Lucas di Grassi has come out on top in a frenetic end to the Mexico City ePrix, grabbing the victory on the finish line as race-long leader Pascal Wehrlien ran out of energy in the final sprint to the chequered flag.
Wehrlein had led the race away from pole position, with Nissan e.Dams driver Oliver Rowland jumping into second from fourth place at Turn 1, pushing front-row starter di Grassi back into third. At the rear of the field, championship leader Sam Bird began his recovery from a technical failure during qualifying, moving from 22nd to 19th in the opening exchanges.
The complexion of the race changed on the third lap, as a major incident involving Nelson Piquet Jr and Jean-Éric Vergne forced a full course yellow flag initially, followed by an extended red flag period.
Battling to pass Vergne, Piquet moved towards the inside of the right-hand opening corner of the Turn 14/15/16 chicane but found his path blocked when the Frenchman also moved across to cover the line. The pair collided, with the impact launching Piquet’s Jaguar over the rear of Vergne’s Techeetah at the entrance to the chicane and then making glancing contact with Alexander Sims’ BMW as it landed. Now with no control, Piquet was a passenger as his car slid through the inside of the chicane, past the temporary barriers and into the wall on the outside of the final corner.
Thankfully uninjured in the incident, Piquet was able to climb out of his car and return to the team garage, while Vergne and Sims made their way back to pit lane with the rest of the field when the race was red-flagged to clear the damaged Jaguar and clean up the chicane. Both the DS Techeetah and BMW i Andretti teams were able to efficiently repair both cars in time to make the restart, which eventually happened some 30 minutes after the crash had occurred.
Discussing the whole incident post-race, Verne felt frustrated at not only Piquet’s driving but also the actions of several other drivers who passed the damaged Techeetah – seemingly without penalty – as it limped around under the full course caution before the red flag was called.
“I don’t know what to make of today with all the incidents, I had three cars overtake me under full course yellow, one that cut the chicane and crashed into me, and one that spun me in the stadium, and nobody got a penalty,” he fumed. “It’s something that we will have to discuss with the FIA, so we are to have a better understanding. The mechanics did an incredible job to repair the car in the pit lane under the red flag so a big thank you to them for pulling that off.”
With the 45-minute race time continuing to count down as the red flag period unfolded, a dispensation was granted by the Stewards to extend the race by 26 minutes to maintain a similar race distance – meaning 40 minutes were remaining on the clock when the race resumed.
Once the clean up and circuit repair was completed, Wehrlein led the field to the restart ahead of Rowland and di Grassi with the key battles over the next few laps occurring in the chasing pack – namely a battle for fourth between Sébastien Buemi and António Félix da Costa, in which Buemi would hold on to his position.
Wehrlein would hold station at the front with the rest of the field in tow until the final ten minutes of the race when the fight in the leading group intensified. First to make a move was da Costa, who initially took his second of two permitted four-minute Attack Mode boosts, followed by Buemi a lap later and then di Grassi and Rowland over the next two laps.
Rowland made a mistake in doing so, however, with the Briton running wide at the end of the activation zone and opening the door for di Grassi to find his way past into second as they exited the stadium section – followed almost immediately by contact between teammates Rowland and Buemi at the following corner. Ultimately the battle between the Nissan pair meant little as both ran out of energy with a lap still remaining in the race, falling back through the field to 20th and 21st respectively.
Having made his way to second place, di Grassi was soon on to the rear of Wehrlein and immediately began fighting for the lead with da Costa now third, Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara fourth, Wehrlein’s Mahindra teammate Jérôme d’Ambrosio fifth and André Lotterer sixth – all in a tight leading pack.
Wehrlein was defending his position heavily as the final lap started, while at the same time the serious prospect of exhausting all available energy hung over the German’s head. Di Grassi moved down the inside through Turn 3, but Wehrlein hung around the outside of his rival and held the position at the following chicane – although the German cut the corner to do so.
With one per cent energy remaining and still defending as he entered the final sequence of corners it appeared Wehrlein had di Grassi covered, only for his energy meter to finally drop to zero as he attempted to accelerate down the short section of straight to the finish line from the final corner.
Di Grassi, accelerating normally, dived towards the pit wall – almost collecting the floundering Mahindra in the process – and managed to just slip ahead of Wehrlein as the pair crossed the finish line. The official margin at the line was just 0.210 seconds. Visibly, the difference between the pair was the length of di Grassi’s Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler car.
The Stewards deemed Wehrlein’s defence through the Turn 4 chicane on the final lap to have exceeded track limits and rubbed salt in the wound by handing the German a five-second penalty. Added to his race time this penalty dropped Wehrlein down to sixth in the final order and promoted da Costa to second, with Mortara now on the podium in third place. Also benefiting from Wehrlein’s penalty was his teammate, d’Ambrosio completing a strong recovery drive from 18th on the grid to fourth, and Lotterer improving to fifth.
The victory is the third in a row at Mexico City for the Audi Sport team, following di Grassi’s win at the venue in 2016, and Daniel Abt’s last season.
Discussing his latest win, the elated Brazilian felt it was the best of his many Formula E wins to date.
“That was probably the best race of my Formula E career,” said di Grassi. “Initially, it was all about staying cool and saving energy. At the end, it was about getting the overtaking maneuvers right, because it’s extremely difficult to pass on this track in Mexico City. I swept past Oliver Rowland when he fired up his Attack Mode. After that, Pascal Wehrlein defended his position very aggressively. Still, I managed to overtake him in a crazy final lap and score victory. My adrenaline level was extremely high and I could hardly believe that it worked. Thank you to everyone at Audi Sport who worked so hard to build such a great car.”
Having won the opening race of the season but suffering DNF results in both races since da Costa was pleased with a strong result and solid haul of points in Mexico City, but it didn’t come easy for the Portuguese driver.
“Ahead of the race weekend, I said that we need to give it our all here to pick up as many points as possible,” he explained. “The fact that we managed second place will no doubt be great motivation for the entire team. I had a duel with Sébastien Buemi relatively early on in the race, during which I touched his car slightly. After that my steering was skewed, which naturally put me at something of a disadvantage, so I simply maintained my position after that and saved energy. As the end of the race drew near it became clear that some of the cars in front of me might start having problems, so I waited for my chance – and then took it. I’m delighted with the podium.”
For Mortara, keeping clean as others battled around him was key to scoring Venturi’s first podium result of the season, building upon a strong result in the last race in Chile.
“What a race! Fourth in Santiago and now third here in Mexico, I am so, so happy with both these results,” the Swiss driver beamed. “To get really good results, you need to have a perfect race: car, team and driver all need to perform at their best. For me, the beginning of the race was absolute madness, everyone was just fighting, it was crazy. I decided to stay out of it and just focus on my race and this definitely paid off for me in the end. The team have worked so hard and I’m very proud of them and so pleased to share this result with them. We still have a lot to learn but I think we have proved now that we have a car that is improving race by race, long may that continue.”
Behind Wehrlein’s ultimate sixth place in the results was Mitch Evans, the sole remaining Jaguar after Piquet’s incident, moving up from a 17th starting position. Felipe Massa finished eighth in the second Venturi to earn his first Formula E points’ finish. The Grand Prix veteran had started the race in third after his first Formula E ‘Super Pole’ appearance earlier in the day but fell back through the order once he had taken his second Attack Mode earlier than the rest of the field.
The top ten was rounded out by Sam Bird and Daniel Abt; both drivers scoring points despite starting from the back row of the grid. In Bird’s case, two points is much better than nothing after not firing a shot in qualifying, but it was not enough to retain the championship lead.
Also of note in the finishing order is Stoffel Vandoorne in 18th, the HWA Racelab driver forced to serve a drive-through and additional five second time penalties for activating Fan Boost before the permitted time in the race, while Felipe Nasr was the last of the classified finishers in 19th on his Formula E debut for Dragon Racing.
With fourth place, d’Ambrosio regains the lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings with 53 points, a seven-point advantage over da Costa, while Bird fell to third place and a further point behind. As the fourth winner in as many races, di Grassi’s championship position has also improved, with the 2016-17 season champion now sitting fourth on the ladder with 34 points.
The biggest championship mover is Wehrlein, who despite missing the opening round due to contract requirements and failing to finish his first event in Marrakesh has shot up to fifth place – the German’s 30-point total aided by scoring the bonus points for both pole position and fastest lap here in Mexico. Wehrlein heads a very tight group on the ladder: Lotterer sits a single point behind in sixth, while Robin Frijns, Vergne and Evans all sit equal with 28 points each and tenth place is filled by Mortara on 27.
With both drivers in the top five of the standings, Mahindra also lead the Teams’ Championship race on 83 points, holding a 10-point advantage over Envision Virgin Racing, while BMW i Andretti (74 points) sit in third place.
The 2018/19 FIA Formula E Championship now moves to Asia for round five on Saturday, March 10 as Hong Kong hosts the first of two rounds in China.
|2018 ABB Formula E Ad Driyiah ePrix – Final Classification|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Lucas di Grassi||Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler||45||1:13:15.422||25|
|2.||António Félix da Costa||BMW i Andretti Motorsport||45||+ 0.436||18|
|3.||Edoardo Mortara||Venturi Formula E Team||45||+ 0.745||15|
|4.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Mahindra Racing||45||+ 1.159||12|
|5.||André Lotterer||DS Techeetah||45||+ 1.785||10|
|6.||Pascal Wehrlein||Mahindra Racing||45||+ 5.210||12|
|7.||Mitch Evans||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||45||+ 5.800||6|
|8.||Felipe Massa||Venturi Formula E Team||45||+ 8.084||4|
|9.||Sam Bird||Envision Virgin Racing||45||+ 8.356||2|
|10.||Daniel Abt||Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler||45||+ 8.438||1|
|11.||Robin Frijns||Envision Virgin Racing||45||+ 9.044|
|12.||Oliver Turvey||NIO Formula E Team||45||+ 11.252|
|13.||Jean-Éric Vergne||DS Techeetah||45||+ 19.153|
|14.||Alexander Sims||BMW i Andretti Motorsport||45||+ 20.471|
|15.||Tom Dillmann||NIO Formula E Team||45||+ 20.871|
|16.||Gary Paffett||HWA Racelab||45||+ 23.272|
|17.||José María López||Geox Dragon Racing||45||+ 41.542|
|18.||Stoffel Vandoorne||HWA Racelab||45||+ 43.425|
|19.||Felipe Nasr||Geox Dragon Racing||45||+ 1:56.160|
|20.||Oliver Rowland||Nissan e.dams||44||Energy|
|21.||Sébastien Buemi||Nissan e.dams||44||Energy|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason||Pts|
|DNF.||Nelson Piquet Jr.||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||2||Collision|
Post Race Penalties:
- Pascal Wehrlein – who was provisionally classified 2nd – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for exceeding track limits.
- Stoffel Vandoorne – who was provisionally classified 17th – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for activating his FanBoost too early.
- Championship points are awarded on the results of the ePrix to the top-ten finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 sliding scale.
- Pascal Wehrlein earned 3 bonus championship points for securing the Julius Baer pole position.
- Pascal Wehrlein earned 1 bonus championship point for posting the fastest lap of the ePrix.
Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship