Nico Prost scored his first win since the 2015 Miami Formula E race today in London. Despite facing early pressure on-track, having his lead swept away by a safety car period and even encountering a smattering of rain, the Renault e.dams man never looked in any danger of losing positions from his pole start.
However, the big talking point after the race was the title fight between Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi which, in a throwback to the battle at Battersea Park last season, saw them run line astern for much of the race, picking their way through the pack after rain in qualifying positioned both of them much lower in the order than usual.
Prost made a clean getaway from pole position to hold onto his lead from Bruno Senna and Oliver Turvey, who settled down into second and third place respectively. Further back, both di Grassi and Buemi made up positions early on, rising to P9 and P11 on the first lap.
Over the laps that followed, di Grassi and Buemi matched each other’s climb through the field. Every time di Grassi managed an overtake to put a car between himself and his title rival, Buemi responded almost immediately, leaving them still nose to tail after five laps. Di Grassi had the added benefit of ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport teammate Daniel Abt ahead of him, making a trouble-free pass for P7 on lap six. Understandably, Abt then made life extremely difficult for Buemi behind.
Yet, just as Buemi struggled to pass Abt, di Grassi found himself unable to pass DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird. The Brit was tapped on a number of occasions before ultimately yielding the position on lap 12 when di Grassi found a way through on the inside. Abt followed suit with Buemi then getting past one lap later.
Buemi finally made his move on Abt just before the car swaps, coming into the pits just metres behind di Grassi’s car. They left as they came in, with next to nothing separating them, although both had gained a position after slow stop for Bird caused him to fall back.
Both had Fanboost in their pocket and a full allocation of energy in their second cars, allowing them to push hard. Di Grassi was quickly able to pass MS Amlin Andretti’s Robin Frijns, who had dropped behind Jean-Eric Vergne in the pits but yet again Buemi was able to follow his way through.
By this point, Prost was running five seconds clear of Senna and 20 clear of Turvey, who had managed to hold on to third place. However, that lead was wiped away when the safety car was called out on lap 20 after a collision between Frijns and Abt eliminated both on the spot. Abt was trying to pass Frijns around the outside and the ensuing incident looked to be his fault; the stewards decided to investigate after the race.
Prost managed the safety car restart well to create a gap over the chasing pack, leaving Senna and Turvey to look in their rear-view mirrors. Vergne was the man holding up the pack though, with di Grassi dipping and diving to try and get up to fourth place.
Di Grassi sensed an opportunity on lap 26 only for the Frenchman to refuse to give up the position. The two made contact, resulting in a warning for Vergne and a broken front wing for di Grassi. The front-right wheel fairing became lodged next to his front wheel before coming loose, though he was lucky not to lose a position. Even more remarkable was the fact that he then set the fastest lap of the race despite coming under pressure from an increasingly-frustrated Buemi in fifth.
Still running in P3, Turvey soon began to struggle with the pace of his NextEV TCR car as it burned through energy. He came under more and more pressure from Vergne in the fight for the final podium position, going side by side with three laps to go. The pressure soon told, however, as he crashed out with two laps to go, bumping the majority of the field up a position. Almost simultaneously, Bird managed a late lunge on Buemi for position, demoting the angry Swiss driver to P6.
The safety car may have looked set to deal a blow to Prost’s hopes of winning the race but he duly kept his head in the final stint of the race to finish five seconds clear of the pack and score his first win since the 2015 Miami race, as well as picking up some crucial points for Renault e.dams in the race for the teams’ championship.
Senna crossed the line second to record Mahindra’s best-ever result in Formula E, while Vergne managed to hold on to the final podium position, finishing just 0.7s clear of di Grassi in P4. The result marks the first time that di Grassi has not stood on the podium this season.
The race to the checkered flag saw another twist take place in the title battle. Coming out of the final corner, Bird slowed his car (either in a bid to save power or give Buemi back a position taken under yellow flags) causing Buemi to bump into the back of him. The Renault driver gesticulated angrily, yet he still managed to take the position, ultimately ensuring that di Grassi only extended his championship lead by another two points.
Antonio Felix da Costa also took advantage of Bird’s slowing to finish P6, while Heidfeld followed the DS Virgin Racing driver home in P8. Jerome d’Ambrosio and Mike Conway rounded out the top 10 positions, while Nelson Piquet picked up two points for the fastest lap of the race.
Alain Prost was waiting on the podium to hug his son. The championship battle remains all to play for in tomorrow’s race.