Jean-Éric Vergne has made it six different winners from six different teams the first six races of the 2018/19 FIA Formula E season, with the reigning champion claiming victory in the Sanya ePrix.
Starting second, Vergne slotted in behind pole-sitter Oliver Rowland on the run to Turn 1, with Antonio Felix da Costa holding third. The early running was marred by contact between championship leader Sam Bird and HWA Racelab’s Stoffel Vandoorne at Turn 5, with the incident ending Bird’s race on the spot. Vandoorne retired a lap later from the damage he sustained in the contact.
Rowland led the opening 15 minutes of the race, with the top three holding station as passes were made towards the back of the top ten – including Robin Frijns passing Lucas di Grassi for seventh. Eventually, Vergne saw his opportunity at Turn 11 and found his way past Rowland for the lead.
The Nissan e.Dams rookie was not done with, however, as Rowland maintained the pressure on Vergne for the lead after the pass – although the battle would be paused with twelve minutes to run as Alexander Sims hit the barriers. With the BMW i Andretti stranded on track, a red flag was called for the third championship race in a row.
Resuming under Safety Car before going green, Vergne’s restart procedure was investigated but ultimately found to not have affected the outcome of the race. The battle between the top three resumed, but it was behind the leaders where the late-race drama unfolded. Vergne’s Techeetah teammate André Lotterer moved into fourth, while di Grassi had found his way into sixth.
This sixth-place battle erupted in the final minutes of the races, as Sebastien Buemi (who started the race from the pit lane after a post-qualifying penalty) and Frijns collided, with Frijns then collecting di Grassi at Turn 8. Frijns lost time and fell to fourteenth position one lap down, while di Grassi’s Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler was left stranded.
Incensed by the incident, di Grassi searched out Frijns in the paddock directly after the race, being heard to say: “You crashed into Buemi and you took my race! You crashed together and you took me out of the race – I hope you get a penalty.”
For his part, Frijns defended himself in the exchange, claiming Buemi was the cause of the incident.
“I closed the door on Buemi, braked quite early to make the corner and then I got a huge hit from behind, my wheels got sent into the air and I hit…I don’t know I could have missed the contact,” he said. “I don’t see how I could be blamed for this.”
The Stewards of the meeting agreed with Frijns’ version of events, handing Buemi a ten-second time penalty for causing the incident, demoting the Swiss driver from sixth to eighth in the final results.
With the Buemi-Frijns-di Grassi incident occurring so late in the race, the ensuing full course yellow brought an end to the race, with Vergne taking the win from Rowland and da Costa.
After three consecutive races without scoring points, the victory was a sweet return to form for Vergne, but also an important win for the Techeetah team which won its home event in China.
“On the podium, listening to all the Chinese fans singing the national anthem, it wasn’t something I was expecting – it was amazing!” said Vergne post-race.
“I was never gone, really. I guess I had a bit of bad luck but I guess talent doesn’t go away in a few months and that’s what I had to tell myself. The moment you lose hope, you lose everything. You need to trust your team and trust yourself. Now, I just need to win more races!”
While rueing a missed victory, Rowland was still pleased to take to the podium in second.
“On one side happy and on the other a little bit disappointed,” he reflected. “I had a good opportunity there – JEV did a good job – he surprised me and I knew he was going to surprise me at some point. I am of course very happy with the podium and it’s been a while – I lost pole in Mexico and again I was leading in Hong Kong… it’s nice to score some points!”
Behind da Costa in third, Lotterer ended the race in fourth with Daniel Abt fifth for Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler. Sixth and seventh places were filled by the Mahindra pair of Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Pascal Wehrlein, ahead of the penalised Bumei. Jaguar’s Mitch Evans and Venturi’s Felipe Massa rounded out the top ten.
With third place – and Bird’s failure to finish – da Costa has re-taken the lead in the driver standings on 62 points – although it is very tight at the top. Just a single point behind is d’Ambrosio while Vergne’s victory (and the fastest lap bonus point) sees the reigning champ jump from eleventh place into third on 54 points. With his title defence looking to be on life support following the last event in Hong Kong, the Frenchman is now very much back in the hunt.
Bird falls from the lead to fourth place, equal on points with Vergne, while di Grassi and Edoardo Mortara are in positions five and six, just two points further back – meaning the top six are separated by a spread of just ten points.
With six of the eleven teams having won races this season, the Teams’ Championship is just as close – the top four squads are separated by only two points. Envision Virgin Racing lead with 97 points, joined on that total by Mahindra. Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler are just a single point behind in third, while Techeetah now sit in fourth, just another point further back.
The championship passes its halfway point as it moves to Europe for the next round, to be held in Rome on Saturday, April 13. With no driver or team yet to double-up on wins, the stage is set for the first squad to do so to begin to build a stranglehold on the titles.
|2018 ABB Formula E FWD Sanya ePrix – Final Classification|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Jean-Éric Vergne||DS Techeetah||36||1:02:50.185||26|
|2.||Oliver Rowland||Nissan e.dams||36||+ 1.762||21|
|3.||António Félix da Costa||BMW i Andretti Motorsport||36||+ 3.268||15|
|4.||André Lotterer||DS Techeetah||36||+ 4.631||12|
|5.||Daniel Abt||Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler||36||+ 5.972||10|
|6.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Mahindra Racing||36||+ 9.405||8|
|7.||Pascal Wehrlein||Mahindra Racing||36||+ 17.340||6|
|8.||Sébastien Buemi||Nissan e.dams||36||+ 18.367||4|
|9.||Mitch Evans||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||36||+ 20.646||2|
|10.||Felipe Massa||Venturi Formula E Team||36||+ 22.208||1|
|11.||Oliver Turvey||NIO Formula E Team||36||+ 27.739|
|12.||Tom Dillmann||NIO Formula E Team||36||+ 31.453|
|13.||Edoardo Mortara||Venturi Formula E Team||36||+ 32.654|
|14.||Robin Frijns||Envision Virgin Racing||35||Collision|
|15.||Lucas di Grassi||Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler||34||Collision|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason||Pts|
|DNF.||Nelson Piquet Jr.||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||21||Accident|
|DNF.||Alexander Sims||BMW i Andretti Motorsport||20||Accident|
|DNF.||Gary Paffett||HWA Racelab||13||Driveshaft|
|DNF.||José María López||Geox Dragon Racing||10||Powertrain|
|DNF.||Stoffel Vandoorne||HWA Racelab||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Sam Bird||Envision Virgin Racing||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Felipe Nasr||Geox Dragon Racing||1||Mechanical|
Post Race Penalties:
- Sébastien Buemi – who was provisionally classified 6th – was issued a 10-second post-race time penalty for causing a collision.
- Edoardo Mortara – who was provisionally classified 8th – was issued a 16-second post-race time penalty for not activating the second ‘Attack Mode’ usage.
- 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.
- Oliver Rowland earned 3 bonus championship points for securing the Julius Baer pole position.
- Jean-Éric Vergne earned 1 bonus championship point for posting the fastest lap of the ePrix.
Images via ABB FIA Formula E Championship