Da Costa frustrates Vergne to claims BMW’s first win: Ad Diriyah ePrix report

In spite of the heavy rain that blighted the opening round of the new season of Formula E, Antonio Felix da Costa finally ended BMW i Andretti’s trophy drought in the inaugural Ad Diriyah ePrix last weekend. After taking a dominant pole in the reduced qualifying session, he was relatively untroubled in the race and took advantage of a time penalty applied to Techeetah rival Jean-Eric Vergne to claim his second win in Formula E and the first for BMW as a full-works team.

Qualifying was a much reduced affair due to the worsening weather. The drivers were split into two groups as opposed to the usual four. NIO’s Tom Dillmann was first on track and bizarrely stayed out for twenty laps instead of the allocated three, giving him a drive through penalty mid-way through the race. As the clock ticked down, the drivers trickled out onto the track. Vergne and the Audi’s of di Grassi and Abt struggled in the tricky conditions whilst Da Costa jumped to the top of the timing screens with a 1.17.728.  The conditions did not improve for the second group which included ex F1 drivers Felipe Massa and Stoffel Vandoorne. The latter managed an impressive P5 in his maiden qualifying session. Andre Lotterer looked like he may trouble the Portuguese driver but was blighted by Maxi Gunther’s Dragon stopping on track and Felix Rosenqvist going off on the final corner. With a lack of superpole due to the delayed session, Da Costa clinched the pole ahead of Dillmann, Lopez and Buemi.

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At least five drivers were sent to the back of the grid for various infractions, creating a mixed grid at the beginning of the race. Da Costa held the lead despite a pit-box malfunction as Buemi dispatched of Lopez at the start. Mortara seemed to echo the opening round of last season by slamming into the wall. He managed to limp back onto the track but the damage was already done. The Techeetahs showcased that despite the change in powertrain, they still remain as quick as ever with Vergne and Lotterer making their way up the field to pick off Lopez and slot themselves into P3 and P4.

Rosenqvist’s bad luck continued as he ended up finishing his final race with Mahindra on the sidelines, crashing with 30 minutes to go. Gary Paffett’s HWA also decided to give up at turn 10, effectively ending his race. Vergne on the other hand, made his way past a struggling Buemi to snatch P2 away and begin the pursuit of Da Costa.

It didn’t take long for Vergne to force his way past da Costa’s BMW, taking the lead around the outside of turn 18. Da Costa seemed to struggle against the battling Techeetahs with Lotterer soon on his gearbox, pushing for presumably a team 1-2. Lopez and Buemi duelled over P4, but they both fell victim to an opportunistic Jerome D’Ambrosio who had managed to gain ground during their battle.

Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

With Vergne in the lead and Lotterer advancing on da Costa, another Techeetah win seemed likely. However, their luck soon changed as both drivers were hit with drive-through penalties allowing da Costa to retake the lead. Emerging in fourth position, the reigning champion fought his way back through the field to trouble da Costa as the minutes ticked down.

Lopez sent himself out of the race after missing the attack mode activation zone twice. With eight minutes to go, the safety car was brought out. As the race restarted, many of the drivers activated their second mandatory attack mode in an attempt to climb up the standings. Vergne was able to dispatch D’Ambrosio whilst using up the last of his attack mode, whilst his teammate Lotterer snatched P5 from Buemi. Da Costa was able to hold on from a prowling Vergne with help from his fanboost to clinch the win, his first in over three seasons and his first with BMW i Andretti, ahead of Vergne and D’Ambrosio.

The second round of the Formula E season will return on January 12th in Marrakesh.

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