Lucas Di Grassi may have taken first blood in Montreal, but the title fight was well and truly alive, with Sebastien Buemi salvaging his championship hopes with a brilliant drive from seventeenth to fourth behind Techeetah drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Stephane Sarrazine.
Di Grassi was able to protect his lead at the fall of the green while Loic Duval jumped two positions in the first few corners to slot into second behind the pole-sitting Brazilian. The big loser in all of this was championship leader Sebastien Buemi who, after starting 12th after a ten place grid penalty, had already dropped back to 17th during the first corner shuffle.
Mitch Evans and Adam Carroll were definitely determined to be the last of the late-brakers and as such were flying the flag for Jaguar by vaulting up to fourth and eighth positions with Jean-Eric Vergne had already set fastest lap back in fifth position. Buemi meanwhile had made up four positions to sit in 15th place behind relative newcomer Tom Dillman.
Buemi would have some relief after getting the #FanBoost vote, as would current leader Di Grassi, however with Montreal heralding the longest straight on the Formula E calendar (and one where exits are crucial) any assistance to progress into the points would be a godsend for the Swiss driver.
Jean-Eric Vergne was the third beneficiary of #FanBoost and used it effectively to displace Evans from fourth position, however Buemi wasn’t having the same luck with Dillmann, taking another two laps to pass the Venturi pilot and have Heidfeld next in line.
It would be a tough afternoon for Buemi who – once dealing with Heidfeld – would face Di Grassi’s team mate Daniel Abt, who would no doubt be making his Audi ABT Schaeffler wider than a John Ford film.
Behind Abt and Buemi, a late move from Heidfeld on Duval saw the former Audi LMP1 driver close the door progressively, but left ther German nowhere to go on the dirty side of the track, ending in a clash and relegating Heidfeld back to 23rd position.
Buemi and Abt would pit early in the attempt of an undercut, however after exiting pit lane, Buemi emerged ahead but appeared to slow (presumably to beat the minimum pit-stop time) as Abt ran clean into the gearbox of the Renault e.Dams driver. Both drivers would find themselves under investigation.
Up front, Jean-Eric Vergne had now seized second-place from Adam Carroll and set about reducing the three-plus second gap back to Lucas Di Grassi with twelve laps remaining.
With Carrol having pitted, Buemi was able to leap-frog to sixth place behind team mate Nicolas Prost. With team orders being unspoken that would become a net fifth position and a good exercise in damage control so far.
A crash for Lopez would bring out the yellows and bunch up the field, but more importantly reduce Vergne’s gap to Di Grassi at the restart and put serious pressure on the Brazilian. Back in P19, Loic Duval could at least console himself with having set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:24.536. Bird however had fought his way back up to sixth from eighteenth position and back into third in the championship.
With nine laps remaining the safety car pulled in and Di Grassi immediately hit #FanBoost to steal a march on Vergne. Likewise, Buemi wasted no time in passing Prost. As it currently stood, the championship gap would now be down to 12 points and would further be reduced with Buemi having displaced Felix Rosenqvist (having bent his steering against the wall) for fourth place. The only thing between Buemi and his chief rival now were the Techeetah’s of Sarrazin and Vergne.
Vergne attempted to sell a dummy on the leader, but Di Grassi was having none of it. Behind them, Buemi was keen to bridge the gap and made contact with Sarrazin whilst trying to steal third. Both drivers survived, miraculously and techeetah was able to score a double podium behind Di Grassi and bac to back podiums from New York.
Buemi looked a disconsolate figure after the race, but under the circumstances it couldn’t have gone much better for the Swiss driver.
“I feel like I should have done more” said Buemi. “I’m not done in the championship so tomorrow’s a big day.
The long game was where his focus should be with a six point gap with one race remaining.
Images: FIA Formula E
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