Lucas di Grassi is the first ever winner of a Formula E race. Get used to his face – you’ll be seeing it on podiums a lot more this season.
“It feels very special to be the first ever winner – definitely a great moment in my career,” says Lucas di Grassi, the Brazilian driver who made history when he triumphed at the very first Formula E race. The Audi Sport ABT man started the race in China from P2, behind the e.dams-Renault of Nico Prost and in front of his own team mate, Daniel Abt.
“The track in Beijing was good,” says di Grassi, who counts Spa, Monaco and Macau among his favourite circuits. “It was a very good venue. There are places to improve – we should have had a longer straight and more places to overtake. But the track was very safe and the cars are very safe.”
Safety was underlined when Nick Heidfeld walked away from the huge airborne smash that took out the two front runners. That gifted di Grassi first place: “The last lap was like a normal last lap of the race. I had to manage my energy; I knew that I was not going to be able to fight for the win. I just stayed close to Nick and Nicolas. If something were to happen when they were fighting, it would be an opportunity to overtake one or both of them. I was something like two seconds behind – then I saw everything happen on the last corner. I managed to get through the debris and win the race. My first thought was if Nick was okay. After I knew both were okay, I could celebrate my victory.”
Many were not surprised to see the red, yellow and green ABT-liveried cars and the blue and gold of e.dams-Renault leading the pack in Beijing. Both teams had put on strong performances over the summer test sessions and – according to dark mutterings around the paddock – both have something of a headstart.
The German outfit has secured the services of the man who had been the primary development driver for the Spark-Renault since its inception. Di Grassi did step down before the car was running with its full race battery, however, and he doesn’t think he’s any better off than anyone else on the grid: “The only thing I did from the beginning was advise on the sporting aspects of the championship,” he says. “So I didn’t have any advantage. I think every driver that started the race in Beijing had the same amount of mileage.”
The Prost-led French team has Renault as its sponsor, and other teams are convinced that the manufacturer’s familiarity with the car that bears its name must make for performance gains. “For sure, e.dams is our biggest competitor,” says di Grassi. “They had a massive advantage in the first sessions, by being with Renault. But we were able to catch up, and I think the fight will be head to head until the end.”
It seems that the Spark-Renault was pretty frisky to channel through the close confines of the Beijing street circuit, which was a markedly different environment to the tracks where testing has taken place. “It’s a difficult car to drive,” di Grassi explains. “In qualifying, it’s very special – very fast, lots of torque. But the most difficult part of the championship is that you have to get everything done in one day. You do not have much time to practice and you cannot make mistakes.”
There’s no intra-team rivalry in the ABT garage just yet, either. “Daniel knows everything that I do in the car,” di Grassi says. “We used more or less the same set up that we used at Donington. We’re not going to change it much during the year. We’ll improve it, but it will be small steps from now. Daniel used a bit too much energy, but he had a very good race.”
With one win under his belt, di Grassi is feeling confident about the rest of the season: “ABT is an excellent team. We are working very hard at the moment to improve the car for the next event. We are discussing every week what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, where we should improve. I’m sure that for the next race we’ll be even stronger. We have to learn from our mistakes but we’ll also keep our strengths. With the team that I have behind me, for sure I’ll be able to fight for more victories.”
This feature is extracted from the Current E Beijing 2014 magazine. Read the digital magazine for free, here.