FIA FORMULA E CHAMPIONSHIP: SEASON 2 ROUND 1 - BEIJING RACE REPORT
Beijing, situated in North Eastern China is a city of over 20 million people. Home of both history dating back millennia and expressions of modern architecture. The Great Wall of China and the birds nest stadium from the 2008 summer olympics sit together in this city of amazing contrasts. It is also the launchpad for the second season of the thrilling Formula E world championship in a challenging 26 lap race for glory.
One team with a distinct failure to launch at this first event is Trulli. Problems with customs saw many key components not joining the team at the track. Their problems drew commiserations and good wishes from fans and competitors alike highlighting the spirit of camaraderie in the Formula E paddock.
Qualifying saw the first running of the new super pole system. Divided into groups the cars took to the track with the fastest from each qualifying for a final shootout. The defending champion never made it this far and was eliminated in the knockout stages after an untidy lap that was well off the pace. So into Superpole went the following drivers:
Lucas Di Grassi - Abt
Nico Prost - e.dams
Sebastien Buemi - e.dams
Jean Eric Vergne - Virgin
Nick Heidfeld - Mahindra
A mistake at turn 1 put paid to Di Grassi's bid for pole and a lock up did the same for Vergne. Nick Heidfeld wrung everything he could out of his lap and put the Mahindra in a very creditable third place meaning it was a front row lockout for e.dams and a first pole of the season, his fourth in total, for Sebastien Buemi.
So, onto the race. As the lights went out Sebastien Buemi maintained his lead into the first corner. His teammate and potential title rival, Nico Prost, losing out massively by locking up under breaking. With one of the e.dams cars vulnerable, a fast starting Nick Heidfeld saw his opportunity and took advantage around the outside. The new Mahindra driver pushed hard to stay with the race leader but, even so soon into the race, Buemi's pace looked a league ahead of his opponents. Within a few corners Prost was right with Heidfeld, showing the early performance advantage of the Renault package. For the Frenchman though this was to be a day of incidents and accidents as he went wide allowing Heidfeld to escape his clutches and seeing the number 11 Abt car of Lucas Di Grassi steal third place as well.
Lap 4 saw the first full course yellow of the new season after one of the Amlin Andretti car's races was ended after contact with another car at turn 2 and was collected by the wall. Sebastien Buemi led the field at a reduced pace around the track as Simona Di Silvestro's stricken car was craned away from the action. As the track retuned to green flag conditions Sam Bird made the best of a good restart, nipping by Loic Duval into 7th place. Before he could set his sights higher up the field though the familiar tire smoke of locked brakes saw his work undone and he fell back to just outside the top ten.
Last years champion, Nelson Piquet, who had sounded less than enthusiastic about his chances, was experiencing nothing to lift his spirits come race day. Saving energy seemed to be his only tactic but not one employed from a position of strength as he steered the Nextev TCR 001 around at the back of the field. By stark contrast the man he beat by a single point in season one was living the highlife, seemingly peerless out front. By lap 6 Sebastien Buemi was in complete control and pulling away at up to 2 seconds a lap.
A new feature for season 2 (see our great season 2 guidebook for all the details) is the FanBoost vote continuing into the early part of the race. This has been controversial but probably still welcomed by Sam Bird, Nelson Piquet and Oliver Turvey who all received an extra boost to be used during the remaining laps.
Approaching half distance it became apparent that several drivers were marginal on energy and a queue of cars all managing the problem in different ways began to form. With more wagons joining the train led by Bruno Senna the pressure was building corner by corner. Something had to give. The movements began as Vergne dived by Senna into 5th. This left the Brazilian vulnerable to an attack by Duval, an attack that the Dragon racer duly supplied. Next it was Vergne's turn to drop back losing out first to the hard charging Duval then his team mate, Bird, and the Venturi of Stephane Sarrazin. With the pit stops fast approaching it was the Virgin team who seemed to be losing out the most in this game of on track musical chairs as they were forced to allow multiple drivers by just to eke out the power.
Buemi by now was in such a commanding position that the change of car was a relaxed affair and the e.dams team got him out comfortably in front of his nearest rival on track. More impressive from the French team was getting Nico Prost out into a podium place at the expense of Nick Heifeld who's team were not so effective during the car change. This was not to last though as Prost ran wide once more under pressure from the German, ex F1 driver, surrendering 3rd place back into Mahindra's hands.
The track went into a second full course yellow moments later as a collision between Antonio Felix da Costa and Jacques Villeneuve put the racing on hold again. The Aguri driver seemed to accept responsibility for the crash that put him out of the race while series newcomer Villeneuve was able to rejoin, albeit at the back.
At the drop of the green Prost showed his fighting spirit to dive by Heidfeld and regain the position he threw away only a few laps earlier. The 34 year old then set off in pursuit of Di Grassi in second and a potential 1-2 for e.dams racing.
An energy saving Piquet was now up into 9th, as the timing of the yellow brought him into the points. Any feelings of optimism were to be short lived however as come the restart he soon found himself stopped out on track with technical problems. He resumed, but sitting there on the track could he see already the championship slipping away?
In the final laps the battle for 10th provided intense action and proved the potential of some of the series rookies. A notable example being Andretti's new signing Robin Frijns who made several strong moves including a pass on Sarrazin towards the end.
Towards the front Nico Prost's day of drama was not over as cameras showed his e.dams car looking distinctly second-hand with rear wing damage and a lost rear wheel guard. This resulted in no real loss of speed but in a very frustrated Frenchman who could see any chance of points disappearing. This was confirmed with the relevant black and orange flag being shown and the driver being called into the pits with a handful of laps left on the grounds of safety. A disconsolate Prost (Who failed to hide his displeasure upon receiving the call on the publicly broadcast team radio) was left to walk away from his parked car ruing what could have been.
The focus was now on Nick Heidfeld as his fight for fourth became a battle for the last step of the podium. His race was now one of extreme defence as the two Dragons attacked. Corner after corner, the threat from behind was ever present. He was given a little rest bite as D'Ambrosio slung the second of the Dragon Venturis almost into the back of his team mate. Fortunately both he and Duval survived the moment leading to some relived laughter in the pits. Energy by now was at a premium for all three drivers and each corner survived by Nick Heidfeld was a victory in itself.
The focus was now on Nick Heidfeld as his fight for fourth became a battle for the last step of the podium. His race was now one of extreme defence as the two Dragons attacked. Corner after corner, the threat from behind was ever present. He was given a brief respite as D'Ambrosio slung the second of the Dragon Venturis almost into the back of his team mate. Fortunately both he and Duval survived the moment leading to some relived laughter in the pits. Energy by now was at a premium for all three drivers and each corner survived by Heidfeld was a victory in itself. Thoughts of last seasons clash with Prost must surely have been in his mind! As it was though there was no such topsy Turvy end for the German in 2015 and he secured a podium in his first drive for his new team.
There was no doubt about the winner though as Sebastien Buemi cruised in some 11 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. Lucas Di Grassi bagged some impressive points in second when, by his own admission third was the best he had could have hoped for considering the e.dams pace. The podium was completed by a clearly happy Heidfeld making it three different manufacturers in the top three places. Oliver Turvey saved some face for the Nextev TCR team with a sixth place on a day to forget for the team of last seasons drivers champion. Further down, Frijns was forced to slow dramatically on the last lap, meaning he had to cede the final point to Sarrazin.
So, the driver standings after the FIA Formula E Beijing eprix are:
1st, Sebastien Buemi, 30 points
2nd, Lucas Di Grassi, 18 points
3rd, Nick Heidfeld, 15 points
4th, Loic Duval, 12 points
5th, Jerome D'Ambrosio, 10 points
6th, Oliver Turvey, 8 points
7th, Sam Bird, 6 points
8th, Nathanael Berthon, 4 points
9th, Stephane Sarrazin, 2 points
10th, Robin Frijns, 1 point
11th, *Daniel Abt, 0 points
12th, Jean Eric Vergne, 0 points
13th, Bruno Senna, 0 points
14th, Jacques Villeneuve, 0 points
15th, Nelson Piquet Jr, 0 points
16th, Nico Prost, 0 points
17th, Antonio Felix da Costa, 0 points
18th, Simona de Silvestro, 0 points
Not classified: Salvador Duran, Vitantonio Liuzzi
*Daniel Abt finished 9th on the road but was penalised by 10 seconds post-race for an unsafe release during his pitstop. This dropped him outside the points whilst lifting Sarrazin into 9th and giving Frijns a point on his debut.
1st, Renault e.dams, 30 points
2nd, Dragon Racing, 22 points
3rd, Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport, 18 points
4th, Mahindra Racing Formula E team, 15 points
5th, NEXTEV TCR Formula E team, 8 points
6th, DS Virgin Racing Formula E team, 6 points
7th, Team Aguri, 4 points
8th, Venturi Formula E Team, 2 points
9th, Andretti Formula E Race team, 1 point
Not classified: Trulli Formula E team
Next up the Formula E electric circus relocates to Putrajaya in Malaysia.....see you in 2 weeks where everyone will be trying to beat e.dams and halt the charge of championship leader Sebastien Buemi.
See the Beijing highlights here:
Written by Mark Child, Edited by Edward Hunter
In Association With Formula E Addicts