Buemi takes victory in Beijing ePrix as Formula E Season 2 kicks off

Switzerland’s Sébastien Buemi took the honours at the 2015 Beijing ePrix, the opening round of the 2015-16 FIA Formula E season.

The Renault e.Dams driver finished 11 seconds clear of nearest rival Lucas di Grassi, who won the same race – the series’ inaugural event – last year, and behind him finished Nick Heidfeld, whose spectacular crash with Nico Prost in Beijing 2014 brought the race to a close.

It might well have been an e.Dams double-podium, but Buemi’s team mate Prost had a bizarre aerodynamic failure that left his rear wing dangling off the back of his car.

Due to the lack of downforce required on FE cars, his pace was not really affected, but the Marshals deemed his car’s condition too dangerous, and he duly came in to retire the car with three laps to go.

Sébastien Buemi and e.Dams Renault looked in total control in China.
Sébastien Buemi and e.Dams Renault looked in total control in China.

The race started well for Buemi, who had taken the first ever ‘SuperPole’, a newly-added fifth Qualifying session.

For 2015, Four groups of five drivers are randomly selected in a lottery draw, and these four groups go out separately (to minimise traffic) to set lap times and decide the grid. However, the fastest drivers from each group are now grouped together for the final session, and they get a chance to improve their time, and attempt to take ‘SuperPole’.

His prime starting position meant he was in great shape at the first corner, but team mate Prost locked up and lost second place to Nick Heidfeld. He did exactly the same thing on Lap 2, and that handed third place to Lucas di Grassi.

Lap 3 saw the first ever Full course yellow (FCY) for Formula E, whereby yellow flags to curb drivers’ speed are shown all around the track while an incident is cleared.

The incident in question was that of FE debutant Simona de Silvestro. The sport’s leading lady locked up and clouted the barriers hard, ending her first race on a low.

After two laps, the FCY ended, and immediately Sébastien Buemi took off into the distance; his pace in this stint culminating in a 14.9 second lead at the pit stops and eventually, the win.

Formula E batteries are still not capable of running an entire race, so the compulsory car swaps remain. On lap 14 most cars – including the frontrunners – came in for their swaps, and it was here that another swap occurred – di Grassi slipped past Heidfeld.

1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve caused another FCY when he collided with Team Aguri’s Antonio Felix da Costa. The Uruguayan ePrix winner of Season 1 was out on the spot, but the Canadian veteran continued.

Season 1 Champion Nelson Piquet Jr had a tough race, languishing in 9th for much of the race, and then suffering a mechanical issue two laps from the finish.

The Dragon racing cars looked spirited at the end of the race, with fourth-placed Loic Duval bearing down on Nick Heidfeld for the final podium position. Jerome d’Ambrosio in the sister Dragon in fifth also looked racy and fancied his chances against Duval on the last lap, but there was not quite enough time remaining, and the trio finished where they were.

Buemi up ahead had created a monstrous gap to di Grassi in second, to take the first win of the season, and the second of his electric career.

This gave him 25 points, as well as three points for Pole Position, and two points for fastest lap, resulting in a highest possible total of 30 points.

Classification

1) Sébastien Buemi, e.Damns Renault
2) Lucas di Grassi, Abt Shaeffler Audi
3) Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra
4) Loic Duval, Dragon racing
5) Jerome d’Ambrosio, Dragon racing
6) Oliver Turvey, NEXTEV China Racing
7) Sam Bird, DS Virgin
8) Nathaniel Berthon, Team Aguri
9) Daniel Abt, Abt Schaeffler Audi
10) Stephane Sarrazin, Venturi
11) Robin Frijns, Amlin Andretti
12) Jean-Eric Vergne, DS Virgin
13) Bruno Senna, Mahindra
14) Jacques Villenueve, Venturi (+1 Lap)
15) Nelson Piquet Jr, NEXTEV Team China (+2 Laps)

Retired

Nicolas Prost, e.Dams Renault (Rear wing)
Antonio Felix da Costa, Team Aguri (Collision)
Simona de Silvestro, Amlin Andretti (Collision)

The next race is on November 7 2015 in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

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Da Cost’ of crashing great in Buenos Aires

Antonio Felix da Costa took victory at the 4th race of Formula E’s first ever season in Argentina. The Portuguese youngster managed to keep clear of trouble in a race that saw two different race leaders retire and a third get demoted with a penalty, to take his and Amlin Aguri’s first win in the series.

Before I begin, please let me emphasise that the best way to understand how epic this race was is to actually watch it. Check out the entire race on YouTube; it’s sublime!

PRACTICE & QUALIFYING

Practice 1 saw the drivers get to learn the track. The challenging Turns 10-11-and-12 complex leading on to the final straight caught out a few drivers. Jean-Eric Vergne tagged the wall with his rear wheel early on, and Nelson Piquet Jr hit it much harder later on, breaking his front wing.

Practice 2 also featured a lot of drivers getting close to the same wall, including Daniel Abt, but he didn’t cause much damage to his car. One person who was not as fortunate was Stephane Sarrazin. He, like many drivers, found the heavy braking zones of Turns 1 & 6 difficult, but couldn’t get the car turned in and walloped the wall at the latter, destroying his car.

E.Dams Renault driver, and winner of the previous race Sebastian Buemi took Pole position in the Qualifying session, with his old Toro Rosso team mate Jaime Alguersuari alongside him in second. Jarno Trulli was the only driver not to set a time, and so he started from 20th.

RACE

At the start, Nick Heidfeld pounced on a slow-starting Jaime Alguersuari, diving down the inside at the first corner to take second place. If his statement of intent was not clear enough already, he then set about harrying Pole man Sebastian Buemi.

On lap 2, ‘Quick Nick’ immediately used his Fan Boost (An extra 30 Kilowatts of power for 5 seconds) to try and overpower the Swiss native, but he couldn’t find a way past.

Seven laps into the race, third-placed Alguersuari was causing a bit of a train. Lucas di Grassi took advantage of this, and overtook him at the first corner hairpin. This caused the group of cars they were leading to bunch up, and because of that, Antonio Felix da Costa managed to get past Jean-Eric Vergne as well.

An unprecedented victory makes da Cost' of racing all worth it. (Sorry)
An unprecedented victory makes da Cost’ of racing all worth it. Antonio dances through the sandy streets of Punta del Este, December 2014.

Fast forward to lap 14, and Heidfeld’s early pace had faded. He used too much of his power up trying to pass Buemi, and fell victim to di Grassi. In the same way as before, the pack bunched up, and Sam Bird also got past him too. Amlin Aguri’s da Costa also challenged Heidfeld (now 5th) but had to bide his time, for a while at least.

Karun Chandhok closed the first half of the race when his Mahindra’s suspension buckled going over the bumps at Turn 9. He lost control of the car and hit the wall, and the Safety Car was deployed.

From here on, the race got pretty crazy. Since it was the half-way point, most drivers were ready to swap cars as is customary in Formula E, but the timing of the Safety Car made this a confusing mess. Lapped cars were stuck in between people on the lead lap, and eventually, the race organisers decided to let everyone overtake the Safety Car so that they could re-form behind it in the correct order.

After a ridiculous seven laps, normal order was restored. Buemi led the pack into the last 12 laps, but set the worst example a leader possibly could – crashing. It was barely more than a nibble at the wall at the turn 8 chicane, but his suspension snapped in half. His despair was broadcast instantly, with his team radio cry of “Aww noooo! I hit the wall!” illustrating the scenario perfectly.

That left Lucas di Grassi in charge of proceedings on lap 24. The man behind him was Sam Bird, but not for long – he left the pits when the red light was on, and got a drive-through penalty.

His job of getting back to the front was made a little easier later on lap 26, when di Grassi’s suspension broke in identical circumstances to Chandhok’s, 10 laps earlier. That left Bird at the front, but his penalty (served on lap 28) dropped him way down the order. Nick Heidfeld then led.

Vergne attacked Alguersuari for third place, and on lap 33, he hit the back of him. It damaged vergne’s nose slightly, but for now, he carried on in third place behind da Costa and Heidfeld.

Heidfeld was then awarded a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. As soon as he peeled in to the pits on Lap 33, da Costa took the lead, and he was the one that managed to hold onto it. But the podium positions were not even close to being decided.

Vergne and Alguersuari occupied the bottom two steps on Lap 34, but as the former defended turn 1 from the latter, he locked up. Both went wide, and that meant Prost, Abt and Piquet were right behind them.

The first corner of the final lap was to be perhaps the most chaotic of the weekend. Vergne defended his second place from Prost, who had just passed Alguersuari, who was himself just ahead of Piquet and Abt. Vergne braked too late; Prost got past him; Abt smashed into the back of Alguersuari; Piquet sneaked through into third place.

Alguersuari dragged his heavily-damaged Virgin car over the finish line in 4th, despite the rear suspension making the car drive diagonally instead of straight. Vergne recovered to take sixth, but Abt was out.

While all that was going on, Antonio Felix da Costa calmly took his and Amlin’s first victory, something the team did not think possible at the start of the season.

FINISHING POSITIONS

1) A Felix da Costa, Amlin Aguri
2) N Prost, e.dams Renault
3) N Piquet Jr, China Racing
4) J Alguersuari, Virgin Racing
5) B Senna, Mahindra Racing
6) J-E Vergne, Andretti Autosport
7) S Bird, Virgin Racing
8) N Heidfeld, Venturi
9) O Servia, Dragon Racing
10) S Sarrazin, Venturi
11) H-P Tung, China Racing
12) M Andretti, Andretti Autosport
13) D Abt, Audi Sport ABT (Retired Lap 34, Collision damage)
14) J d’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing

OUT/UNCLASSIFIED

J Trulli, Trulli GP
L di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT (Suspension Failure)
S Buemi, e.dams Renault (Collision damage)
M Cerruti, Trulli GP
K Chandhok, Mahindra Racing (Suspension failure)

DISQUALIFIED

S Duran, Amlin Aguri (Power)*

*Salvador Duran was disqualified for using more than his allotted energy during the race.

Vergne joins Andretti as Battersea Park gets the nod

Out-of-luck Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne has left his Formula 1 home for the last three years, Toro Rosso. He is to race for Andretti Autosport’s Formula E outfit in the Uruguayan ePrix this weekend.

Montagny tests the Andretti machine at Donnington. Photo taken from electricalautosport.com
Montagny tests for Andretti at Donnington; now Vergne’s seat. Photo credit: electricalautosport.com

Vergne tested for the team in 2011’s Abu Dhabi Young Driver test, and has occupied a race seat alongside Daniel Ricciardo, and Daniil Kvyat. However, he has had to watch the agonising sight of both Dans progressing to Red Bull, replacing Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel respectively.

17-year-old Max Verstappen is to replace the Frenchman at Toro Rosso for 2015. With a second vacant seat at the team, there were hopes that JEV could cling on to the second seat, but it has now been announced that Carlos Sainz Jr will take it, with car number 55.

Presumably, we can refer to him as Carlo55ainz.

Hold your applause. No please, don’t get up.

With Vergne’s move to Formula E, someone from that series has to move out. That someone is Franck Montagny. Andretti’s line-up has been all over the place so far. First, Pic and Montagny headed the team, until Pic was swapped for Matthew Brabham. Now, Montagny moves aside for his compatriot Vergne to compete.

Katherine Legge has also been swapped out at Amlin Aguri. The Brit has proved popular among fans, gaining the FanBoost privilege in both of the first two races; clearly that will not be the case in Punta del Este.

Rather than a contractual issue, or a lack of performance, Legge is unable to drive at the Uruguayan ePrix due to testing the revolutionary Delta Wing in Daytona.

In her place, Mexican Salvador Duran will drive.

China racing also made a driver swap, replacing Ho-Pin Tung for Antonio Garcia.

LONDON ePRIX

Finally, London’s Battersea Park Circuit has also been given the green light to host the final round of the season in June. Wandsworth Council approved the site, as long as planning permission with the FIA goes through.

It is thought that two races will be held that weekend. Click here to read more.

Driver replacing for China Racing

Antonio Garcia is to replace China Racing’s Ho-Pin Tung for the Uruguayan ePrix in Punta del Este, and presumably the rest of the season.

Garcia – of Spain – has enjoyed a trio of wins in the historic 24 hours of Le Mans, in the GT1 category (2008, 2009) and GTE-Pro (2011) and will partner Nelsinho Piquet, China Racing’s other, more permanent driver.

Since then, he has partnered Jordan Taylor, and Jan Magnusson (father of Kevin) with whom he scored a second-place in 2014’s event.

Tung is the only Chinese driver in the series currently, driving for a Chinese-backed team. Unfortunately for Ting, the People’s Republic has not embraced their population’s potential to vote for him in the Fanboost competition, where three drivers are awarded the use of extra energy three times during the race.

Team China Racing, Formula E car on Westminster Bridge
Tung must unfortunately vacate the handsome-looking China racing car.

 

It was thought that China’s insurmountable headcount of almost 1.4 billion would aid their man towards extra power, but so far this has not been the case, with Katherine Legge (x2), Bruno Senna (x2), Lucas do Grassi and Nick Heidfeld the only recipients of it so far.

Tung has failed thus far to score any points, racing to a lowly 16th – and last – place at his home ePrix in Beijing. He finished just outside of the points in Malaysia’s event in 11th place.

Di Grassi wins following huge Prost/Heidfeld crash

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.

QUAL-E

(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.

stadium bird nest

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.

E-PRIX

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.

PENALTIES

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.

FINISHING POSITIONS

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

OUT/ UNCLASSIFIED

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.