Antonio Felix Da Costa has taken the first pole position and victory in the second generation of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia today, 15 December. It was his first victory since Buenos Aires in the inaugural season of the all-electric series, and also a maiden win for the BMW i Andretti Motorsport team as a fully manufacturer-backed entry.
It was a landmark race in Formula E history in many ways, with season five ushering in a brand new car, key new regulations and an expanded 22-car grid. The day was full of drama from the very beginning, with heavy rain overnight and in the morning meaning only a single free practice session of 30 minutes in wet conditions was all the drivers had to acclimatise themselves to the spectacular 2.49km circuit before they headed out into qualifying. HWA RACELAB’s Stoffel Vandoorne topped the first time sheets of the season.
With the format changed as a result of the truncated schedule, there were just two qualifying groups and no super pole shoot-out, and it was Da Costa who ended up on top ahead of GEOX DRAGON’s Jose Maria Lopez and the Nissan e.dams machine of Sebastien Buemi.
With the rain stopped and the track drying, the grid formed up for the first start of the 2018/19 season, and da Costa was able to hold his lead on the run down to the first corner. Buemi got the jump on Lopez early on, with reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne making a good start to move by Vandoorne into fourth in the opening battles.
The pace of Vergne’s DS TECHEETAH machine was clear to see, as he was harrying Buemi for second while his team-mate Andre Lotterer made up several places to reach fourth.
The innovative new Attack Mode, providing drivers with an additional 25kw of power for two periods of 240 seconds during this race, was soon beginning to be deployed throughout a bid to gain places.
With 28 minutes of the 45 remaining, Vergne made a bid for the lead and passed both Buemi and Da Costa in commanding fashion. It wasn’t long, however, before the Frenchman would lose the lead again, as he, along with a raft of other drivers, were given drive-through penalties for a technical infringement relating to power regeneration. Lotterer also received the penalty, together with Venturi’s Felipe Massa, HWA’s Gary Paffett and BMW’s Alexander Sims.
This shook the top ten order up and promoted Mahindra’s Jerome D’Ambrosio, who had been fighting in the top order since the race start, into a podium position. There was plenty of action still to come before the chequered flag would fall, however, as a safety car period to recover the stricken car of Lopez, who suffered suspension damage whilst running fifth, would put everything back on the table.
With the pack nose to tail once more and just ten minutes on the clock, Da Costa made a great restart, diving for the Attack Mode activation zone and pulling out a gap to the chasing pack with 225kw on tap.
The outright pace of Vergne was almost enough to close the gap however, as the #25 car scythed back through the order and was almost close enough attempt a last-gasp lunge for the win. He was, however, just shy of backing up his championship triumph with a first win in the Gen2 car, and a gap of 0.462s was enough to put Da Costa at the top of the points table leaving Saudi Arabia.
D’Ambrosio held on to take an impressive podium on debut for Mahindra, while a relatively quiet race for Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans saw him take fourth spot. Lotterer came home fifth having had a late scrap with Buemi, who crossed the line sixth just ahead of his Nissan stablemate and rookie Oliver Rowland.
The two Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler drivers Daniel Abt and Lucas Di Grassi were followed by Jaguar’s Nelson Piquet Jr to round out the top ten.
Formula E returns for another electrifying encounter in Marrakesh on 12 January.
Antonio Felix da Costa said: “I feel good. I’ve had two really hard years to be honest – you know how it is, this motor sport world – people forget quickly and you’re only as good as your last race. The fight I had with these guys – I saw them coming – I thought they must be on some kind of Attack Mode but it was just pure pace. I was ready to give up in terms of let’s take a podium home and not try and risk everything to fight these guys, but that was when I heard they have a drive through so I paced myself. For sure we have some work to do because JEV was flying. But, this is racing and we played our cards right and did everything right and took the win – I’m sure happy with that!”
Jean-Eric Vergne said: “First of all, I want to congratulate Antonio and BMW – I know how it feels to have a couple of hard years. I think we had an amazing venue racing in the desert. As for me, I had a good race and I was really hungry for a victory today. Qualifying didn’t really go to plan but I was feeling extremely confident in that race. To move forward, overtaking on the outside I thought wasn’t possible but I made it possible on Seb [Buemi] today. I don’t know how many overtakes I did but I had a lot of fun behind the wheel, the car was fantastic – thanks to the team. I want to say a massive welcome to DS to our team – I wanted to welcome them with a win but I will take what I have today. All I can promise them is to fight for more wins.”
Jerome D’Ambrosio said: “I come also from two difficult years so it’s great to start this new relationship with the team in this way. We’ve worked really hard over the past few months to be ready and I think we were really fast and good in race pace. I’m really happy to be a part of such a great team – there are loads of great people and a great atmosphere. I think we’ve got some good days ahead of us if we keep going the way we did. We have to build on this and fight for the championship, we’ve got some very tough contenders and the most competitive championship in the world – everyone is so close so it’s really down to the people that work the best.”