Sam Bird has shrugged off a drive-through penalty to claim an emphatic victory in the opening Hong Kong ePrix that kickstarts the 2017-18 Formula E Championship season.

The DS Virgin Racing driver wrestled the lead from polesitter Jean-Éric Vergne in the first half of the race, only to pick up a drive-through penalty for a pit lane infringement. The Englishman missed his turn into his pit garage and slide nose-first into the wall, but held his nerve to perform his car change and keep an effective lead.

The race stewards thought dimly of this and handed him a drive-through penalty for his troubles, but given the pit lane transition is a similar time to remaining on the track itself the actual penalty still kept him in the lead.

Behind him were a battling Vergne and Nick Heidfeld, and the top three would run in that order until the chequered flag.

Heidfeld was frustrated with Vergne’s incredibly aggressive defense of second place. With the narrow track offering little in the way of true overtaking chances, Heidfeld somehow managed to draw along the outside of Vergne on the approach to Turn 2, only for Vergne to lock up his brakes and overshoot the right-hander, pincering Heidfeld to the outside of the track.

An early top-three contender was an enterprising Oliver Turvey, who held his breath with a daring run up the outside on the approach to the Turn 1 hairpin while everyone else ahead of him tried to protect the inside line for the right-hander. The move vaulted him from seventh to third, but the Briton would later drop out of contention with a technical issue.

The Formula E Championship had its first red flag in its 34-race history early on, caused by André Lotterer being turfed into the wall at the Turn 3/4 chicane by Nelson Piquet Jr’s Jaguar. The incident blocked the track, forcing officials to suspend the race for 30 minutes until the track could be cleared and barrier reinstated to their correct positions.

When the race did resume, Bird held station behind Vergne before making a daring overtaking move at Turn 6 on Lap 20 to take the lead. Vergne immediatelly pitted in response, while Bird stayed out a lap later before making his incident-filled visit to pit lane.

In a race with plenty of talking points, one recurrent theme was the continued tension between long-time rivals Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi, who once again made contact.

Battling over sixth place, Buemi dived down the inside of di Grassi at the Turn 1 hairpin but was given no room to make the pass stick. Di Grassi was subsequently forced into making an earlier-than-planned pit stop with apparent right-rear suspension damage which consigned the Brazilian to an 18th-placed finish.

Buemi would work his way into the top-five after the compulsory car swap, but his second car appeared to suffer a momentary technical issue that brought his Renault e.dams to a halt at the exit of Turn 1. Although he was able to get his car going again, he lost many positions and would eventually finish in thirteenth place.

Fourth place should have gone to Venturi’s Maro Engel, however the German was slapped with a time penalty for excessive power use that dropped him to fourteenth place and promoted Piquet Jr. to fourth instead.

Despite his earlier dramas, the Brazilian drove well and daringly overtook Felix Rosenqvist’s Mahindra at Turn 1 on the penultimate lap to give Jaguar Racing its best finish in his first outing for the team.

Daniel Abt (Audi) was left to rue a slow car swap that cost him a potential podium finish; the German would finish fifth ahead of António Félix da Costa (Andretti) and Rosenqvist; the Mahindra driver lost two further positions after being passed by Piquet.

The final points went to Venturi’s FE rookie Edoardo Mortara, Bird’s DS Virgin teammate Alex Lynn and Renault’s Nicolas Prost.

2017 Formula E Hong Kong ePrix – Race 1 Final Classification (43 laps)
Pos Driver   Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. Sam Bird DS Virgin Racing 43 1:17:10.486 25
2. Jean-Éric Vergne Techeetah 43 + 11.575 21
3. Nick Heidfeld Mahindra Racing 43 + 12.465 15
4. Nelson Piquet Jr Panasonic Jaguar Racing 43 + 15.324 12
5. Daniel Abt Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler 43 + 17.205 11
6. António Félix da Costa MS&AD Andretti Formula E 43 + 18.083 8
7. Edoardo Mortara Venturi Formula E Team 43 + 19.797 6
8. Alex Lynn DS Virgin Racing 43 + 20.904 4
9. Nicolas Prost Renault e.Dams 43 + 24.785 2
10. Luca Filippi NIO Formula E Team 43 + 25.500 1
11. Sébastien Buemi Renault e.Dams 43 + 26.202  
12. Mitch Evans Panasonic Jaguar Racing 43 + 34.871  
13. Maro Engel Venturi Formula E Team 43 + 35.752  
14. Felix Rosenqvist Mahindra Racing 43 + 41.174  
15. Kamui Kobayashi MS&AD Andretti Formula E 43 + 48.422  
16. Oliver Turvey NIO Formula E Team 42 1 lap behind  
17. Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler 42 1 lap behind  
18. Neel Jani Dragon Racing 42 1 lap behind  
  Not Classified   Team / Entry Laps Result  
DNF. Jérôme d’Ambrosio Dragon Racing 34 Technical  
DSQ. André Lotterer Techeetah   Disqualified  

Bonus Championship Points:

  • Three bonus points awarded to Jean-Éric Vergne for claiming pole position
  • One bonus point awarded to Daniel Abt for posting the fastest race lap by a top-ten finisher. Jérôme d’Ambrosio posted the fastest overall lap of the race.

Post-Race Penalties:

  • André Lotterer was disqualified for leaving his car in an unsafe condition in parc ferme conditions.

Image via FIA Formula E Championship

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.