Lucas di Grassi extended his lead in the FIA Formula E Championship with a flawless drive in the Visa Paris ePrix.
The Abt Schaeffler driver sprung off the line to take the lead at the start. Aside from two laps during the car swap pitstop phase, he led the entire way. The sell-out event crowd of 20,000 – which included France Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, Rachida Dati, Mayor of the 7th Arrondissement and FIA President Jean Todt - was denied the grandstand finish the race deserved when series debutant Ma Qing Hua crashed heavily in the closing stages.
The Chinese racer was unhurt, but the Team Aguri car was buried against the wall and the Qualcomm Safety Car was deployed. With only five laps left, the race finished under yellow flags, and di Grassi’s third win of the season was assured.
“I think it was the most perfect start we had so far,” he said. “Sam had a lot of wheelspin and I just managed to avoid getting any. Jean-Eric also had a very good start and I was looking in my mirrors to make sure that he didn’t get room on the inside. From then onwards I was pushing really hard, even after the Full Course Yellow. After the pitstop, on the cold tyres the car was just sliding for two laps as I tried to build up the temperatures and he caught up a bit. To see people all around the track cheering, on the inside of the track and the outside… it’s just amazing what was done here today and I hope we race here many more times and in more cities like Paris. This is what Formula E is about.”
Sam Bird scored three points for securing Julius Baer pole position, but a slow start meant he was passed not just by di Grassi, but also by his DS Virgin Racing team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne. The two had a thrilling battle, trading paint in close-fought, but fair racing either side of the pit stop.
The contest ended when Bird made an error under pressure from Sebastien Buemi, who’d driven a charging race from eighth on the gird. The Brit outbraked himself and took to the escape road. He was able to execute a spin-turn and rejoin but he was back in sixth.
This left Vergne, who’d won the FanBoost vote, clear to equal his best Formula E result and clinch his first podium finish of the season.
“This season has been very complicated for me so far but the team has helped me go through the procedures. Paris for me was an important race, not just because it was my home race, but because I wanted it to be the start of my season. I didn’t win the race today but I’m on the podium. It was a very clean race from our side and for the rest of the season I’m going to keep pushing for podiums and wins. Of course, I’m extremely happy for the team with DS Virgin being not just English but a French brand with the car manufacturer DS.”
Third for Buemi meant he’s conceded even more ground in the championship, and is now 11 points behind, but after the travails of qualifying, a podium finish was a decent result at a track where overtaking was proving difficult, even with the addition of the extra FanBoost power the Swiss driver’s fans had secured him.
“We’ve had some tough running in the last few races,” he said. “We’ve found some answers on our brakes and they worked well in qualifying but here we just lacked temperature as it needs to be hotter to warm our tyres. Our pace over one lap wasn’t good but in the race I think we were the quickest out there today. We caught up to others and overtook so it shows that once everything is up to speed it’s OK. We just have to work very hard up to the end of the season. We had the best package at the start of the season but I don’t think that’s true anymore. We will come back. It’s annoying to be a bit behind in the championship but Lucas did a great job and deserves the win. When it’s hotter it will help us.”
Nico Prost was passed by Buemi, but held on for a solid fourth place in his home race. Stephane Sarrazin made it three Frenchmen in the top-five and kept up his record of scoring points in every race this season.
The fourth French driver - Loic Duval - was a FanBoost winner for the first time, but it wasn’t going to be his day as he was the first retirement of the race with mechanical problems in his Dragon Racing entry.
Robin Frijns drove another strong race for Andretti and was the first of the season one tech runners in seventh after a great race-long battle with the similarly-powered Team Aguri car of Antonio Felix da Costa. Bruno Senna was ninth for Mahindra, Daniel Abt - who led for a couple of laps during the pitstops - was 10th for Abt Schaeffler, while Nick Heidfeld picked up two bonus points for setting the Visa Fastest Lap in a charge from last place on the grid.
Formula E continues its European adventure with the Berlin ePrix, which takes place on May 21.