Audi Sport ABT’s Lucas di Grassi inherited victory at the first ever Formula E race on Saturday in Beijing, China. The Brazilian was third, until leader Nicolas Prost moved over in to the path of Nick Heidfeld (who was attempting to pass for the lead) and caused both cars to retire. The incident caused Heidfeld’s car to launch over a kerb and somersault into the air, resulting in a crumpled mess of carbon fibre. Thankfully, the German was not too badly hurt, suffering a bruised shin in the carnage.
(In the future, this will be a separate article; I didn’t get a chance to watch Qualifying on this occasion)
Formula E’s first ever race was set in the Chinese capital, on a street circuit near to the Bird’s nest stadium used in the 2008 Olympics.
Nicolas Prost grabbed pole position in the first electric Qualifying session, closely followed by both of the Audi Sport ABT drivers; di Grassi and Abt. Problems for Trulli, Senna and Sarrazin left them well off the pace, over thirty seconds adrift of the pole man’s time.
At the start, Nick Heidfeld was the first to make a move, surging past Karun Chandhok to get in to fourth place. Franck Montagny squeezed past his team mate Charles Pic at the second corner, almost pushing the Ex-Marussia driver in to the wall. As Pic avoided the barrier, a few cars got bunched up behind. Takuma Sato was one such driver, and behind him, Bruno Senna had nowhere to go, destroying his front-left suspension when he his the back of the Amlin Car.
The cars continued to race round behind leader Nico Prost, but the Safety Car was called out, allowing the cars to conserve a little more power.
Jarno Trulli couldn’t get going at the start, and was left stranded on the grid with no power. Ho-Pin Tung started from the pit lane. He did suffer a few setbacks, but got going again; albeit a lap down.
On Lap 5, Franck Montagny passed Alguersauri. The overtake closed the mid-pack up, and then the Spaniard’s Virgin Racing team mate, Sam Bird got a pass on him too.
On Lap 6 Nelson Piquet Jr was robbed of his position, firstly by Oriol Servia in the Dragon Racing Machine, and then at the next turn by Takuma Sato. Piquet and Sato fought tooth and nail for the next couple of laps, but the Japanese driver remained ahead.
For the middle of the race, the fastest man on track was Andretti star Franck Montagny. He set the fastest lap (for a while) early on in the race, and on lap 10, relieved Karun Chandhok of 5th place at the final corner.
Jaime Alguersuari made history in 2009 as the youngest driver in F1. In Formula E, he took the less-sought after but equally important distinction of being the first FE driver to make a car change-pit stop. The Virgin team got him back out in just under two minutes, not bad considering the minimum pit lane time was 1 minute 47, rougly one lap of the circuit.
Lap 14 saw car changes for most of the leaders, including Prost, di Grassi, Abt, Heidfeld, Montagny and most of the mid-pack too. Sam Bird was 6th and led the race for one lap as he opted to come in later.
Unfortunately for Sebastien Buemi, Lap 14 was as far as he could go. The Swiss had a gearbox failure in Qualifying, and so only had one operational car. Rear wing damage on his functioning vehicle only cemented his problem.
Prost became the leader again after all the changes took place. Most cars remained in position, however, swift work from Venturi Grand Prix got Heidfeld ahead of both Audi Sport Abt cars and Franck Montagny, putting the German in 2nd. Sam Bird ended up in 6th, so while he didn’t gain or lose anything, he did have an extra lap of power in his battery.
Trulli GP’s terrible day went from bad to worse, as their sole remaining driver, Michela Cerruti received a drive-through penalty for leaving the pits too quickly. Coupled with the team’s namesake driver n0t even making it off the grid, it was a debut to forget.
Lap 21 saw a repeat of Lap 6 for Nelsinho Piquet, as whe was once again overtaken by Servia and Sato. His demise was confirmed by the ease at which the two passed him, but when Sarrazin and d’Ambrosio blasted past straight afterwards, it seemed to indicate that something was wrong with his car.
As the last few laps approached, di Grassi and Montagny fell away from the leading duo somewhat. Heidfeld and Prost remained nose-to-tail. The German was three seconds behind with four laps to go; but the half seconds chipped away, and by the last lap was less than a second behind the son of the man who gave him his first F1 seat, with Prost-Acer back in 2000.
Heidfeld’s black and red Venturi swarmed the rear wing of young Nico’s blue and yellow e.DAMS for the entire last lap. The chance came from the 19th and penultimate corner on the circuit. Quick Nick carried great momentum through turn 19, and coming down the straight towards turn 20, he pulled alongside, making a move for the inside of the final corner.
Prost attempted to block him, but did so far too late, and jerked his car to the left, crippling Heidfeld’s front-right wheel. With a lack of steering, Heidfeld began to slide sideways along the track. As the momentum of his car increased, he bashed against the front left wheel of Prost, taking him out of the race. Heidfeld hit a kerb as he slid, which pitched him into the air, and caused him to hit the barrier top-first. The destroyed Venturi flipped in the air and crashed back down to earth.
Thankfully, Heidfeld was perfectly okay (apart from a sore calf muscle) but his mood was not, and he sprinted over to Prost to let him know how he felt. Amazingly, Prost did not take the blame until later that evening on Twitter, citing that was “turning in for the corner”.
While all that was going on, the rest of the pack filtered through to complete the race, handing victory to Audi Sport ABT’s Lucas di Grassi, followed by speedy Frenchman Franck Montagny, and the race winner’s team mate Daniel Abt came through in third.
In Formula E, you are allowed to use 28 Kilowatts of power during the race. The penalty for exceeding this usage is a 57-second time penalty (for some reason) and so Katherine Legge, Jaime Alguersuari, and third-place finisher Daniel Abt were all demoted after the race. Legge suffered with radio problems during the race and so couldn’t be updated on her power consumption.
I contacted motorsport journalist Will Buxton to ask why the penalties were the amount they were, although his answer wasn’t quite as helpful as I had hoped:
Nevertheless, it was nice to get a reply from one of the industry’s most well-respected writers/commentators.
1) Lucas Di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT
2) Franck Montagny, Andretti Autosport
3) Sam Bird, Virgin Racing
4) Charles Pic, Andretti Autosport
5) Karun Chandhok, Mahindra Racing
6) Jerome d’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing
7) Oriol Servia, Dragon Racing
8) Nelson Piquet Jr
9) Stephane Sarrazin, Venturi Racing
10) Daniel Abt, Audi Sport ABT
11) Jaime Alguersuai, Virgin Racing
12) Nicolas Prost, e.DAMS Renault
13) Nick Heidfeld, Venturi
14) Michela Cerruti, Trulli GP
15) Katherine Legge, Amlin Aguri
16) Hu-Tun Ping
Nick Heidfeld, Venturi (Collision)
Nicolas Prost, e.DAMS Renault (Collision)
Takuma Sato, Amlin Aguri (Driveshaft)
Sebastien Buemi, e.DAMS Renault (Gearbox)
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing (Collision)
Jarno Trulli, Trulli GP (Power failure)
The next race is on Saturday, November 22, and will take place at the Putrajaya Street Circuit in Malaysia.
Nico Prost will take a 10-place grid penalty to the event for his incident with Nick Heidfeld.