Sam Bird has won the 2019 Santiago ePrix, taking advantage of Sébastien Buemi crashing out of the lead of the event in what was the hottest race in Formula E history.
From fourth on the grid Bird jumped ahead of Daniel Abt into third, while Buemi led away from pole and Mahindra’s Pascal Wehrlein held second place.
Early race contact was common up and down the field in the early laps of the race, leaving debris on the circuit, some of which was collected by Tom Dillmann’s NIO, damaging the car and forcing the Frenchman into the first retirement of the race.
Further contact occurred between the Techeetahs of Jean-Éric Vergne and André Lotterer, and the BMW i Andretti of António Félix da Costa. Lotterer hit the rear of da Costa’s car, who in turn hit the rear of Vergne, with da Costa and Vergne tumbling down the order as a result of the incident.
In an awkward coincidence, it is the second year in a row the Santiago ePrix has featured contact between both Techeetahs, with Vergne and Lotterer having also come together during the 2018 event before going on to claim an historic 1-2 finish.
Despite the spin for Vergne, there was no Safety Car intervention at the time, and instead the first full course yellow of the race occurred with around 20 minutes of the race completed when Maximillian Günther’s Dragon stopped on track and required recovery.
Before this Safety Car period however, Bird had used Attack Mode to make his way past Wehrlein at Turn 1 on Lap 11, and used the bunched field at the restart to start to challenge Buemi for the lead.
The battle at the front was soon interrupted again, however, as Stoffel Vandoorne ran wide and hit the Turn 3 wall heavily while defending his position from Edoardo Mortara, damaging both the front and rear of his HWA. With 18 minutes remaining, the race resumed again and the top three of Buemi, Bird and Wehrlein resumed their fight.
It wasn’t long before one of the three faltered under the pressure, and it was Buemi as the leader who made the mistake. With around 15 minutes remaining in the race, the Nissan e.Dams driver overshot the Turn 6/7 complex, clouting the wall on the exit of the corner and damaging his left front suspension.
Bird and Wehrlein immediately passed Buemi as the incident occurred, and while the Swiss driver limped his car back to the pit lane, the damage forced his retirement from the race.
Now the leader and under increasing attack from Wehrlein, Bird took his second attack mode two laps later, the Brit eking out a small gap over his rival. The tables turned with six minutes to go, however, as Wehrlein in turn took his final attack mode, ranging up on the rear of the Virgin Racing car.
Bird withstood the pressure through the four minutes of the German’s extra power but soon after had a far more comfortable lead as the Mahindra team urged Wehrlein to ease up to manage increasing battery temperatures.
With on-track temperatures hitting 45⁰C – higher than even seen before in the championship’s history – Wehrlein’s batteries were critical, and the Mahindra driver obliged his team’s directions and backed off to hold second place in just his second Formula E race, 6.489 seconds behind Bird.
Alexander Sims, having started eighth for BMW i Andretti, finished third on the road but was handed a time penalty for spinning Edoardo Mortara on Lap 14 – this promoted Daniel Abt to the final podium position and demoted Sims to seventh.
This was one of several post-race penalties handed down by the stewards: José María López dropped from seventh to ninth for exceeding the maximum power usage, Lucas di Grassi slipped to twelfth for causing a collision with López while Jean-Éric Vergne and Jérôme d’Ambrosio were penalised for speeding during the full course yellow periods.
While Vergne’s penalty meant little – the reigning champion had his aforementioned spin at Turn 3 and retired from the race soon after – d’Ambrosio’s penalty has championship ramifications.
By falling from eighth to tenth in the final race result, the Belgian loses the championship lead to Bird – the Briton having 43 points to d’Ambrosio’s 41.
Behind the podium finishers Mortara claimed fourth position, coming out on top in a battle with the second Envision Virgin Racing car of Robin Frijns. Mitch Evans finished sixth for Jaguar, ahead of Sims, NIO’s Oliver Turvey, López and d’Ambrosio.
Bird and d’Ambrosio now have a gap over the chasing field in the Drivers’ Championship standings, with António Félix da Costa (28 points) failing to finish and falling to third, 15 points off the lead. Equal with da Costa is both Frijns and Vergne, ahead of Evans on 22 points and Abt, who now sits seventh on 21 points after also scoring the bonus point for fastest lap in Santiago.
Envision Virgin Racing (71 points) have jumped to first in the Teams’ Championship, ahead of Mahindra (59) who remain in second while Techeetah’s score of zero at this event see them fall from first to third on 47 points. BMW i Andretti sit a single point behind in fourth, while Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler (30) have moved into fifth position.
The FIA Formula E Championship will remain in the Americas for the fourth round of the 2018/19 series, with the Mexico City ePrix to be held on Saturday February 16.
Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship