After 50 races, Venturi have taken victory in a Formula E race for the first time, with Edoardo Mortara winning the Hong Kong ePrix.
Mortara’s victory was only confirmed after and extended stewards investigation which resulted in a time penalty for the driver first over the line, Sam Bird (Envision Virgin Racing). Challenging then-leader Andre Lotterer for position late in the race, Bird made contact with the back of Lotterer’s DS Techeetah – puncturing the German’s tyre and breaking the rear suspension. Lotterer limped to the finish of the race as the final runner on track in 14th, but was furious at the contact: “The race was fair up to that point but it is what you would call a disgusting move because it is not really the way we should race. I lost it thanks to him.”
Despite Bird crossing the finish line as the winner and receiving the trophy on the podium, the investigation continued and just before 10pm in Hong Kong the results were revised – Bird handed a five second time penalty for the contact, crucially pushing the Brit from first position back to sixth place and promoting Mortara to the win, with Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Lucas di Grassi moving up to second place and Bird’s team mate Robin Frijns joining the podium.
Rookie pole-sitter Stoffel Vandoorne lost the lead off the start to second-placed Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.Dams), while the first corner – the slowest of the season – prompted a lot of bumping back in the pack, including between Geox Dragon Racing team mates Jose Maria Lopez and Felipe Nasr.
Just a handful of minutes later, Nasr would be the cause of the first full course yellow of the race when the Brazilian’s car collided with the tyre barrier at turn two, bouncing straight into the path of both Mahindras. The incident put Nasr, along with championship leader Jerome d’Ambrosio and his team mate Pascal Wehrlein out on the spot – a double blow for Mahindra who had been leading both the drivers’ and teams’ standings heading into Hong Kong.
For the second race in a row, the full corse yellow was soon changed to a red flag to enable the safe and efficient recovery of the cars, prompting 13 minutes to be added to the previously 45 minute race time. Just prior to the initial yellow flag period, Bird had moved his way past Vandoorne into second place, however this would briefly become the lead soon after the restart. Rowland’s car slowed on the exit of turn one, allowing Bird and the pack through, but merely seconds later Bird ran wide at turn two – allowing Lotterer in to the lead.
This would begin a battle between Lotterer and Bird that would run until the late-race contact that ultimately saw Bird penalised. Bird at one stage made it back to the lead at turn two, only for Lotterer to reclaim the position at the chicane soon after.
Vandoorne, who had been running in third place ahead of Mortara, slowed to a halt on circuit with 18 minutes remaining, prompting a safety car period. With eleven minutes remaining the race resumed, with Lotterer leading Bird and Mortara, only for another safety car to be deployed for Rowland. Still running after his earlier technical issue had dropped the Brit to tenth, Rowland made contact with the wall and broken the rear axle of his Nissan. It was a double blow for the team after wheel damage in the chicane had earlier ended Sebastien Buemi’s race.
The race resumed with just two minutes to go and following the contact with Lotterer, Bird crossed the line first on the road, ahead of Mortara, di Grassi and Frijns. The late safety car had a bearing on the outcome of the race, as restarting with just two minutes to go meant the field were still tightly bunched at the end of the race and forcing the severity – five positions – when Bird’s penalty of just five seconds was later applied.
Speaking after being awarded the victory, Mortara was overjoyed at his first Formula E win: “The result today is fantastic. Fourth in Santiago, third in Mexico, now my first victory in Hong Kong! The race was awesome and I’ve had a wonderful weekend – historically, racing in Asia brings me so much luck – honestly, I’m over the moon and I couldn’t be happier. The team have done a brilliant job, they put in all the hours and pull out all the stops – this result is a tribute to their hard work.”
Despite having been in Formula E since the very start in 2014, the 50th race in championship history is also the first win for Venturi. Even more amazingly, this comes despite the team having been so close to claiming victory in the first ever race, only for Nick Heidfeld to clash with Nicolas Prost in the final corner.
Venturi Team Principal Suzie Wolff summed up the feeling within the team to finally claim that elusive race victory: “Our first race victory marks a really important milestone for the team, our President, Gildo PASTOR, has put a lot of faith and trust in us and to have delivered this victory for him is a proud moment for all of us. Both drivers did a great job this weekend, and the team capitalised on all the opportunities in the race. We definitely benefited from others misfortune this weekend but that’s racing, it can be brutal and we have had our fair share of tough moments already this season, today is a very special day – I will be leaving Hong Kong one very happy Team Principal.”
Despite his penalty, Bird has moved back into the championship lead with 54 points, capitalising on d’Ambrosio’s failure to finish. The Belgian drops to second place, just a single point behind Bird, with di Grassi and Mortara now equal on 52 points in third place. Frijns sits a further five points behind in fifth place.
Reigning champion Jean Eric Vergne experienced his third race in a row without scoring points, having finished 13th in Hong Kong (only team mate Lotterer was behind Vergne on the road). The string of poor results now leaves the Frenchman languishing 11th in the drivers’ standings, 26 points off the lead.
With Bird’s and Frijns’ results in Hong Kong, Envision Virgin Racing move to the lead of the teams’ standings on 97 points, while Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler (86) move to second. Mahindra’s double-DNF in this race see the Indian manufacturer fall to third place, a further three points behind.
Formula E now moves across to mainland China for the next event, the Sanya ePrix on Saturday March 23.
Image via FIA Formula E Championship