Di Grassi does the double

Spacesuit-Media-Formula-E-Paris-2016- Dan Bathie-Lucas di Grassi celebrates win

Lucas di Grassi glided to victory in Saturday’s maiden Paris Formula E race, extending his lead at the top of the Formula E drivers’ championship to 11 points becoming the first back-to-back winner in the sport’s short history.

The race was won at the first corner, when di Grassi’s start rocketed him past pole sitter Sam Bird to seize the lead. The ABT Schaeffler driver managed his lead throughout the stint, held on to the position after the car swaps and then calmly went about consolidating victory in the second car over the 45 lap event. A late crash brought out the safety car all the way until the chequered flag, easing di Grassi to his third win of the season.

Off the line, di Grassi made a perfect start to line up the first corner on the inside of Bird. Pushing Bird wide opened the door for Jean-Eric Vergne to come through, too.  Di Grassi quickly set about opening up a gap to the rest of the pack with a sheaf of fastest laps as the two DS Virgin Racing drivers wrestled behind.

Di Grassi’s charge was stunted on lap seven when a full course yellow period was called to allow the recovery of Loic Duval’s stricken Dragon car, which ground to halt with what commentator Dario Franchitti reckoned to be transmission failture. When the race returned to green flags, the ABT man’s lead had been reduced to just 1.5s by Vergne.

An almighty battle raged on in the midfield throughout the first half of the race, with season one tech runners Antonio Felix da Costa and Robin Frijns getting frisky and eventually exchanging positions. Sebastien Buemi dropped NextEV TCR’s Oliver Turvey into their clutches by passing him for sixth place, leaving the Brit to fend off the charging youngsters. Resistance proved futile, despite the NextEV’s surprising turn of pace today, and Turvey fell to both before the car swaps.

Di Grassi had managed to open his lead up to more than five seconds by the time he dived into the pits to switch cars, aided by the contest between Vergne and Bird as they scrapped for position behind him. Buemi had worked his way up to P4 by this point after moving past his team mate, Prost.

The status quo remained largely unchanged after the car swaps. Bruno Senna and Nick Heidfeld both went one lap longer on their first stints, while Daniel Abt was able to eke out an extra two laps before pitting, giving the trio more power at their disposal for the 20-lap chase to the line. That proved fruitless when the safety car was later deployed.

Di Grassi held his lead at a steady four seconds though the second stint, leaving the DSVR pair to fend off a charging Buemi just behind. Buemi used his FanBoost to close up to Bird but could not pass. It was like a replay of Buenos Aires, with Bird defending well for lap after lap. However, the pressure told and, with six laps remaining, Bird locked up minutely but enough to force a trip into the escape corner; Buemi sailed past. 

A lap later, the safety car popped out when debutant Ma Qinghua went nose first into the wall at the final corner, bringing his race to an early end. Thankfully, he walked away unharmed, even if the same could not be said of his car. It was a undeservedly tragic ending to a race in which the rookie had done exceptionally well with both race craft and energy management. 

The timing of safety car and the extent of the debris and broken car parts left by the Aguri driver meant that the race did not return to green flag running. With no overtaking permitted, di Grassi was able to amble across the line to claim his third victory of the season.

Vergne scored his first podium of the season in second place, finishing as the top French driver on home soil and recording his best result since the first London race last June. Buemi completed the podium in P3, limiting the damage of di Grassi’s victory to the Swiss driver’s championship hopes. Prost followed him home in P4 ahead of compatriot Stephane Sarrazin to cap off a good day for the native drivers in Paris.

Bird was unable to recover from his error due to the safety car, leaving him sixth at the finish ahead of Frijns and da Costa. Senna and Abt were both unable to use their extra energy in the closing stages, forcing them to settle for P9 and P10 respectively.

Jerome d’Ambrosio crossed the line P11, ahead of Nick Heidfeld who set the fastest lap of the race en route to P12. Oliver Turvey and Nelson Piquet were unable to convert their strong qualifying performances into a good race result, the latter failing to finish due to a technical problem. Mike Conway and Simona de Silvestro were the last classified finishers in P14 and P15 respectively.

Luke Smith

FIA Formula E Paris 2016 race results timing

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