Lucas di Grassi finally broke through to claim his first race win of the 2017-18 FIA Formula E Championship season with victory in the inaugural Zürich ePrix. The race proved disastrous for championship leader Jean-Éric Vergne, whose points lead over Sam Bird was almost halved thanks to a penalty.
Di Grassi’s season as the reigning champion has turned from disaster into triumph. He was the only driver not to have scored a single point after the early rounds thanks to a succession of mechanical dramas in his Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler entry, but the Brazilian has had a remarkable return to form with four consecutive second-placed finishes between the Punta del Este and Berlin ePrix rounds.
A visit to the top step of the podium seemed to be but a matter of time, and he finally achieved the feat as Switzerland ended its 63-year ban on motor racing.
Starting from fifth on the grid, his cause was helped by controversial penalties to a number of drivers – including polesitter Mitch Evans and Vergne.
Evans successfully defended his and Jaguar Racing’s maiden Formula E pole at the start, holding off André Lotterer’s Techeetah on the run to Turn 1 before quickly pulling out a two-second lead.
The New Zealander’s advantage was steadily whittled down over the lead up to the compulsory pit stops as Lotterer and Bird closed up to him.
Di Grassi was also making progress after a poor start saw him lose several positions, while Vergne – who qualified a lowly 17th – was making short work of the midfield.
Di Grassi overtook Bird to claim third place on Lap 13 with one of his customary lunges at the Turn 10 hairpin, and got the better of Lotterer’s fierce defence with a move up the inside of the Belgian at the Turn 1 sweep three laps later.
Tucked up behind Evans and with more available power at his disposal, he moved by the Kiwi at the start of Lap 18 to claim the lead.
Moments later, the race was neutralised by a full-course caution. Vergne and Felix Rosenqvist had tangled while the Frenchman tried to pass the Mahindra driver at Turn 1, which saw the Swede tipped into the wall.
Rosenqvist managed to reverse out of the barriers and rejoin the circuit, but his damaged front wing fell off a few corners later and was ironically collected by Vergne as he tried to overtake Jérôme d’Ambrosio.
The resulting debris were the cause of the full-course yellows, prompting the leaders to head to the pits to complete their car swaps. While di Grassi was able to retain his lead as he exited the pits, Vergne had a slow car change and fell to ninth place.
Worse was to come when it was announced that he, Evans, Lotterer and Sébastien Buemi would also be hit with a drive-through penalty for driving too quickly during the full-course caution.
The penalties for Lotterer and Evans helped Bird – who had also had a slow car change – to move into second place. Arriving into the weekend 40 points behind Vergne and with the Techeetah driver down in ninth after his tour through the pit lane, this would allow him the chance to bring himself back into the title fight before the season-ending New York ePrix double-header.
Bird was unable to mount a challenge on di Grassi, who waltzed to victory by 7.5 seconds over the DS Virgin Racing driver. D’Ambrosio finished in third, claiming his and Dragon Racing’s first podium finish of a largely poor season.
Lotterer held off Buemi to finish fourth, with the Swiss driver using his FanBoost to help him overtake fifth-placed Evans late in the race.
Evans slipped to seventh behind Nick Heidfeld, who took advantage of the penalties to move up the order. António Félix da Costa and Oliver Turvey finished eighth and ninth, while Vergne claimed the final point in tenth place. With just a single point from the weekend and 18 for Bird, the gap between them in the championship race has been slashed to 23 points.
|2018 ABB Formula E Julius Baer Zürich ePrix – Final Classification (39 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Lucas di Grassi||Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler||39||51:19.811||25|
|2.||Sam Bird||DS Virgin Racing Citroën||39||+ 7.542||18|
|3.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Dragon Racing Penske||39||+ 16.822||15|
|4.||André Lotterer||Techeetah Renault||39||+ 20.295||13|
|5.||Sébastien Buemi||Renault e.Dams||39||+ 26.692||10|
|6.||Nick Heidfeld||Mahindra Racing||39||+ 28.059||8|
|7.||Mitch Evans||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||39||+ 30.631||9|
|8.||António Félix da Costa||MS&AD Andretti Formula E||39||+ 31.301||4|
|9.||Oliver Turvey||NIO Formula E Team||39||+ 32.180||2|
|10.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Techeetah Renault||39||+ 32.833||1|
|11.||Maro Engel||Venturi Formula E Team||39||+ 34.604|
|12.||José María López||Dragon Racing Penske||39||+ 35.206|
|13.||Daniel Abt||Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler||39||+ 46.222|
|14.||Stéphane Sarrazin||MS&AD Andretti Formula E||39||+ 47.505|
|15.||Felix Rosenqvist||Mahindra Racing||38||+ 1 lap|
|16.||Alex Lynn||DS Virgin Racing Citroën||39||+ 1 lap|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Nicolas Prost||Renault e.Dams||31||Accident|
|DNF.||Luca Filippi||NIO Formula E Team||20||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Nelson Piquet Jr||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||20||Energy|
|DNF.||Edoardo Mortara||Venturi Formula E Team||6||Accident|
Bonus Championship Points:
- Three bonus points awarded to Mitch Evans for claiming pole position
- One bonus point awarded to André Lotterer for posting the fastest race lap by a top-ten finisher.
Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship