A chaotic and rain affected race day saw Da Costa take victory for the BMW i Andretti team in Ad Diriyah ahead of Jean Eric Vergne of Techeetah, with Jerome d'Ambrosio of Mahindra finishing 3rd in the first race of the 2nd generation of Formula E.
Almost unbelievably in the desert of Saudi Arabia the morning practice sessions were delayed after torrential rain overnight resulted in large puddles of standing water around the circuit. The delays meant that the morning running was curtailed to a single 35 minute practice session and an altered qualifying session. When practice finally started the drivers left the pits behind the safety car, which remained on track for 5 minutes before green flag conditions were called. Virgin Racing's Sam Bird had just set the fastest lap when the red flag was flown for Edoardo Mortara, who crashed at turn 1 with what appeared to be a brake issue, having previously been off the track at turn 18. The red flag closed the track for a significant portion of the session as marshals cleared the stricken Venturi.
When the track was finally returned to green flag conditions it was Stoffel Vandoorne who topped the timesheets for HWA ahead of Sam Bird and Sebastien Buemi. Felix Rosenqvist also damaged his car late on in the session, losing his front wheel fairing after contact with the wall.
During the practice delay the drivers were in discussions with race director Scot Elkins about what format qualifying should take. The top five drivers from last years championship were particularly interested in changing the format, as they would have formed group 1 and seen the worst of the conditions on track. Qualifying was therefore appended to two 15 minute sessions of 11 cars, rather than four sessions of five or six cars, with no super pole session. Group A including the top championship finishers from season 4, but it was the second group, including the championship rookies, who should have held the advantage as the track evolved through the session.
When the group A session started confusion reigned at NIO as Tom Dillmann was sent out for a number of 200 kW laps before finally turning up to 250 kW, when the Formula E rules only allow a single warm up lap at 200 kW and a single hot lap at 250 kW, he finished the session in second behind Antonio Felix Da Costa's BMW, but under investigation for the infraction. The Audi's were disappointing in P9 and P11 for Di Grassi and Abt. The rest of the top six was filled out by Lopez, Buemi, Bird and Vergne, with Frijns in 7th and d'Ambrosio in 8th. Venturi managed to get Mortara out after his off track excursion in practice, but he only managed P10.
The second group included the fastest man from practice, Vandoorne, as well as Rosenqvist and the new drivers Massa, Rowland, Paffett and Guenther. The track evolution effect didn't seem that strong as Paffet, Turvey and Rowland respectively slotted into P11. Vandoorne then put his car into 5th with his 250kW lap before Guenther brought out the red flag again after hitting the wall and stopping on track with just under 4 minutes remaining in the session and six drivers yet to set their 250 kW laps. As Lotterer was on his 250 kW lap when the red flag was called, he had to go straight into the high power mode and could only manage P10. In the end the advantage of the drying track was not seen as, to top a hectic morning, Rosenqvist crashed at the end of qualifying, meaning Evans, Massa, Sims, and Piquet all had to lift through the final corner, so only Vandoorne and Lotterer made it into the top 10 from group B.
|Pos.||Driver||Car/Team||Quali. time||Quali. group||Points|
|11||Di Grassi **||Audi||1:19.527||A||0|
**Excluded from qualifying for using too much power.
After qualifying a number of drivers had their times invalidated for exceeding the power allocation, including Di Grassi, the Virgins of Bird and Frijns, as well as Turvey. The other NIO of Dillmann was also excluded from qualifying for his lap count transgression.
By the start of the race the standing water had cleared, with some areas of damp remaining. The attack mode allocation was announced ahead of the race with drivers required to use the boost twice in the race, each use of the high power mode lasting 4 minutes.
Even before the start Da Costa made a mistake, lining up on his pole slot after a burnout at an angle and facing the outer wall, he managed to retain the lead though as Lopez made a poor start from second - dropping behind Buemi into the first turn. Mortara was again in the wall on lap 1 with what appeared to be a repeat of the braking issue which affected him in practice, losing his front wing but also a lap after he had to pit to replace the front end of his car. Felipe Massa was immediately on the attack after a poor qualifying, passing Abt and Piquet for 10th in a 3-wide move. Lopez' poor start continued as he was passed by the Techeetah's of Vergne and Lotterer, dropping him to 5th.
The first drivers to arm the all new attack mode were the NIO's of Turvey and Dillmann on lap 7, who were both recovering from their respective grid penalties, with Turvey able to pass Guenther. Felix Rosenqvist's Mahindra then stopped on track on lap 8, and end to a poor weekend including 2 crashes in his swansong before departing for Indycar. Vergne was on the attack, visibly able to carry more speed into the corners he passed Buemi for 2nd around the outside of turn 18, a move he repeated 5 laps later against Da Costa for the lead.
The new HWA team were enduring a nightmare start to their Formula E campaign when Paffett stopped on track with 31 minutes left, Massa was shortly passed Vandoorne, who had by this point dropped 6 places from his start slot, and would eventually finish last but 1 with Mortara a lap down.
Fan Boost15 minutes into the race the fan boost allocation was announced with Vandoorne winning the lions share of the vote.
The Nissan of Buemi looked to be struggling to maintain speed as he dropped off the back of Lotterer, forming a 3-way fight for 4th with Lopez and d'Ambrosio. Lopez attempting to pass Buemi into the turn 18 chicane, but overshot almost losing out to d'Ambrosio in the process. Lopez made it past the Nissan a lap later, with d'Ambrosio opportunistically following through. Lotterer was the first of the lead group to arm the attack mode as he copied his teammate in passing Da Costa for 2nd, but it was then that drama hit for a number of cars, Vergne, Lotterer, Sims and Massa all being given drive through penalties for exceeding 250 kW on regen. Da Costa regaining the lead with Lopez and d'Ambrosio filling the podium as the penalties were taken.
Lopez then was the first driver to fail when arming attack mode, missing the activation line by some distance. By driving so far off line without getting any benefit he was passed by d'Ambrosio. The next lap both attempted to arm attack mode, d'Ambrosio successfully, while Lopez again missed - this time Lopez lost a place to Vergne, who had already recovered to 4th after his penalty. Lopez then compounded his mistakes by breaking his rear left suspension on a wall which forced him to retire. The full course yellow, and then full safety car had to be called to remove his damaged Dragon car, with just under 10 minutes + 1 lap of the race remaining.
When the safety car pitted there was just 3 minute 50 seconds + 1 lap remaining in the race, Da Costa, Vergne, Evans, Lotterer, Abt, Piquet, Sims, Massa, and Mortata all armed their final use of attack mode as the safety car signalled to pit. What followed was a mad-dash to the finish with various power strategies at play. Vergne went on the attack, passing d'Ambrosio for 2nd and catching Da Costa at a rate of 0.7s per lap. Evans and Lotterer both passed Buemi, with the other Nissan of Rowland defending furiously from Abt for 7th, while Piquet and Di Grassi fought hard over 9th and 10th.
In the end it was Da Costa who held out for victory, using his fan boost on the penultimate lap and defending from an aggressive move from Vergne into his favoured T18 on the final lap - where he only just slowed the car without contact. BMW carrying on their impressive from from testing, but it was anything but a simple lights to flag victory, even if Da Costa returns from Al Diriyah with 28 points for victory and pole.
|Pos.||Driver||Car/Team||Laps||Points||Fastest lap point*|