Sam Bird took a surprise win for DS Virgin Racing in the season-opening Hong ePrix, despite serving a drive through penalty after colliding with a team member during his mid race car swap. Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne led the race early on, but had to settle for second ahead of Mahindra’s Nick Heidfeld.
The race was suspended for almost half an hour after Formula E debutant Andre Lotterer hit the barrier on lap one, causing a red flag to clear his and several other cars that were caught up in the incident.
After the restart, Vergne and Bird pulled away from NIO’s Oliver Turvey who had made a great start to climb from seventh to third. After trading fastest laps in the opening stages of the race, Bird made the decisive move on lap 20/43, passing Vergne at the hairpin to take the lead of the race.
Vergne and Bird pitted within a lap of each other, but Bird’s stop nearly cost him the race win as he out-braked himself entering the garage, colliding with a team member and striking the wall.
“There was just no grip in the pit-lane,” Bird explained. “I turned in and I went straight on; there was nothing I could do [because] the pit lane was so dirty”
He was awarded a drive through penalty for that incident, but due to the short nature of the Hong Kong pitlane, he was able to quickly serve it and rejoin in the lead ahead of Vergne and Heidfeld.
From there on, Bird’s pace was red hot, and he pulled away to take the chequered flag by just over 11 seconds, with Vergne having to settle for second after a tense battle with Heidfeld.
“Amazing result,” said an elated Bird after the race. “I served my penalty. I thought I’d be in P6 or P7. I thought JEV was in front because our radios were so bad. I dominated the race, it was great!
Vergne was less than pleased with his race after finishing second, explaining so after the race. “I honestly didn’t understand everything about that race,” said Vergne. “I had some huge issues in the car where the strategies were wrong. There was no radio communication. One moment it was fine and at others I was a lap below where I needed to be.”
Maro Engel crossed the line in fourth place for Venturi, but received a drive-through penalty after the race for excessive energy usage, dropping him to 14th in the final order.
This promoted Piquet to fourth place on his Jaguar debut, ahead of Audi’s Daniel Abt and Andretti’s Antonio Felix Da Costa.
The second Mahindra of Felix Rosenqvist was seventh, but only after a spirited fightback through the field after he was spun round at the hairpin by Luca Fillip on lap five.
Edoardo Mortara finished a stunning eighth on his Formula E debut for Venturi, after starting the race in 17th, with DS Virgin’s Alex Lynn and Renault e.dams’ Nico Prost rounding out the top ten.
Last season’s drivers’ champion Lucas Di Grassi had a fraught race, finishing in 18th place and one lap down, after contact with his teammate early on meant he was forced to pit early with damage to his car.
Sebastien Buemi also failed to score points, after his car suffered a total shutdown on track midway through the race. The Swiss driver wasn’t in contention for the win but was running in the points at the time of the incident, and sounded very animated on his radio as he received instructions from his team.
Images: FIA Formula E and Audi Sport
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