FIA FORMULA E CHAMPIONSHIP: SEASON 3, ROUND 2 - MARRAKESH RACE REPORT
Formula E held it's last round of 2016 on the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan in Marrakesh, Morrocco, coinciding with the COP22 climate change conference. Despite this great development, things were a lot sadder down at NEXTEV after their boss and owner, Dr. Martin Leach, lost his battle with Cancer after the round in Hong Kong. I think I speak for everyone working at Ecocars when I say that our thoughts are with Dr. Leach's family and the NEXTEV team, for whom the loss is still very raw and very painful. Rest in Peace.
Qualifying proved to be tricky as many of the teams and drivers were still acclimatising to this unusual track, with it's billiard smooth surface and occasionally wide run-off areas. The man with perhaps the best feel for the track was Felix Rosenqvist; the Superswede put in an astonishing performance to not only make it through to Superpole, but then grab Mahindra's first ever pole position, beating reigning champion and current leader Sebastien Buemi, Sam Bird's DS Virgin Racing car, Nelson Piquet in the NEXTEV NIO (Who had a scruffy and error strewn run) and Jean Eric Vergne in the Techeetah, who after leading the way in the group sessions inexplicably was sent out by his team too late and was trapped in the pitlane, unable to set a lap; he would still start 5th but the 3 points for pole went the way of Rosenqvist instead. Further down, 2nd place man in the championship Lucas Di Grassi had a disappointing qualifying in his Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport car and started down in 12th. There was a great deal of work to be done.
But before the start there was drama as Buemi was given a 5-place grid drop, meaning he would line up 7th behind his teammate Nico Prost. The usually faultless Renault e.Dams team clearly had either failed to secure or had accidentally spilled fluid from the fire extinguisher in their World Champion's car as it was found to be underweight in Scrutineering. This would make things harder for Buemi but he still held the fastest and most efficient car on the grid.
Felix Rosenqvist makes hay after Mahindra's first ever pole position. (Courtesy of Formula E Media)
As the lights went out, Rosenqvist made a perfect getaway at the head of the field with the promoted Sam Bird trailing slightly. The action was further down as Jean Eric Vergne, Daniel Abt and Nico Prost jostled for position, but re-emerged from turn 1 in that same order.
On lap 3 Buemi made a move down the inside of his French teammate into turn 7, a maneuver which Prost did nothing to cover as he conceded 6th place to his teammate. Further back, Di Grassi was also gaining ground, passing Heidfeld, and then on lap 5 slipping past a struggling Robin Frijns for 10th place, with Nick following him through soon afterwards.
2 laps later Buemi began to attack Daniel Abt for 5th, and the Swiss driver forced his way through on the inside at turn 10, leaving Abt rather bemused and at the mercy of Prost, who would also later get past him. Abt was given the FanBoost, but so were Buemi and Di Grassi, so this did little to console him.
Vergne in 4th had been biding his time behind Piquet Jnr., and the Brazilian eventually locked up at turn 1 and left a small gap, which was all the Techeetah man needed to take the last spot on the podium. Piquet then began to really struggle with what became an electrical fault and Buemi found his way past the NEXTEV car on lap 11.
Antonio Felix Da Costa, running 10th in the MS Amlin Andretti car then suffered a huge stroke of bad luck as his car ground to a halt and caused a yellow flag before he got going again, plum last. His race would now be about getting fastest lap in the second car.
Jean Eric Vergne in the Techeetah overtakes Nelson Piquet Jnr. in the NEXTEV to claim 3rd place. (Courtesy of Formula E Media)
On lap 15 JEV was starting to fly around the African streets, and managed to lunge down the inside at turn 1 from about 7 streets behind to go up into second place; could he grab Techeetah's first win in their second ever race? Rosenqvist had used more energy to get further down the road, so it was possible. Lucas Di Grassi meanwhile made a great move on Oliver Turvey to snatch 8th place from the Englishman by braking late in the turn 4/5 chicane, and his rise up the order continued.
Rosenqvist pitted on lap 16 from the lead along with Vergne, but Bird and Buemi were able to stay out another lap; during this Buemi was able to push and narrowly overtake Bird before going into the pitlane; locking up and nearly getting into trouble in turn 11, but he got away with it. Staying out this extra lap would prove to be crucial in deciding the outcome of the podium places.
Up front Vergne was closing the gap to Felix Rosenqvist, who as a rookie was still doing an incredibly job to stay in the lead, but his race unravelled as it turned out that his pitlane speed limiter button was faulty and the Frenchman was given a drive through penalty for breaking the pitlane speed limit, after which he emerged in 5th. JEV then had energy consumption issues in his second car which affected his pace later on. In the closing stages Daniel Abt conceded 6th to his faster teammate Lucas Di Grassi, which put them both in position to attack and pass a struggling Vergne.
On lap 25 Buemi, having broken clear of Bird, used FanBoost to catch and put pressure on an energy conserving Rosenqvist, and two laps later Buemi was able to breeze by before either even reached turn 11, with Bird then dispatching the brilliant Mahindra driver with 2 laps to go. Di Grassi then made a very brave move to brake late and pass Vergne for 5th down the inside at turn 7, and Vergne then found himself being passed by Abt and Oliver Turvey.
So it was 2 wins from 2 races for Buemi, but neither had been straightforwards. Rosenqvist held on for as long as he could, but it was still a spectacular performance and he matched Robin Frijns' enviable record of scoring a podium in his second Formula E race, albeit this time Felix was not helped in the slightest by reliability. After Cruel luck in Hong Kong, Bird was just happy to get points on the board for himself and DS Virgin, but bemoaned his inability to fight with Buemi: "I would have wasted my own energy trying to battle with Seb." Said Bird after the race "He’s on his own little level at the moment. Its going to be difficult to compete with that level this season. There’s 19 guys trying to compete for second place at the moment."
Left to right: Rosenqvist, Bird and Buemi wind down before climbing onto the podium in Marrakesh. (Courtesy of Formula E Media)
Marrakesh ePrix results
1st) Sebastien Buemi 25 points
2nd) Sam Bird 18 points
3rd) Felix Rosenqvist 18 points (Pole position)
4th) Nico Prost 12 points
5th) Lucas Di Grassi 10 points
6th) Daniel Abt 8 points
7th) Oliver Turvey 6 points
8th) Jean Eric Vergne 4 points
9th) Nick Heidfeld 2 points
10th) Jose Maria Lopez 1 point
11th) Robin Frijns
12th) Stephane Sarrazin
13th) Jerome D'Ambrosio
14th) Adam Carroll
15th) Ma Qing Hua
16th) Nelson Piquet Jnr.
17th) Mitch Evans
18th) Loic Duval 1 point (Fastest lap)
DNF) Maro Engel
DNF) Antonio Felix Da Costa
Formula E now goes into a winter break, but there is also an unofficial virtual race in Las Vegas between the entire grid and 10 of the most dedicated and talented Sim-Racing drivers around today, on January 7th. Infact, yours truly currently has the pleasure of commentating on the 4 qualifiers for this final, the 3rd of which is this coming weekend. Follow @Cloud_Sport on Twitter for more information. The next real life round is Buenos Aires on February 18th. Until then, take care.
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