Sébastien Buemi has continued his winning start to the 2016-17 Formula E season with victory in the Marrakesh ePrix, but it was Mahindra’s Felix Rosenqvist who stole the spotlight on race day.
Building on his promising Hong Kong debut, Rosenqvist hit the ground running in round two by fending off the likes of Buemi and Sam Bird as he flew to a maiden pole position in only his second ePrix. This put the Swede in the prime seat to command the race, and after seeing off Bird long before the braking zone for the first corner, Rosenqvist looked set to disappear into the Moroccan sunset.
But even after gathering a gap of several seconds in the opening laps, Rosenqvist’s lead was far from safe. Behind him, Buemi was making rapid progress as he sought to overcome the grid penalty that relegated him from second to seventh, and was clearly not prepared to bank on attrition helping him to the lead as it did in Hong Kong.
After taking a gifted position from teammate Prost, Buemi reeled in and passed Daniel Abt on lap 8 before joining the back of the battle for third between Nelson Piquet and Jean-Éric Vergne. Piquet then fell on lap 12 as Buemi’s Renault out-dragged the NextEV on the straight down to Turn 7.
Further up the road, Rosenqvist had opened up his lead to five seconds from Bird, who was forced to back off to defend from former teammate Vergne. Bird eventually yielded second easily as he conserved energy for a longer first stint – but by then their battle had allowed Buemi to draw up tight behind, and when the Swiss driver stayed out a lap later with Bird he was just close enough to pass the Briton and lead him into the pits on lap 17.
Now holding a net third, Buemi was restored to his original qualifying position of second when Vergne was hit with a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. With the road then clear ahead of him, the championship leader set his sights on the win.
Using the advantage of both his conservative first stint and his extra FanBoost power, Buemi cut down Rosenqvist’s lead with six laps to go – going around the outside at Turn 11, Buemi assumed the lead without contest and cruised home to take his second win in as many races.
But the pressure was still not off for Rosenqvist, as Bird took advantage of the Mahindra’s depleted energy reserves to steal second place with two laps remaining. Nevertheless, the Swede still had enough time in hand over fourth-placed Nico Prost to end the Marrakesh ePrix in third, his first Formula E podium.
Meanwhile, after serving his drive-through penalty Vergne emerged behind Prost and began a heated battle for fifth place with Lucas di Grassi. The Brazilian had been having a difficult race without the pace to challenge the leaders, but managed to pass Vergne’s Techeetah in the end.
The demands of fighting at the front on an aggressive energy strategy then hit Vergne as they did Rosenqvist, and before the chequered flag the Frenchman had fallen to eighth place behind Daniel Abt and Oliver Turvey. Nick Heidfeld, unable to match his teammate’s speed in Marrakesh, came home in a quiet ninth place, and DS Virgin’s José María López took his first Formula E point in tenth.
Andretti, Venturi Dragon and Jaguar ended the race with both cars outside of the top ten, though Dragon still picked up a solitary point with Loïc Duval, who finished three laps down in eighteenth place but set the fastest lap before the end.
James Matthews, Formula E editor