Jean-Éric Vergne has led home teammate André Lotterer in the Santiago ePrix, as Techeetah became the first team to score a 1-2 finish in a Formula E race.
It wasn’t a leisurely run to the finish for the Renault customer team, however, with Vergne and Lotterer battling – and even making contact on a few occasions – for the lead.
Renault powertrains swept the podium, with Sébastien Buemi (Renault e.Dams) taking third place.
From pole, Vergne led the field into the first turn, however it was an incredible start from fifth by Nelson Piquet Jr that stood out; the Brazilian’s Jaguar rocketed up into second place as he rounded the corner ahead of Lotterer.
A crash on the opening lap for José María López (Dragon) and a separate incident for Maro Engel (Venturi) saw the field neutralised for three laps behind the Safety Car, before Vergne jumped away to a healthy lead at the restart. This left Piquet defending from Lotterer, with the German sliding past into second place ahead of the pit stops.
The pit stop cycle took on a new dimension in the ePrix, as with the introduction of new racing harnesses in all cars which include a sensor to confirm the belts have been fastened, for the first time there was no specified minimum pit stop time – and the race for a fast car swap was on. Ultimately by Vergne and Lotterer completing the fastest and third-fastest stops in the field respectively, the Techeetah pair remained in the same order at the head of the field.
The biggest winner through to pit stop cycle was Mahindra’s Felix Rosenqvist. The championship leader heading in to Santiago, Rosenqvist was mired in the mid pack after a messy qualifying session left the Swede 14th on the grid. Having slowly moved up to tenth at the start of the pit stop cycle, Rosenqvist and his Mahindra Racing team executed a pit stop fast enough to re-enter the race in fifth place.
Conversely, Sam Bird (DS Virgin Racing) completed an additional lap to those around him before pitting, and slipped from fourth to sixth as a result – allowing Buemi, who had dropped down from second on the grid, and Rosenqvist moving ahead.
Now back to fourth, Buemi entered a spirited fight with Piquet for the final podium position, with the Swiss driver eventually getting by. Piquet attempted to fight back and regain the place, but his challenge ultimately ended by out-braking himself at Turn 3 – the mistake also leading to Rosenqvist and Bird getting by.
Up front, leading was not smooth sailing for Vergne. A radio failure for the French driver meant the team could not inform their driver of his energy levels and forced him into driving conservatively to ensure he could even finish the race – let alone win it.
As a result, Lotterer closed down the one-second gap to his teammate and started to look for a pass in a bid to claim his maiden Formula E win. It was aggressive racing from the teammates – contact was made on several occasions, the most significant (and no doubt most nerve-wracking for the entire Techeetah team) coming at Turn 3 with four laps to run, where the nose of Lotterer’s car was briefly hooked up on the top of Vergne’s rear crash box.
The incident push both cars slightly wide and brought Buemi, Rosenqvist and Bird into the battle, however sensible heads prevailed and the leading group remained in the same order for the rest of the race, leaving Techeetah to take the historic one-two result.
Speaking together post-race, the overjoyed Techeetah pair clearly enjoyed the battle, despite walking the edge of throwing the result away on several occasions.
“That was great fun!” exclaimed Vergne, before Lotterer added: “It’s racing in the end and I had a lot of pace in the car. He knows exactly how to defend! A one-two win, buddies, and podiums – life is good!”
A circumspect Buemi, while pleased with the podium, was clearly disappointed that the Renault e.Dams factory team was outpaced by their customer.
“In general, I’m a bit disappointed. Third place is always good but a bit disappointed to be behind our customer team,” he said.
Off the podium, Rosenqvist and Bird filled the top five, ahead of Piquet and his Jaguar teammate Mitch Evans, the Kiwi impressively moving up to seventh from the back of the grid. Jérôme d’Ambrosio (Dragon), António Félix da Costa (Andretti) and Nicolas Prost (Renault e.Dams) rounded out the top ten.
The victory moves Vergne from third place to the lead of the Drivers’ Championship on 71 points, ahead on Rosenqvist on 66 points and Bird a further five points back. Buemi now leads the chasing pack in fourth place, but with just 7 points to his name the gulf to the leading trio is not rapidly closing.
Reigning champion Lucas di Grassi’s chances of defending his title are now all but gone. The Brazilian’s second Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler car ground to a halt not long after his pit stop. With four races completed this season, the Brazilian is still yet to score a single championship point, and languishes in 20th place on the table.
Post-event, a footnote was added to the race with Techeetah being fined €30,000 (€15,000 each for Vergne and Lotterer’s entries) and Dragon being fined €15,000 for d’Ambrosio’s car after it was found that the teams had made a “modification to the safety harness” in their cars but “did not ask the technical delegate before adding the parts”.
While the exact ‘added parts’ have not been detailed, it is believed that the teams may have added handles to the straps on the new safety harness to assist mechanics in quickly tightening the belts onto the driver.
Despite the monetary penalties, the historic race result will stand, and the FIA is expected to confirm what modifications – if any – are permitted to the racing harnesses moving forward ahead of the next round of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship in Mexico City on Saturday, March 3.
Images and video via FIA Formula E Championship