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.

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.

Alastair Staley / LAT Images

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.

Audi fly high as Mahindra hit trouble: Mexico City ePrix Race Report

Mexico City hosted its third ePrix at the famous Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City last weekend.

After the surprises in the inaugural race last year featuring a sublime energy-saving drive from last year’s champion Lucas Di Grassi and a duel between Jérôme D’Ambrosio and Jean-Éric Vergne, it was set to be another thrilling event on the motorsport calendar.

Di Grassi, still without points at this stage, had the misfortune of ending up in group 1 of qualifying. However, this did not deter the current champion as he lit up the timing screens purple, sending his Audi into the top spot, followed by Maro Engel’s Venturi and D’Ambrosio’s Dragon.

Though, this elation did not last long as group 2 – a formidable line up of Felix Rosenqvist, Sébastien Buemi, Sam Bird, Nelson Piquet and championship leader Vergne took to the track.

Rosenqvist wasted no time on his flying lap, snatching away P1 before an insurgent Buemi bit back and took the top spot away from the Swede, with Piquet and Bird slotting themselves into superpole contention.

Within group 3, António Félix Da Costa had a stormer, putting his Andretti into third position, with last year’s polesitter Oliver Turvey also impressing, depriving Vergne of a shot of superpole.

Group 4 also held promise with the likes of dark horses such as Mitch Evans and Daniel Abt and the best track conditions. However, a series of messy laps left everyone in mid-table positions and out of the superpole positions, leaving Buemi, Rosenqvist, Da Costa, Turvey and Alex Lynn to fight for the pole.

Lynn set the bar in superpole initially despite a looming penalty, with a respectable time of a 1.02.014. Turvey followed, slotting in behind Lynn after a scrappy lap. Da Costa had another excellent run, managing to place himself on provisional pole, much to the delight of his Andretti team.

However, two men stood in the way of his first official pole, two men who excel in qualifying and in claiming pole positions. Rosenqvist went first and pulled out a stellar lap, shaving two tenths off Da Costa’s time. Buemi was the last man standing, the only one capable of toppling a dominant Mahindra. However, a lap ridden with mistakes left him adrift in a lowly fifth and Rosenqvist picked up the three points and the bragging rights for starting on pole, followed by Da Costa, Lynn, Turvey and Buemi.

Da Costa’s elation at being on the front row did not last, however. He was given a penalty before the start for a underweight car, dropping him back to fourth, whilst Lynn took his grid penalty from the previous race for mechanical alterations on his car.

The race started with relative calmness as Rosenqvist held P1 and began to pull away from the chasing Turvey. Evans made quick work of André Lotterer’s Techeetah for P8 and Vergne swept past Da Costa, eager to keep his championship lead strong. Struggling Audi looked better in this race – Di Grassi despite his position and a ten second time penalty looming carved his way through the field in the early stages as Abt hunted down Buemi for P3.

However, the curse of Mexico struck once again as Rosenqvist’s car slowed to a stop, putting the leader of the race dead last and allowing Turvey to take the lead. Rosenqvist was able to get his Mahindra going again before it stopped again and he crawled to the pits to take his other car. Mahindra’s bad luck continued as Nick Heidfeld’s car also suffered mechanical problems, stopping mid race.

Audi, however, seemed invigorated. Spurred on by their recent troubles, Abt jumped Turvey in the pits, leading the NIO driver to fight against a charging Vergne and Buemi. Buemi used his fanboost to get past Vergne, eager to capture his first win of this season as he proceeded to hunt down Turvey, but the British driver proved a harder nut to crack.

Evans give way to Piquet in order to utilise the Brazilian’s drive and lower energy consumption. Piquet was able to edge past Vergne as he fought to collect his first podium since the inaugural season in which he became champion.

Di Grassi claimed fastest lap whilst out of the points paying position and set about clawing through the field to capture P10 and capture his first points of the season. As Di Grassi closed in on P10, Buemi and Piquet gave chase to Turvey as Abt continued to pull away.

Piquet forced Turvey to lock up into turn one but failed to get past his ex-teammate. Di Grassi managed to clinch P9, his first points since his disastrous title defence began as Abt finally claimed his first win of Formula E, followed by an impressive Turvey and Buemi.

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