Sebastien Buemi continued his perfect start to the third Formula E season by taking his second victory of the season in Marrakesh on Saturday.
Buemi had qualified second earlier today, only for a technical infringement to result in a grid penalty that dropped his to P7 for the start. However, the Renault driver nailed his strategy, much as he did in Hong Kong, before fighting past early leader Felix Rosenqvist in the closing stages of the race en route to a career eighth Formula E win.
After bagging his first Formula E pole in qualifying earlier in the day, Mahindra Racing’s Rosenqvist made the most of his advantage off the line to bolt clear and leave Sam Bird behind in the dust. Bird managed to stay ahead of Nelson Piquet and Jean-Eric Vergne, with the tight confines of the street course in Marrakesh making overtaking hard to come by. In the opening three laps, the top eight runners remained in the same order as they had qualified, with the first change in position coming when Buemi made light work of Renault team mate Nico Prost for sixth place.
Rosenqvist may have retained his lead, but concern was piqued on the Mahindra pit wall when he informed the team that the dashboard on his car was stuck on one page, denying him a chunk of information. The Swede remained cool, though, duly dropping a sequence of fast laps to pull out a two second gap over Bird behind.
Further back, Lucas di Grassi began a fightback after qualifying down in P12, passing Nick Heidfeld and Robin Frijns with ease in the early part of the race, while Buemi continued his charge by slipping up the inside of Daniel Abt at Turn 10 with an inspired move to take fifth away. Vergne was also coming into play, relieving Piquet of third before setting off in pursuit of former teammate Bird in P2, now with Buemi in tow.
Leader Rosenqvist was given a brief scare on Lap 13 when yellow flags were thrown following a stop for Antonio Felix da Costa at Turn 8, risking a possible full course caution or a safety car. Andretti instructed the Portuguese racer to do a full reset on his car, with the “control, alt, delete” manoeuvre allowing him to get going again and returning the race to green.
As the race neared half distance, energy levels were getting marginal. The length of the lap in Marrakesh (longer than any other track in Formula E history) meant that most would come in on either Lap 16 or Lap 17, with energy being tight for both stints. As Rosenqvist pushed and looked set to come in early, Vergne followed suit, putting his extra energy to good use to take second place off Bird before the leading duo came in at the end of Lap 16.
Despite looking tight on energy, both Buemi and Bird continued for another lap, believing it would pay dividends come the end of the race. Buemi even managed to squeeze past Bird on their in lap, with both sitting on 1% when they finally came in, with the majority of the pack following suit. Rosenqvist eased past pit entry to reclaim the lead, running five seconds clear of Vergne, but with the Frenchman closing at half a second per lap and the likes of Buemi and Bird with plenty more energy in hand, the fight for victory was far from over.
As Rosenqvist began to save energy, Buemi began to turn up the wick. The defending champion was lapping almost two seconds per lap faster than the leader, and, to make matters even better, Vergne was now no longer an issue. The stewards found that Vergne had gone too fast through the pit lane, resulting in a drive-through penalty that ended his win hopes. After serving it, the Techeetah drive re-emerged fifth, still chasing a decent haul of points.
The battle for victory boiled down to Rosenqvist and Buemi. Rosenqvist continued to hold a healthy buffer but it was being quickly eradicated as Buemi put his FanBoost to good use. The gap between the pair was visibly diminishing as the laps ticked down, leaving Rosenqvist staring in his mirrors for fear of a lunge from behind. Could the Swede handle the pressure?
As ice-cool as Roseqnvist remained on the radio, he was powerless to stop the advances of his rival. At Turn 11, Buemi slipped around the outside to wrest the lead away, leaving him with six laps to hold on and continue his perfect start to the season.
Rosenqvist had bigger concerns as Bird began to close up on his rear, having mirrored Buemi’s strategy and also made use of his extra energy. The DS Virgin Racing driver got the move complete on Lap 31, clinching second. Further back, di Grassi managed to continue his fight through the pack, easily disposing of Vergne for P5 as he scrambled to save energy.
At the chequered flag though, it was Buemi who once again led the pack, crossing the line first to record his eighth victory in the category and continue his solid start to defending his Formula E title. Bird came home second for DS Virgin Racing, going some way to make up for his setback in Hong Kong, while Rosenqvist was left content – this was just his second Formula E race – but somewhat disappointed in third.
Nico Prost ended up fourth ahead of di Grassi, while Daniel Abt and Oliver Turvey were both able to pass Vergne on the last lap to demote the Frenchman to P8 at the flag. Nick Heidfeld and Jose Maria Lopez rounded out the points-paying positions, while Loic Duval chalked up the fastest lap of the race for Faraday Future Dragon Racing.