FIA FORMULA E CHAMPIONSHIP: SEASON 2, ROUND 2 - PUTRAJAYA RACE REPORT
After a promising start to season 2 in China, the Formula E circus touched down in Malaysia for a race on the streets of Putrajaya. Twenty five kilometres from the nation’s capital the track has already become a favourite among the drivers and fans alike. With twelve turns and several key overtaking spots as the cars charge by famous city landmarks, its a race that promises action on every lap.
Before the racing got underway there was sad news for fans of the Trulli team. After being unable to race in Beijing it had been hoped the cars would finally hit the streets in Malaysia. This hope was put in doubt as it was revealed that Salvador Duran would not drive the second Motomatica JT01 in the race due to a breach of contract. This was not an insurmountable problem with Jarno Trulli himself ready and able to step in. In the end though neither car would turn a wheel as a scrutineering issue put paid to the team's ambitions. So for a second race in a row the Formula E field would be down to 18 drivers and one of the fan's favourites would be forced to watch from the sidelines, raising questions about their continued participation in the championship.
Qualifying saw the cars take to the Putrajaya circuit in four groups with the drivers seeking a time that would see them into the new format Superpole session. This knockout stage saw strong performances from the likes of Loic Duval, Stephane Sarrazin and Antonio Felix da Costa who joined the e.Dams drivers as the fastest five. Fairing less well were Abt driver, Lucas Di Grassi, missing out on getting through to superpole by 0.035 of a second thanks to a contact with the wall, and series champion Nelson Piquet Jnr. re-continuing his Beijing struggles in the NEXTEV TCR machine, subsequently venting his frustration in television interviews. So the cars vying for top spot on the grid were:
Sebastien Buemi - Renault e.Dams
Stephane Sarrazin - Venturi
Loic Duval - Dragon Racing
Nico Prost - Renault e.Dams
Antonio Felix da Costa - Team Aguri
An untidy lap saw Prost lose time to his rivals and finish the session with the slowest time, a disappointing result for a driver who twice sat on pole position in season one. Fourth place would go to Da Costa, impressive in the Aguri running last years powertrain, with Duval in the Dragon Racing entry roaring into the top three. So this left the way clear for Buemi to take his second pole of the season, further stamping his authority on the early part of the championship. Alongside him on the grid though would be Stephane Sarrazin. The Frenchman, who celebrated his 40th Birthday 5 days previously proving he was as fast as ever with a stunning second place for Venturi. With Duval running the same motor, it looked like the French powertrain had some serious pace on the Malaysian streets. Still, it would take a miracle to topple the juggernauts that are Sebastien Buemi and e.Dams…
The race time had been moved forward for fear of stormy weather affecting the race weekend but as it was the cars lined up on a dry track and the rainclouds were absent. Even without the dramatic weather though there was high drama on the grid as the driver in second place waved his arms signalling his inability to move and necessitating an aborted start. As everything was reset, the perennially unlucky Sarrazin was pushed unceremoniously away from the front row but would still manage to start the race, albeit from the pitlane.
At the second time of asking the cars launched away and powered towards turn one. As in Beijing Sebastien Buemi maintained his lead off the line, helped by the immediate absence of Sarrazin, and faced no threat into the first corner. Behind him Duval held off a challenge for second as the cars all fought hard for track position. Jean Eric Vergne found himself squeezed between an ambitious and fast starting Jacques Villeneuve to his right and the Mahindra of Nick Heidfeld to his left. The old adage that three into one doesn't go was demonstrated once more with the inevitable contact spinning Heidfeld round and seeing Vergne retire without completing the first lap.
By lap 3, Buemi was easing away slightly and led with 1.5 seconds in hand over the chasing pack. The fight for second however was developing nicely with Duval leading the way around the 2.5 km track. Team Aguri came next in the form of Da Costa defending from Prost, who was in turn fighting off the attentions of Di Grassi. Any unsuccessful pass would have seen doors thrown wide open; drivers at this level need no second invitation to take advantage of their rival’s slip-ups.
The mounting tension was relieved on Lap 5 as NEXTEV's underwhelming start to the season continued with retirement for Oliver Turvey. The British driver reported over team radio that that his throttle had been sticking on since the start and unfortunately his uncontrollable car headed straight into the wall at turn 5. Marshals were quick to descend on the stricken car and push it out of the way as the Qualcomm safety car (Making it’s first appearance of the season) led the rest of the field around at reduced pace.
At the restart it was business as usual for Buemi. The Swiss driver judged his getaway to perfection opening up a small gap as the field jostled for positions at the start of lap 8. Lucas Di Grassi almost attempted a move on the second e.Dams car of Prost but pulled out of what would have been an overly risky move into a tight left-hander.
The results of FanBoost would offer little comfort to Turvey who, in retirement, would get no opportunity to use his extra power. Team mate and defending champion Piquet, along with Nick Heidfeld were the other beneficiaries of the boost but were also having compromised races in Putrajaya.
Back to the action on track... Prost used the power of his Renault Z.E.15 to close rapidly on the car in front. In a move reminiscent of Sam Bird in 2014, the Frenchman made a fantastic switch from outside line to the inside, surging by Da Costa into third. Up onto a podium place the 34 year old then set off in pursuit of Duval and a potential 1-2 for e.dams.
Further back, the otherwise struggling Amlin Andretti driver Simona De Silvestro made a superb pass on Piquet through the hairpin to briefly get into 13th place, before being herself overtaken by a charging Sarrazin. The Venturi driver was determined to make it back into the points using his superior pace from qualifying. With a third of the race gone Buemi led and was putting in another dominant display of Formula E race craft. His teammate continued to shadow the Dragon Racing entry of Loic Duval in second.
A race that had threatened to become a bit processional was jolted into life on lap fifteen as the cameras cut to a slowing Buemi. The pole sitter's afternoon had suddenly unraveled as a software problem saw him only able to crawl back to the pits. Things were made worse for the team as, at the exact same moment, Prost was forced to pit with temperature issues; a stage that had been prepared immaculately for another e.Dams success now seemed to collapse all around them. Although both drivers were still in the race after swapping to their second cars, changing so soon would leave them having to lift and coast far more than their rivals in order to have enough energy to finish the race.
After this drama Duval briefly led from Da Costa and Di Grassi before all three came in to make their stops at the end of lap seventeen. But the Dragon team made a crucial blunder in the pits as Duval was held for 6 seconds longer than the mandatory pitstop time, dropping him behind Di Grassi and Da Costa, who now led that group for Team Aguri.
Thanks to fantastic energy management, Nelson Piquet led two laps by virtue of being able to stay in his first car longer than anyone else. By the time the Brazilian rejoined the track he was down in 13th and the race lead was in the hands of Prost. However, the e.Dams driver would be having to defend with one of those hands tied behind his back as his early pitstop left him some 10% down on power compared to those closing very rapidly behind him. Chief amongst these was Di Grassi who had scythed his way up to second at the expense of Da Costa soon after the pitstops. With 10 laps to go a train was developing behind the leader but there was a definite sense of inevitability about Prost's tenure at the top of the leaderboard. It could not last and he soon had to watch a succession of cars find their way by. First of these was Di Grassi who slid his Abt car by and into the lead at turn one, Da Costa then completed his own move on Prost in turn 7 within the same lap.
A monumentally chaotic end to the race was on the cards as many drivers began to suffer massively with various issues. The first of these saw Antonio Felix Da Costa slow to a halt due to high battery temperature at the exit of turn 2, and this cruelly dropped him out of the points, giving him a lot of work to do. This briefly allowed a floundering Prost to reclaim second until the Dragon of Duval flew by to cheers from team owner Jay Penske in the pits. The team radios now had airwaves full of drivers reporting or being warned of temperature issues. e.Dams saw all hopes of a podium finally dashed as Prost was pushed back first by Dragon's Jerome D'Ambrosio, then Amlin Andretti’s Robin Frijns, (Who was having an impressive run from 8th on the grid) and also last year’s winner Sam Bird, in quick succession. As in Beijing, the Dragons were mounting an impressive challenge in the latter stages of the race; now occupying both the last two steps on the podium. Their joy was not to last though as with a handful of laps left Duval’s suspension failed, causing him to slow dramatically. His teammate D'Ambrosio took his place followed by a rapidly closing Frijns. The Dutch rookie went offline into turn 9 passing the ailing car of Duval and he was soon getting up close and personal with the concrete barrier. All this misfortune allowed Sam Bird, battling hard from a lowly grid position, to restore some major pride to the DS Virgin team: sweeping around the outside of both cars at the hairpin and claiming a potential third place which would become second on the last lap as D'Ambrosio, like his teammate, experienced a suspension failure which threw him into the wall with only a few corners of the race left to go. The Belgian could only reflect on a race that had promised so much for him and his team; In the end Dragon would come away with nothing.
After taking the lead from Prost, Lucas Di Grassi had never looked in danger of losing it. Indeed he managed his car and himself perfectly in the difficult conditions Malaysia had thrown at the Formula E series, coming home nearly 14 seconds ahead of Sam Bird. In only his second Formula E race Robin Frijns won a hard fought podium as he battled not only the rising temperature but also a wounded car which was reluctant to drive in a straight line after the earlier disagreement between the right-hand side of his Andretti and the wall. Another mention has to go Stephane Sarrazin who, after being forced to miss the start, raced hard all afternoon to finally end up in 4th place; his best ever result in Formula E. Finally, despite a penalty, a radio failure and a lacklustre 9th place it’s worth noting that Nick Heidfeld did extremely well to keep out of the wall after a horrifying sideways moment which saw him almost kiss the turn 11 wall at high speed whilst battling with Bird. So after all that the final results were:
1st) Lucas Di Grassi
2nd) Sam Bird
3rd) Robin Frijns
4th) Stephane Sarrazin
5th) Bruno Senna
6th) Antonio Felix da Costa
7th) Daniel Abt
8th) Nelson Piquet
9th) Nick Heidfeld
10th) Nico Prost
11th) Jacques Villeneuve
12th) Sebastien Buemi
13th) Simona Di Silvestro
14th) Jerome D'Ambrosio (suspension failure)
15th) Nathaniel Berthon
DNF) Loic Duval (suspension failure)
DNF) Oliver Turvey (crash)
DNF) Jean Eric Vergne (accident damage)
Fastest lap: Sebastien Buemi, 1:22.748 on lap 22
A race that began looking like a walk in the Malaysian park for Buemi turned into anything but. Fortunes fluctuated for many of the top drivers with some taking advantage while others fell by the wayside usually thanks to the heat or a wall. Coming out on top though was Lucas Di Grassi and he must surely be approaching the next races with more optimism than most. The win was his and the Abt team's second in Formula E and now sees Di Grassi head the championship table heading into Uruguay and the street circuit at Punta del Este. Join us again on the 19th of December for another exciting race in the FIA Formula E championship.
Driver standings after Putrajaya ePrix:
1st, Lucas Di Grassi, 43 points
2nd, Sebastien Buemi, 35 points
3rd, Sam Bird, 24 points
4th, Nick Heidfeld, 17 points
5th, Robin Frijns, 16 points
6th, Stephane Sarrazin, 14 points
7th, Loic Duval, 12 points
=8th, Bruno Senna, 10 points
=8th, Jerome D’Ambrosio, 10 points
=10th, Antonio Felix Da Costa, 8 points
=10th, Oliver Turvey, 8 points
12th, Daniel Abt, 6 points
=13th, Nathaniel Berthon, 4 points
=13th, Nelson Piquet Jnr., 4 points
15th, Nicolas Prost, 1 point
=16th, Jacques Villeneuve, 0 points
=16th, Jean-Eric Vergne, 0 points
=16th, Simona De Silvestro, 0 points
1st, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport, 49 points
2nd, Renault e.Dams, 36 points
3rd, Mahindra Racing Formula E Team, 27 points
4th, DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team, 24 points
5th, Dragon Racing, 22 points
6th, Andretti Formula E Race Team, 16 points
7th, Venturi Formula E Team, 14 points
=8th, NEXTEV TCR Formula E Team, 12 points
=8th, Team Aguri, 12 points
Written by Mark Child, Edited by Edward Hunter
In Association With Formula E Addicts