The ABB FIA Formula E Championship held a hugely successful first event on the streets of Rome today, 14 April, with DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird crowned the inaugural winner. He held off a late charge from Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Lucas di Grassi, who finished second for the second race in a row, with Andre Lotterer crossing the line third for TECHEETAH.
It was a race that built to a fever pitch over the 33 laps, with pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist seemingly in control over the first half of the contest. His pace was matched by his aggressive attacking style over the kerbs around the spectacular 2.86km circuit, but ultimately that was to be his undoing, as on lap 23 the rear suspension of the Mahindra broke, forcing the Swede to retire.
This promoted Bird to first place, and while behind him there was action aplenty in a number of intense battles, he seemed to be comfortably managing the gap for the next few laps.
As the race reached its latter stages, a number of drivers who had been able to conserve more energy an pit a lap later than the leaders came to the fore, with Mitch Evans for Panasonic Jaguar Racing charging up the order with di Grassi, Lotterer and their respective team-mates Daniel Abt and Jean-Eric Vergne close behind. It would end up being a nail-biting run to the flag, with di Grassi not quite able to challenge for the win, crossing the line 0.970s behind with Lotterer following in third. Abt and Vergne rounded out the top five.
As these drivers were surging forwards, so Sebastien Buemi who had been running third began to struggle, slipped down the order to sixth by the chequered flag. It was to be a similar story for Evans, who opted for an all or nothing strategy that put him within touching distance of the race win, but left him down on energy in the final laps and powerless to defend from the cars behind. He ended up in ninth place behind a resurgent Jerome D’Ambrosio who drove through the field making up 11 places from 18th to seventh and Maro Engel who was eighth for Venturi. Edoardo Mortara rounded out the top ten to make it a double points finish for the Monegasque team.
With the first race of the European leg coming to a close, Formula E heads to the French capital for the third edition of the Paris E-Prix on 28 April – round eight of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
Sam Bird, DS Virgin Racing, said: “I honestly didn’t think I’d be sitting here today. When I saw the pace of Felix in the race, I thought the best I can hope for is probably 18 points. Stint two with Felix, I don’t know what happened – it didn’t look like he hit a wall or anything. Apparently, he hit a curb too hard and its broken the suspension, which is a shame for him and that gave me the lead. I had to get my head down again and try and position my car in the right places at the right time with the right amount of energy for the last lap, because I knew Lucas would be hunting me. So I tried to give myself the best scenario and it worked out well. I didn’t think that we’d be in this position at the beginning of the year, I thought that we would struggle a little bit more with what we were bringing to the table, but we’ve maximised everything. I sit here very proud to be the winner. But as an event – the crowd was massive, everybody looked like they were having fun.”
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, said: “First of all, nobody can say this event was average, it was extraordinary. The podium that we just came from was absolutely fantastic. My race started quite badly because I didn’t expect Buemi to go so close to the inside at the start and then stop very early. So this allowed everybody to jump on the outside, so I was basically sitting behind him waiting and I lost some places. Then I think I came from ninth or eighth, I was somewhere around that trying to overtake one by one. I managed to do it, so I did a very conservative first stint trying to save energy – attacking at the very end and did a good pit stop. Then used the FANBOOST to overtake Buemi who was struggling with energy anyway and then at the end it was pretty intense because Mitch was chasing Sam and I was just looking and stayed close in case something happened.”
Andre Lotterer, TECHEETAH, said: “I have a second and a third – now I’m missing number one now. It was a really exciting race. I realised I’m still learning a lot racing these guys, it’s quite interesting how you play your cards. I’m still a bit fresh on that. Lucas came flying past and this also kind of changed my race, then I was also coming back. I saved a bit too much energy and the performance was good, but I learned a lot again today and I’m happy to be on the podium… I’m getting it bit by bit.”
2018 Rome E-Prix (Rd 7)
1 – Sam Bird, DS Virgin Racing, 58:20.656s (25)
2 – Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, +0.970s (18)
3 – Andre Lotterer, TECHEETAH, +9.518s (15)
4 – Daniel Abt, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, +10.167s (13)
5 – Jean-Eric Vergne, TECHEETAH, +17.444s (10)
6 – Sebastien Buemi, Renault e.dams, +19.835s (8)
7 – Jerome D’Ambrosio, DRAGON, +24.379s (6)
8 – Maro Engel, Venturi Formula E Team, +26.350s (4)
9 – Mitch Evans, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, +37.709s (2)
10 – Edoardo Mortara, Venturi Formula E Team, +40.739s (1)
11 – Antonio Felix da Costa, Andretti Formula E, +42.680s
12 – Oliver Turvey, NIO Formula E Team, +48.833s
13 – Luca Filippi, NIO Formula E Team, +49.331s
14 – Nico Prost, Renault e.dams, +1:13.880s
15 – Tom Blomqvist, Andretti Formula E, +1:31.832s
16 – Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing, +1:44.774s
17 – Jose Maria Lopez, DRAGON, +4 Laps
DNF – Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing, 22 Laps (3)
DNF – Nelson Piquet Jr, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, 18 Laps
DNF – Alex Lynn, DS Virgin Racing, 15 Laps
Jean-Eric Vergne, TECHEETAH – 119
Sam Bird, DS Virgin Racing – 101
Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing – 82
Sebastien Buemi, Renault e.dams – 60
Daniel Abt, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler – 50
TECHEETAH – 152
DS Virgin Racing – 118
Mahindra Racing – 103
Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler – 89
Panasonic Jaguar Racing – 88
Renault e.dams – 67
Venturi Formula E Team – 40
NIO Formula E Team – 33
DRAGON – 25
Andretti Formula E – 20