Formula E: Bird seals first victory for McLaren in Sao Paulo

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Ending a 37-race winless streak, Sam Bird gave McLaren's Formula E team their first Formula E victory at the Sao Paulo E-Prix. F1Technical's senior writer Balázs Szabó reports on Round 4 of the 2024 Formula E World Championship.

Having secured pole position by just two thousands of a second from Stoffel Vandoorne, Pascal Wehrlein had a great jump at the start to hold the lead into the first turn. The German surprisingly pulled a big gap of 1.5s straight away.

There were some moves behind Wehrlein with Nick Cassidy working his way up to eighth and Mitch Evans getting the jump on Jean-Eric Vergne to improve to P3.

In the meantime, Maserati racer Maximilan Gunether served his 10-second penalty straight away, and rejoined the action last. The German driver was handed two separate 20-place grid penalties for exceeding the allocated number of gearboxes which he served as a ten-second stop-and-go penalty.

On Lap 5, Sam Bird found himself on the top of the leaderboard thanks to a few feisty moves. The Briton went for his first 350kW attack mode on the same lap, but he was able to keep the lead.

The safety car was deployed on Lap 7 as there were several debris on the track. The biggest bit of debris was the full front wing of Norman Nato’s Andretti.

When the safety car dived back into the pits, Da Costa found himself on the top. However, the Portuguese driver went for his first attack mode right after the restart, which meant that Bird could retake the lead.

In the meantime, reigning champion Jake Dennis started to fly through the pack to lead the race on Lap 13. However, as he took his attack mode, Bird regained the lead at the front.

On Lap 16, the Safety Car was out again as Cassidy collided with the inside wall on the run to the Turns 4/5/6 chicane. His I-Type 6 suffered major damage which meant that his impressive podium streak was over.

The two safety car interruptions meant that Guenther was back in the points with his P9 despite the ten-second stop-and-go penalty.

When the safety car left the track on Lap 20, Bird headed Evans and Wehrlein at the front with Dennis, Da Costa, Vergne, Oliver Rowland, Vandoorne, Guenther and Buemi rounding out the top ten.

Race Director Scott Elkins decided to add three laps to the race distance due to the two safety car interruptions.

With five laps to go, Bird and Evans went wheel-to-wheel, with the Kiwi taking over the lead with a late-braking manoeuvre.

Evans appeared to have the pace to control the dying phases of the race. However, Bird closed in on his former team-mate for the final two laps and was adamant to regain the lead. The Briton waited for the last sector on the last lap to overtake Evans with a brilliant outside move and take his first win since 2022 and the very first triumph for the NEOM McLaren team.

In the meantime, there was a key battle behind the leading two. Dennis and Wehrlein were fighting for the last spot on the rostrum, but as the pair concentrated on each other, Rowland passed the two at the final corner to make it on to the podium for the second race in a row.

Expanding on his race win, Bird said: “What a race that was, that was great. It means so much for everybody at NEOM McLaren. I think everybody can now see the progress that is slowly happening.”

“I had to target the beginning of the year to get a couple of podiums. I didn't expect to win. It was a great race between me and Mitch, my old teammate, it was really fair.”

“I said on the radio “I think Mitch is struggling more than me with the temperatures”. I was told to cool the car, then I saw the lift points and I thought ‘look, it's now or never, I've got to go’. He defended the inside and gave me just enough room on the outside to have some kind of move. I don't know how close it was to the wall, but it was fair racing and got it done.”

His crash and retirement from the action meant that Cassidy's lead at the top of the standings has been chopped into in a big way. With Evans and Wehrlein having finished in the top four, the German finds himself just three points back on 53 points, with the Kiwi third on 39 in the Drivers' World Championship. In the Teams' Jaguar TCS Racing head TAG Heuer Porsche, 96 points to 61.