||Nicolas Prost||Renault e.DAMS||35||+ 10.058||8|
|7.||Mitch Evans||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||35||+ 10.457||6|
|8.||Robin Frijns||MS Amlin Andretti||35||+ 15.836||4|
|9.||Felix Rosenqvist||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||35||+ 16.764||2|
|10.||Tom Dillmann||Venturi Formula E Team||35||+ 19.320||1|
|11.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Faraday Future Dragon Racing||35||+ 20.229|
|12.||Maro Engel||Venturi Formula E Team||35||+ 22.314|
|13.||Nelson Piquet Jr||NextEV NIO||35||+ 23.415|
|14.||António Félix da Costa||MS Amlin Andretti||35||+ 34.786|
|15.||Oliver Turvey||NextEV NIO||35||+ 46.996|
|16.||Adam Carroll||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||35||+ 49.612|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Loïc Duval||Faraday Future Dragon Racing||26||Retirement||1^|
|DNF.||José María López||DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team||23||Retirement|
|DNF.||Nick Heidfeld||Mahindra Racing Formula E Team||13||Retirement|
|DQ.||Sébastien Buemi||Renault e.DAMS||Underweight|
* For claiming pole position (3 pts)
^ For posting the fastest lap of the race (1pt)
- Sébastien Buemi was disqualified for his car being underweight.
Images and video via FIA Formula E Championship