Da Costa wins tense FE opener after Vergne handed penalty
Antonio Felix da Costa ended a near three-year win drought with a stunning lights-to-flag victory in a dramatic opener to the Formula E season in Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
After securing his maiden pole position in a mixed up qualifying session earlier today, da Costa almost blew his chance of victory by lining up incorrectly on the grid before having to reverse back into position.
He survived to take the start from pole and led the opening stages of the race before reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne made a stunning pass to take the lead on lap 15/33 after making progress from fifth on the grid.
From there, Vergne looked to be in control of the race, but he and his Techeetah teammate Andre Lotterer were both awarded drive through penalties at around two-thirds distance for exceeding the maximum power permitted under regen, thus handing the lead of the race back to da Costa.
A late safety car with just a few minutes remaining on the clock gave da Costa some breathing space as Vergne had recovered well by this point to climb back to second after taking his drive through penalty.
After dispatching the Mahindra of Jerome d’Ambrosio from second place, Vergne set about attacking da Costa on the final two laps, but the BMW i Andretti Motorsport driver cleverly used his Fanboost to defend his position to win the first race of Formula E’s ‘Gen2’ era.
Vergne was arguably the driver of the day, and aside from his stunning move to snatch the lead from da Costa, he made another almost identical move on Nissan e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi earlier in the race. Had it not been for his drive-through penalty, he would have likely begun his Formula E title defence with a well-earned and impressive victory.
D’Ambrosio secured a well fought third place on his Mahindra debut, while Mitch Evans climbed several places in the final third of the race after some good energy management, surviving late pressure to finish ahead of Lotterer and Buemi in their midfield scrap.
Brit Oliver Rowland performed well on his debut for Nissan e.dams, racing well with Audi’s Daniel Abt on course to seventh place, just three seconds behind teammate Buemi at the flag.
It was a disappointing day for last season’s teams champion Audi, with Abt only able to climb two places from his 11th place starting position to finish ninth, while teammate Lucas di Grassi survived a clash with compatriot Nelson Piquet on the final lap to win the battle for ninth place.
Virgin Racing just missed out on the points with Sam Bird and Robin Frijns climbing through the field to finish 11th and 12th respectively. The pair were awarded grid penalties for a technical infringement in qualifying and started the race near to the back of the grid.
Another two drivers to incur penalties were debutants Felipe Massa and Alexander Sims who each picked up penalties for the same reasons as the Techeetah teammates. Both Massa and Sims were running in the top 10 prior to their penalties, and ended the race in 14th and 18th place respectively.
Jose Maria Lopez looked set to convert his front row start into a podium finish and was running in the top three when he clipped the wall late on, resulting in the safety car being brought out to recover his stricken car.
Former McLaren Formula 1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne performed well on his Formula E debut, running in the points for the majority of the race, before an issue with the car dropped him down the field late on and he ended the race in 17th place.
Image Credit: Formula E
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