Mahindra’s Jérôme d’Ambrosio has won a wild Marrakesh ePrix, taking the lead late in the race when BMW i Andretti teammates António Félix da Costa and Alexander Sims collided in front of the field.
Sam Bird led the field away from pole position, but a dive from second-placed Jean-Éric Vergne saw the leading pair make contact at Turn 1. Vergne spun while Bird retained the lead. In the ensuing chaos third-placed Sébastien Buemi and fourth-placed Mitch Evans were forced to take evasive action, the pair dropping outside the top ten as they avoided the spinning Techeetah.
The incident played right into the hands of Sims and da Costa, the BMW duo moving from fifth and sixth on the grid into second and third respectively, instantly nullifying a grid penalty da Costa had received prior to the race start. Having initially qualified in third place, the Portuguese driver was found to have exceeded just exceeded the 200 kilowatt maximum power limit on his qualifying out- and in-laps – an investigation finding the BMW peaked at 204.92kW – and as a result a three-place grid penalty pushed him back to sixth place.
There was further contact back in the pack during the opening lap, with debutant Pascal Wehrlein, Lucas di Grassi and Nelson Piquet Jr coming together. The incident forced Wehrlein into the pit lane and out of the race at the end of the lap. The HWA RaceLab cars of Gary Paffett and Stoffel Vandoorne also collided on Lap 1, with the incident ending the day for both team cars – Vandoorne was out on the spot, while damage to Paffett’s car forced his retirement after three laps.
Lap 11 saw a swap of positions for the BMW drivers as da Costa made it by Sims to begin his pursuit of Bird, while Robin Frijns (who had moved up to fourth from eighth on the grid), d’Ambrosio (up to fifth from tenth) and Lucas di Grassi (up to sixth from eleventh) joined the front three in a six-car leading pack.
Ultimately Bird could not resist the advances of the BMW pair, with da Costa making a run on the lead into the Turn 4/5 chicane and taking the position of the exit, while Sims found his way by at Turn 7. The leading duo then built a slight gap over the chasing group.
Clearly at a slight pace disadvantage to those around him, Bird fell behind teammate Frijns, followed by d’Ambrosio and an Attack Mode-active di Grassi. With two Attack Mode uses available during the Marrakesh race for each driver, and each one lasting for four minutes, di Grassi took further advantage of his first use and moved into fourth by passing Frijns, who had also been passed by d’Ambrosio.
D’Ambrosio led the third-through-sixth group back up on to the tail of the leaders, before disaster stuck the BMW pair on Lap 26. Sims attacked da Costa on the run down the back straight to Turn 7, attempting to pass his teammate around the outside.
Battling into the braking zone, both drivers locked up and made contact, before da Costa ended in the fence and out of the race, while Sims dropped back to fourth position as he recovered from the incident.
The Safety Car was called while da Costa’s car was recovered, leading the field for three laps before racing resumed with four minutes left to run in the race. The bulk of the field used the Safety Car to activate their final Attack Mode, however of the top four cars at the restart – d’Ambrosio, Frijns, Bird and Sims – only Sims had Attack Mode active.
When the green flag flew once more Frijns set about attacking d’Ambrosio, however the Mahindra driver was able to defend his position and hold on for by 0.143 seconds for his third Formula E race win. This marked the first time the Belgian had taken the chequered flag as the victor on the road, with both of his previous victories having been inherited after post-race penalties for technical infringements on di Grassi’s cars.
The battle for third was also on at the restart, Bird managing to fight off Sims’ Attack Mode, including passing attempts at the chicane and Turn 7 to hold on to the final podium position.
The late safety car also brought both DS Techeetahs back into contention. Yet again showing they are the fastest cars in the field, Vergne had cut his way back through the pack during the race, with team mate Andre Lotterer (who stared 20th after a poor qualifying session) following his teammate through.
The pair made their way past a fading di Grassi after the restart to finish fifth and sixth respectively, while the other drivers caught up in the Lap 1, Turn 1 incident – Buemi and Evans – recovered to eighth and ninth positions.
Despite losing late-race positions to finish seventh, di Grassi scored the bonus point for fastest race lap, while his Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler teammate Daniel Abt rounded out the top ten.
D’Ambrosio’s victory moves the Belgian to the lead of the Drivers’ Championship with 40 points, 12 ahead of former leader da Costa. Vergne’s two recovery drives through the field so far this season also sees the reigning champion tied on 28 points with da Costa, with the Lotterer (19 points) in fourth. Tied just one point further behind are the Envision Virgin Racing pair of Frijns and Bird.
DS Techeetah lead the Teams’ Championship with 47 points, ahead of Mahindra (40 points – all scored by d’Ambrosio) and BMW i Andretti Motorsport (also on 40 points). Envision Virgin Racing have jumped to fourth in the standings with 36 points all scored in Marrakesh, while Nissan e.Dams (18 points) rounds out the top five.
The ABB FIA Formula E Championship moves to the streets of Santiago, Chile for the third round of the series in two weeks’ time, Saturday January 26.
Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship