Di Grassi defies odds to win Mexico City thriller

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Mexico City ePrix, Autodromo Hermanos Rodr’guez, Mexico City, Mexico.
Saturday 1 April 2017.
Lucas Di Grassi (BRA), ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, Spark-Abt Sportsline, ABT Schaeffler FE02.
Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _56I7110

Lucas di Grassi has put an end to Sébastien Buemi’s run of consecutive Formula E victories, by taking the chequered flag in a Mexico City ePrix that saw drama at every turn.

When the race began, it didn’t look as though di Grassi would have much of a part to play. After qualifying in a lowly eighteenth position, the Brazilian made contact with his teammate Daniel Abt and Venturi’s Maro Engel on the first lap and had to pit to replace his rear wing.

Meanwhile, all eyes were on the front of the field, where the lead of the race was being contested by polesitter Oliver Turvey and a chasing José María López. The two were able to make their battle a private affair as the likes of Vergne, Bird and Buemi bunched up behind Nick Heidfeld in third, but despite piling on consistent pressure López was unable to find a way past Turvey.

But at quarter-distance, the Mexico City ePrix took its first twist as Turvey broke down on the start-finish straight, allowing López to assume the race lead by two seconds from Heidfeld and Vergne.

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Mexico City ePrix, Autodromo Hermanos Rodr’guez, Mexico City, Mexico.
Saturday 1 April 2017.
Jose Maria Lopez (ARG), DS Virgin Racing, Spark-Citroen, Virgin DSV-02.
Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _56I7014

However, just as with Turvey, López’s lead was not to last. Whilst the safety car was out for Turvey’s stricken NextEV, the Abt team gambled on an ambitious strategy for di Grassi, calling him in from the back of the field on just lap seventeen.

This gave di Grassi the tall order of driving another 28 laps in his second car, but it also gave him invaluable track position: when the rest of the field pitted at the conventional halfway mark, di Grassi assumed the lead from Jérôme d’Ambrosio—who had also stopped under the earlier safety car—with half a lap back to López, now in third.

And despite having considerably less energy than the former leading pack behind him, di Grassi was able to maintain his advantage until the end as d’Ambrosio’s defence of second place acted as a roadblock for López and Vergne.

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City, Mexico
Friday 31 March 2017.
Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _J6I6039

The battle for second was ultimately resolved in Vergne’s favour, after López spun off under pressure at turn one and d’Ambrosio ran out of energy on the final lap, and Vergne’s former Virgin teammate Sam Bird finished third for his second podium of the season.

Mahindra had looked set for a solid double points finish just off the podium, until Heidfeld was hit in the closing stages by Nico Prost and sent spinning into the path of his teammate Felix Rosenqvist. This allowed Mitch Evans through to take a remarkable fourth place for Jaguar, collecting his and the team’s first Formula E points.

Prost then came through in fifth despite his collision with Heidfeld, ahead of López in sixth and Daniel Abt in seventh. Adam Carroll compounded a strong finish for Jaguar with a further four points for eighth, and the final points positions were rounded out by NextEV’s Nelson Piquet, and series debutant Esteban Gutiérrez.

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Mexico City ePrix, Autodromo Hermanos Rodr’guez, Mexico City, Mexico.
Saturday 1 April 2017.
Mitch Evans (NZL), Jaguar Racing, Spark-Jaguar, Jaguar I-Type 1.
Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _56I5722

Championship leader Sébastien Buemi suffered a dismal race by his own recent standards, qualifying down in ninth and losing places in the pitlane to come home just fourteenth, albeit with one point for setting the fastest lap.

The results from Mexico City now see Buemi’s title lead cut down to just five points from di Grassi, with a further 25 points back to Prost and Vergne’s tussle for third. In the teams’ standings, Renault e.Dams remains ahead of Abt Schaeffler Audi, whilst Jaguar gets on the board with sixteen points, and Mahindra slumps to fifth behind DS Virgin and Techeetah.

James Matthews, Formula E editor

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