Lucas di Grassi crashes then wins chaotic Mexico City ePrix
How do you beat Sebastien Bumei? Start 15th and wreck on Lap 1, apparently.
Buemi had won the opening three rounds of the 2016-2017 FIA Formula E season, but Lucas di Grassi put an end to that streak on Saturday when he took his first win of the season at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez at the Mexico City ePrix.
Oliver Turvey had led the field away for the first of 45 laps Saturday afternoon while Di Grassi started all the way back in 15th place. Turvey had initially qualified second but picked up pole when fastest qualifier Daniel Abt was sent to the back of the field for running illegal tire pressures during qualifying.
On the opening lap, Di Grassi’s race looked to come undone when Maro Engel got into the back of his ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport machine, causing both cars to sustain heavy damage.
Debris from the incident led to the Safety Car being deployed, which allowed the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team to call Di Grassi in and repair the rear win on his car. Di Grassi returned to the track but he was at the back of the field.
When the Safety Car came back in, it was birthday boy Oliver Turvey leading them away again.
However, it all came undone on Lap 14 when Turvey’s NEXTEV NIO car coasted to a halt while leading the race. This allowed Jose Maria Lopez to inherit the lead after starting second in his DS Virgin Racing machine.
Turvey’s car had came to a rest on course, triggering the second Safety Car period of the race.
Even though it was only Lap 17, both Jerome d’Ambrosio and Di Grassi elected to pit while under the Safety Car, although it looked unlikely that they would be able to conserve enough energy to last the remaining 28 laps.
Lopez led the field back to green on Lap 19 and held it until he pitted on Lap 25. After the stops, he found himself back in third behind Di Grassi and d’Ambrosio, who had both pitted on Lap 17 under the Safety Car but had a lot less usable energy for the remainder of the race.
A third Safety Car period – deployed after Loic Duval’s car came to a halt on track – didn’t help matters. Although it helped Di Grassi and d’Ambrosio conserve energy, it also meant that the cars that had just pit – led by Lopez and Jean-Eric Vergne – were now right on their rear wings with much more energy.
Di Grassi led the field back to green on Lap 31, and he and d’Ambrosio were aided when Lopez and Vergne began fighting for third place, wasting their energy on battling each other.
Lopez eventually ran d’Ambrosio down for second, however. But, on Lap 35, it all came undone for Lopez when he attempted a pass on the outside of Turn 1 and locked up his rear brakes, spinning around and losing multiple positions. Just seconds later, Sebastien Buemi did the same thing, dropping him out of a points finish for the first time this season, having won the opening three rounds.
D’Ambrosio continued to hold off a train of cars with more energy, allowing Di Grassi to pull away for the victory. Leading the train was Vergne, who made it clear that he was less-than-pleased with d’Ambrosio’s defensive driving.
Eventually Vergne did get by, as did Bird for third, while drama struck a couple of places back as Nico Prost spun Nick Heidfeld while battling for fifth with three laps to go. Heidfeld’s car was then hit by that of his Mahindra Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist, ending the day on a sad note for a team that had had both cars running solidly in the top 10.
The race all went south for d’Ambrosio in the closing stages too as he ran out of energy and thus dropped to the back of the pack.
Meanwhile, up front, Di Grassi was unchallenged for the victory.
“We managed to do an incredible energy-wise race to bring the car home,” said Di Grassi following the race. “After the pit stop I thought I could eventually make it because I had a big gap, but after the second pit stop [followed by the third Safety Car period] everybody closed up and I had much less energy.
“That shows how Formula E can switch really from Heaven to Hell in one go. I had a bad qualifying, started 15th, had to do a tail change, I was last and then managed to win.”
Unofficial race results:
1. Lucas di Grassi
2. Jean-Eric Vergne
3. Sam Bird
4. Mitch Evans
5. Nico Prost
6. Jose Maria Lopez
7. Daniel Abt
8. Adam Carroll
9. Nelson Piquet Jr.
10. Esteban Gutierrez
11. Robin Frijns
12. Nick Heidfeld
13. Jerome d’Ambrosio
14. Sebastien Buemi
15. Stephane Sarrazin
16. Felix Rosenqvist
17. Maro Engel
18. Antonio Felix da Costa
19. Loic Duval
20. Oliver Turvey