Montréal ePrix: muted teams’ triumph for Renault as di Grassi snatches title

Renault e.Dams claimed their third straight Formula E teams’ title at Montréal’s season finale, but their celebrations were overshadowed by Lucas di Grassi’s triumph over Sébastien Buemi in the Drivers’ Championship.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Going into the Canadian title decider, it was looking almost impossible for anyone but Buemi to take the top honours this season. The Swiss driver had been a man transformed by his first title win last season—opening up his defence with a hat-trick of wins, Buemi went on to claim victory in almost every race he contested, and such was his form that he still held the championship lead before Montréal despite missing the two previous races in New York City.

But on arrival in Canada, Buemi seemed like a different driver altogether to the one in control of his last ePrix in Berlin. An uncharacteristic off in practice saw him damage his chassis against the wall, denting his confidence ahead of qualifying and handing him a hefty grid penalty for race one; then, starting the race from twelfth, Buemi’s cautious approach left him right in the heart of the opening lap scrum, where he picked up steering damage from contact with Robin Frijns’ Andretti, which severely hampered his progress early on.

By contrast, di Grassi was having every bit the race he needed. His third pole of the season narrowed the championship deficit to just seven points, and after seeing off Jean-Éric Vergne at the start the Brazilian raced away into an early lead. He was then largely not seen again, and despite a late safety car bringing Vergne right onto his tail in the final laps, di Grassi took his second win of the season ahead of Vergne and Stéphane Sarrazin, and with it the lead of the championship by six points—this lead later became eighteen points, when Buemi was disqualified from his eventual fourth-place finish after his rebuilt car was found to be three kilograms underweight.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

This stacked the odds considerably in di Grassi’s favour ahead of the second and final race of the weekend. All the Abt driver needed to do to clinch the title was finish ahead of Buemi, and even if his rival went on to win the race, any result within the top four would have given di Grassi enough points to become champion.

Nevertheless, Sunday did not start smoothly for di Grassi. A scruffy Super Pole lap left him only fifth on the grid behind Felix Rosenqvist, Sam Bird, Jean-Éric Vergne and Nick Heidfeld; di Grassi then dropped back at the start and was almost tagged by his teammate going through the first corner.

But compared to his title rival, di Grassi’s troubles were nothing. For the second time in Montréal Buemi started way down the grid, in thirteenth place after making a mistake on his flying qualifying lap. That once again placed him in the firing line at the first corner, and as the pack bunched up he was hit from behind in the braking zone, this time by António Félix da Costa in the sister Andretti. The contact was enough to dislodge one of Buemi’s rear wheel guards, and as it flapped loose from the back of his Renault the stewards called him in to the pits with a black and orange flag—by the time he rejoined the track, Buemi was in last place and his title hopes lay in tatters.

Sam Bagnall/LAT/Formula E

Meanwhile, as Buemi’s impromptu stop all but sealed the title for di Grassi, the front of the field was playing host to a tight race for the win between polesitter Rosenqvist and a charging Vergne.

The Frenchman had been able to eat into Rosenqvist’s five-second lead after saving the energy for a later stop, and partway through the second stint had no trouble breezing past the Mahindra for the lead. Vergne then set about using the remainder of his saved energy to ease clear of Rosenqvist—by the time the chequered flag fell at the end of lap 37, Vergne had built up a buffer of almost a second to seal his and the Techeetah team’s first Formula E victory.

Rosenqvist followed Vergne home in second, despite coming under further pressure from José María López in the closing laps, and with his fifth podium of the season triumphed in his battle with Sam Bird for third in the final standings; Bird himself crossed the line fourth ahead of Rosenqvist’s teammate Nick Heidfeld, who had fallen back from an earlier podium position.

Incoming champion di Grassi had been set to finish sixth, but with his title already secured he swapped places with teammate Daniel Abt on the final lap and finished seventh instead. Stéphane Sarrazin came eighth, Jérôme d’Ambrosio closed a difficult season for Dragon with two points in ninth, and Tom Dillmann took the fourth points finish of his rookie season with tenth. The final fastest lap of the season was set by Nico Prost, who finished outside the top ten for the first time this season and fell to sixth in the overall standings.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Renault e.Dams’ three non-scoring results in Montréal allowed Abt Schaeffler Audi to close up in the teams’ standings, though in the end the French marque still had twenty points in hand to take its third consecutive crown.

Mahindra finished its best Formula E season to date by beating DS Virgin to third, and in spite of numerous driver changes across the season Techeetah ended its impressive debut campaign as the fifth-fastest team ahead of NextEV NIO.

There were no changes in position with the final four teams—Andretti, Dragon, Venturi and Jaguar—even though each team scored at least one top ten finish this weekend. The latter two are unlikely to be disheartened by coming ninth and tenth, considering both have shown great improvement from starting the season well out of contention for the points; as for Andretti and Dragon, teams used to scoring podiums in past seasons, finishing down in the latter half of the table will leave much for the two American outfits to consider over the off-season.

Malcolm Griffiths/LAT/Formula E

Formula E: 2017 Montreal ePrix Preview

The end of the 2016–17 Formula E season is upon us. In a few days time, the chequered flag will fall at the second round of the Montréal ePrix, and the champion of season three will be crowned.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers in contention for the title going into Montréal—Sébastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi, Felix Rosenqvist, and Sam Bird. But as anyone who has followed this season will know, it would take something truly special to see three of those four drivers come out on top come Sunday.

Bird, who was propelled into the top four by his double victory in New York, would need to score every available point this weekend—both wins, both poles and both fastest laps—with Buemi scoring none at all if he has any hopes of taking the season three title. Nor does Rosenqvist have much more margin for error, sitting just four points ahead of Bird and 53 behind Buemi; in fact, this pair will be more concerned by Nico Prost, who at twenty points behind them will be a major threat for third overall.

Di Grassi has the best chance of sneaking through to the title, having both arguably the second-fastest car on the grid and only a ten-point deficit to overcome. However, that gap will likely feel more like a gulf psychologically, considering the opportunity he missed in Buemi’s absence to take the lead of the championship in New York. There is still time for di Grassi to turn things around, but it would take a level of performance the Brazilian has frankly yet to show this season.

Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E

In the teams’ championship, the top spot is unsurprisingly safe in the hands of Renault e.Dams. ABT Schaeffler Audi, however, will have their hands full fending off Mahindra for second place in what has been by far the Indian team’s best season yet; with just twelve points separating the two squads, another podium for Rosenqvist or Nick Heidfeld could be enough to lift Mahindra to an outstanding best-of-the-rest come Sunday evening.

DS Virgin could move up to take third, providing Bird or José María López can build on the team’s dominant New York performance and recover the 29 points by which they trail Mahindra. The series’ two Chinese teams, Techeetah and NextEV, look set to finish fifth and sixth respectively—an impressive result considering the former is in its debut season and the latter finished last year in last place.

Behind them, the US outfits Andretti and Dragon Racing are locked on thirty points apiece and will both be desperate to break that tie. António Félix da Costa will be especially hungry for points, having yet to score since the season opener in Hong Kong whilst his teammate Robin Frijns sits in twelfth with double the Portuguese driver’s points total.

Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E

But as well as each other, Andretti and Dragon will need to keep their eyes on Venturi and Jaguar, who lurk just two and nine points behind respectively. For Jaguar, the opportunity to finish their first season in Formula E as high as seventh will be a major inspiration for the team, and in particular for Mitch Evans, who has acclimatised to the series quickly in his rookie season and scored the lion’s share of his team’s points.

Jaguar will no doubt need Evans, and Adam Carroll too, to have a strong weekend in Canada if they are to finish above Venturi at the very least. Like Jaguar, the Monegasque team enjoys its own pairing of points-capable rookies in Maro Engel and Tom Dillmann, and Engel especially will be someone of whom the lower midfield teams will be very wary: pumped up from his maiden DTM win in Moscow last weekend, the German should have all the necessary momentum to hunt down those few points his team needs to beat Andretti and Dragon.

Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Although the sharp end of the two championships looks to be a foregone conclusion in Buemi’s and Renault’s favour, 2017’s inaugural Montréal ePrix still has plenty of room to spring a few surprises. Stay tuned to ThePitCrewOnline for all the action and updates across the weekend.