D’Ambrosio flies high whilst Da Costa and Sims tangle: Marrakesh ePrix report

With their two drivers occupying the two spots in the race, BMW i Andretti seemed set for another dominant victory in Marrakesh. Despite not taking pole, Antonio Felix da Costa and Alexander Sims swept through the field, taking advantage of Sam Bird and Jean-Eric Vergne’s opening lap clash. However, seven minutes from the chequered flag, the two BMWs collided into one another, sending Da Costa out of the race and Sims limping out of the podium positions. Mahindra’s Jerome D’Ambrosio took advantage of the clash to claim his third win of Formula E, and his first that did not involve disqualification.

Da Costa took first blood in the first qualifying group with an impressive 1.17.950, narrowly beating out Vergne. Lotterer also looked set to challenge the BMW, but a mistake in turn 7 left him in a lowly P5. As track conditions improved, Nissan’s Sebastien Buemi snatched the top spot away, forcing his way comfortably into superpole. Audi looked competitive initially, but both drivers made crucial mistakes in the final sector, leaving them out of the top six spots.

In contrast, their customer team Virgin Racing continued with their impressive form throughout the weekend as Sam Bird claimed P1 and Robin Frijns edged into P6. However, there was further drama in the pitlane as the NIO of Tom Dillmann ended up clattering into both Virgin cars, causing damage to their diffusers. The final group did little to trouble Bird and Buemi, with the exception of Sims who scored his first superpole appearance to the expense of Pascal Wehrlein on his maiden race with Mahindra.

Vergne managed to post the fastest time of qualifying so far in superpole, his time of 1.17.535 was enough to dispatch Mitch Evans from the top spot. Da Costa ended up less than a tenth of a second behind Vergne, with his teammate Sims performing well to slot in behind the championship leader. However, it was Sam Bird who clinched the all-important top spot and the valuable three points to kickstart his season.

Credit: Alastair Staley / LAT Images

The chaos started early as Vergne collided with Bird at the start as the pair duelled for the lead. The contact sent Vergne’s Techeetah to the back of the grid, forcing the current champion to force his way back through the pack. In the fracas of the opening lap, Buemi dropped from third back to thirteenth, whilst Sims was able to pick up second place, just behind his teammate da Costa who had started sixth after a penalty for energy overuse. Lotterer, who was also suffering from a penalty that relegated him to the back, slowly climbed the ranks as did the Audi of di Grassi, but not before collecting Wehrlein and sending the German out of the race. HWA’s bad luck also continued as Paffett and Vandoorne both collided in the opening lap, sending the former out of the race with a puncture.

Da Costa soon dispatched of Sims before snatching the lead away from a struggling Bird on the tenth lap. Sims followed his teammate through and the pair began to pull away from the chasing Virgin cars and the lone Mahindra of D’Ambrosio who managed to bypass a sleeping di Grassi and Bird shortly afterwards. The Techeetah cars of Vergne and Lotterer too began to gain ground, with the pair occupying P8 and P9 with under twenty minutes left on the clock.

Credit: Sam Bloxham/ LAT Images

The lead that the two leading BMWs built up soon disappeared as many cars began to use up their mandatory attack modes, and on lap 25, Sims decided to attempt to snatch the lead away from his teammate. However, team principal Mark Preston could only look on in horror as the two banged wheels, colliding and sending Da Costa into the barriers, along with the chance of the team’s first ever 1-2. Sims climbed back into P4 as D’Ambrosio inherited the lead ahead of the Virgin cars of Frijns and Bird. Da Costa’s stricken car summoned the only safety car of the entire race. Like in Ad Diriyah, the drivers with one attack mode remaining seemed to be at an advantage, including the two Techeetahs of Vergne and Lotterer, and the lone BMW of Sims sitting behind the podium positions, who all hoped to use their last line of attack to climb the standings.

However, Da Costa’s car remained on the track as the clock ticked down and only one lap remained when the safety car period ended. Despite most of the cars running out of their attack mode whilst following the safety car, D’Ambrosio and Frijns engaged in a thrilling duel until the finish line with the Dutchman finishing only 0.143s behind D’Ambrosio, who continued in his excellent form, propelling him to the top of the championship. Bird finished in the final podium position, followed by Sims who managed to hold off the dual attack of Vergne and Lotterer.

Formula E returns to Santiago on January 26th.

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