Lucas di Grassi has won the opening race of the New York City ePrix, while Jean-Éric Vergne has been crowned Drivers’ Champion for the 2017/18 FIA Formula E season.

For both drivers, their results came following charges through the field: di Grassi starting from eleventh place, while Vergne drove to fifth place from the rear of the grid having been excluded from qualifying.

Pole-sitter Sébastien Buemi led away from the race start, while Mitch Evans – starting from second – suffered a drive train failure off the line. While his car made an initial jump, the Kiwi’s Jaguar did not progress any further, forcing the field to scatter around the stricken car on the run to the first corner. It was here where contact was made between the two Dragons of Jérôme d’Ambrosio and José María López. Both continued, but with front wing damage for the former and rear wing damage for the latter.

Having led the opening laps, Buemi lost the lead to di Grassi’s Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler teammate Daniel Abt on Lap 6, the German moving ahead of the Renault driver on the run to Turn 11. By this time, di Grassi had already moved up to sixth position and continued to make progress.

Vergne – along with teammate André Lotterer – progressively moved forward through the early stages of the race, and by Lap 14 had caught Vergne’s title challenger Sam Bird in ninth place. The Techeetah pair had been smart with their energy usage during their rise from the back of the grid which gave them the advantage over Bird, with first Lotterer and then Vergne making their way past the Brit.

Further ahead of the title fight, di Grassi had now moved past Nicolas Prost and Tom Dillmann into third position and set about yet another battle with long-time rival Buemi. With the pace of the Audi too much for the Renault, di Grassi struck on Lap 20 and passed Buemi at Turn 6, maintaining his position through the following sequence of corners to move into second place.

As the bulk for the field pitted for their car swaps two laps later, Abt’s held a lead of just over three seconds from his teammate, but the German’s stop was noticeably slower. The time lost brought Abt within striking distance of di Grassi, and soon the pair were battling for the race lead.

With Audi Sport still in the hunt for the Teams’ Championship battle against Techeetah things were looking good for the German squad, but two laps later the pair almost pushed their battle too far – making contact in the Turns 7/8 chicane complex. To the relief of team leader Allan McNish, there were no serious consequences of the touch and di Grassi made the pass stick at Turn 11. A brief fightback by Abt ultimately faded, and the pair held station at the front of the field, with Buemi a distant third.

Having followed Lotterer through the field, Vergne made his way by his teammate on Lap 29, at which point the gap back to Bird (who at this stage was running in tenth place) would be enough to secure the title for the Techeetah driver.

Holding station now seemed the order of the day for both di Grassi and Vergne to achieve their goals, but it was not to be as simple as that. Bird’s teammate Alex Lynn lost the rear of his car through Turn 5 on Lap 35 and the resulting impact with the wall forced the Safety Car on to the circuit for five laps as the badly-damaged DS Virgin was cleared.

The race would now run to a time certain finish, and when it resumed on Lap 40 it left a four-lap sprint to the end for di Grassi to defend the race lead. The Brazilian managed to do just that, easing away from Abt over the final laps to take his second – and Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s third – consecutive victory by 0.9 seconds, with Buemi a further 1.6 seconds behind.

The restart also gave Bird one final opportunity to make up two places on track to keep the title fight alive into Sunday. He managed to make it by Prost for ninth, but could not find a way past Maro Engel’s Venturi. With Vergne taking the finish in fifth position, the resulting 31-point deficit is too great for Bird to close on Sunday – crowning Vergne the Drivers’ Champion for season four, and the first driver to take the crown before the final race of the championship.

While his race victory was somewhat overshadowed by the championship result, di Grassi paid tribute to both the car his Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team had provided and also new champion Vergne as he celebrated the win.”

The Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler car was just a rocket today,” he reflected. “I had good fights with Dillmann – I had good fights with a lot of the drivers. I think JEV [Vergne] did a fantastic championship – he deserved to be champion. He did everything correctly.”

In second place, Abt was not quite as happy, confirming that he had been told by the team to stop challenging his teammate late in the race, with the Teams’ Championship very much the focus of their efforts.

“I was aware that Lucas was behind me… I was being told not to take risks. I’m happy for Audi…the team deserves this but of course, I can’t sit here and smile like crazy. We are absolutely able to win the Teams’ Championship – that was always the target here.”

For Buemi, the need to manage energy while not having the outright speed of the Audi Sport cars meant that the Renault e.Dams driver was content with third place as his best possible result for the day.

“When di Grassi overtook me, I didn’t want to fight as I knew that energy was very important, and it wouldn’t have made sense,” he said. “In the end, I didn’t have the pace and they were stronger. So one more race and I have to work on next year as clearly in terms of efficiency they were in a different league today, so I’m happy to be the best of the rest.”

Ultimately, much of the focus following the race was on Vergne, who at that time was still some disbelief to have secured the crown.

“I have waited the whole season for this,” he beamed. “Really, I have no idea what it means to me to be champion – I need more time to take it all in! All I know is that it’s a good feeling but to know the full extent of winning the championship, I don’t know yet.”

Possibly a bigger insight into just some of Vergne’s emotion surrounding the title came in his radio transmission on the in-lap at the end of the race, where he dedicated his win to friend and fellow French racer, the late Jules Bianchi.

“ARGHHHHH!!! This season… is for my friend Jules,” he told his team.

While the Drivers’ title has been concluded, the Teams’ battle is closer than ever. The one-two result for Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler has closed what was a 33-point deficit to Techeetah down to just five points. Both squads are clearly strong in New York this year: Techeetah were 1-2 in qualifying before their exclusion on Saturday and had strong race pace to work their way back through the field, while Audi Sport showed their speed to dominate the race from the front.

It’s not just at the top of the table where the teams are battling. While DS Virgin is sitting in a lonely third place, just six points separate Mahindra in fourth and three-time champions Renault e.Dams in fifth. The French marque will be looking to depart the series after this event with the strongest result possible, so fourth place will be well and truly in their sights while trying to defend from Jaguar who currently sit only a further 13 points back.

The final day of the 2017/18 FIA Formula E Championship begins with a single practice session at 08:30 local time (UTC -04:00) on Sunday, followed by qualifying at 11:00 and Super Pole at 11:45. The final race of the year – also the final race to use the first-generation Formula E car and the last-ever race to feature car-swap pit stops – will go green at 15:03.

2018 ABB Formula E Qatar Airways New York City ePrix – Race 1 Final Classification (43 laps)
Pos Driver Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler 43 43 laps 25
2. Daniel Abt Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler 43 + 0.965 19
3. Sébastien Buemi Renault e.Dams 43 + 2.583 18
4. Tom Dillmann Venturi Formula E Team 43 + 4.090 12
5. Jean-Éric Vergne Techeetah Renault 43 + 4.679 10
6. Nick Heidfeld Mahindra Racing 43 + 5.142 8
7. André Lotterer Techeetah Renault 43 + 5.810 6
8. Maro Engel Venturi Formula E Team 43 + 6.312 4
9. Sam Bird DS Virgin Racing Citroën 43 + 6.833 2
10. Nicolas Prost Renault e.Dams 43 + 8.389 1
11. António Félix da Costa MS&AD Andretti Formula E 43 + 9.114
12. Stéphane Sarrazin MS&AD Andretti Formula E 43 + 13.242
13. Jérôme d’Ambrosio Dragon Racing Penske 43 + 13.805
14. Felix Rosenqvist Mahindra Racing 43 + 35.452
15. Luca Filippi NIO Formula E Team 42 + 1 lap
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Reason
DNF. Alex Lynn DS Virgin Racing Citroën 33 Accident
DNF. José María López Dragon Racing Penske 30 Mechanical
DNF. Nelson Piquet Jr Panasonic Jaguar Racing 30 Mechanical
DNF. Mitch Evans Panasonic Jaguar Racing 0 Drivetrain
WD. Oliver Turvey NIO Formula E Team Injured

Bonus Championship Points:

  • Three bonus points awarded to Sébastien Buemi for claiming pole position
  • One bonus point awarded to Daniel Abt for posting the fastest race lap by a top-ten finisher (1:15.082).

Post-Race Penalties:

  • None

Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship

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Mitch Timms

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Professional motorsport engineer and all-round tech head.