Jean-Eric Vergne finally ended his pointless run and the miserable start to his championship defence by claiming victory in a dominant display in the inaugural Sanya ePrix this weekend. Starting from the front row, the reigning champion pounced on Nissan’s Oliver Rowland on lap 19 and held firm against the rookie’s attack to clinch his first win since last season. The race also saw another change in the standings at the top of the table as championship leader Sam Bird was forced out of the race in the early stages, allowing Antonio Felix da Costa to clinch the coveted position as we approach the halfway point in the season.
BMW’s da Costa continued his dominant form in qualifying, initially claiming the top spot whilst his championship competitors struggled with Bird slowest in the first group, seventh tenths off the pace and di Grassi also half a second down on da Costa’s time. Jaguar’s headache continued with Evans tagged the wall and collected part of the sponsorship on his 200kw lap, leaving him at the lower end of the table whilst teammate Nelson Piquet Jr also struggled. Vergne finally managed to slot himself into the coveted superpole positions just behind da Costa and Audi’s Daniel Abt but it was Nissan that impressed in the initial session with both Sebastien Buemi and Rowland both managing to get into superpole, with Buemi snatching the top spot from da Costa by two tenths of a second. The Nissan drivers were joined in superpole by da Costa, Sims, Vergne and Abt.
Nissan’s dominance continued into superpole with Rowland taking his maiden pole position for the team, edging just ahead of Vergne by just over a second with the reigning champion having to settle for the front row. Da Costa looked promising but a messy mistake in the final corner proved costly and the Portuguese driver had to settle for third. Abt snatched P4 ahead of Sims and Buemi, with the former failing to set a lap time after suspected gear issues, whilst the latter made a mistake into turn 3, forcing him to abort his lap 25 seconds off the pace.
Rowland started well, managing to keep Vergne at bay in the opening stages as Abt began to pressure da Costa for P3 almost immediately. Bird’s misery continued after a clash with HWA’s Stoffel Vandoorne ruled him out of the race in the early stages, whilst Dragon also suffered with a double retirement as Felipe Nasr and Jose Maria Lopez found themselves out of contention after issues with their cars. Vergne continued to pressure Rowland, finally forcing the Nissan rookie into a mistake on lap 19 to take the lead. With his thoughts surely on his last victory in New York last season, Vergne began to put away from Rowland and the chasing pack.
Vergne continued to lead as a red flag forced a suspension of the race after Sims crashed out with just ten minutes left on the clock. His mood was dampened as the race resumed with the news that he was under investigation for incorrect full course yellow procedures but continued to keep Rowland behind as the clock ticked down. Drama continued in the closing stages as Buemi collided with Envision Virgin’s Robin Frijns, sending the Dutchman into the back of di Grassi, sending both drivers out of the points and saddling Buemi with a late penalty for causing a collision. Despite this, Vergne continued to hold the lead from Rowland and was informed that he had received a reprimand. Vergne’s victory was his first since last season and the first for the DS-Techeetah partnership, made even more special by the fact that it is the team’s home ePrix. Rowland claimed a respectable P2 ahead of Antonio Felix da Costa in P3, who claimed the championship leader position.
Formula E will return on 13th April in Rome.