Formula E: London ePrix proves a thrilling season finale


Nelson Piquet clinched the first Formula E title at the London ePrix in what was an breathtaking weekend of racing…

2014/2015 FIA Formula E Championship. London e-Prix, Battersea Park, London, UK. Saturday 27 June 2015. World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic/Formula E. ref: Digital Image _W2Q9908
2014/2015 FIA Formula E Championship.
London e-Prix, Battersea Park, London, UK.
Saturday 27 June 2015.
World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic/Formula E.
ref: Digital Image _W2Q9908

Race 1

Sebastien Buemi went for a metaphorical walk in the beautiful Battersea Park and came back with a fighting chance of winning the FIA Formula E Championship.

Pre-weekend the e.dams-Renault driver was 23 points behind Nelson Piquet Jr in the standings, but his second win from pole position (and his third win in total) has reduced that deficit to just five points.

Buemi did it in style too. With a temporary barrier erected in order to avoid a huge bump on the entry to Turn 1, it was agreed that the race would start behind the Qualcomm Safety Car. Buemi timed his getaway to perfection to ensure he was under no pressure into the next heavy braking zone at Turn 3.

In the second half of the race Daniel Abt crashed his Audi Sport ABT car into the wall on the exit of the final corner, erasing all of Buemi’s advantage, but once again he nailed the restart to score a resounding win.

“Clearly they [the restarts] helped me quite a bit to be honest because I got a bit of a margin right at the start of the race,” he admitted. “With restarts you never know how the brakes are going to go in the first corner or if you need to warm them up, that’s why the cars are so tricky to drive. It was good to have a little bit of a margin at each restart, especially the start. In the end it was a very good day for us.”

With team-mate Nicolas Prost finishing seventh, it was an especially good day for e.dams-Renault who became the first ever Formula E teams champions.

In contrast it was a testing day for Piquet and his NEXTEV TCR team. From fifth on the grid he was always going to have his work cut out to move forward on the tight, heavily-cambered Battersea Park track.

But he quickly got onto the back of Lucas di Grassi and had a good run for third. As they went side by side the cars touched on the straight and Piquet was forced to run deep into the chicane and very nearly hit the wall. With his exit heavily compromised, Jean-Eric Vergne took full advantage to nip by and steal fourth.

After the car-swap pitstop, Piquet was once again on di Grassi’s tail. This time he used his FanBoost to almost draw level with the Audi Sport ABT entry, but di Grassi defended well and in the closing stages upped his pace to pull well clear.

Indeed di Grassi set the Visa Fastest Lap during his late surge, and combined with fourth place, it means he’s now just 13 points behind in the championship.

Despite a very strong race to second, Jerome D’Ambrosio’s slim title hopes have ended, but the Dragon Racing driver was still very pleased with another podium finish.

“I was just focusing on the race and trying to do my best,” he said. “It’s great to be here on the podium. For my team it’s US-based but a number of the guys are from the UK so it’s kind of like a home race. I’m happy about the race.”

After passing Piquet, Vergne closed down di Grassi and with all four wheels locked up, pulled off a great passing move for third. In the second part of the race his pace was limited by a power issue, but he was still pleased with third.

“It was a great move [on Piquet] and it felt good and gave me the confidence to go and get Lucas under braking at the same corner,” he said. “It was a good thing and then we had some issues with the battery, that’s something we need to look into for tomorrow and find a solution. I was quick but never quick enough to pass Jerome.”

Like D’Ambrosio, Prost and Sam Bird saw their slim title hopes end in Battersea. After a troubled qualifying, Bird was fast in the race, but a slow pitstop cost him a shot at a top-five finish. Still he overtook Prost and Loic Duval, who was suffering with a lack of top speed, in the closing stages to take sixth.

Duval finished eighth for Dragon, while Oliver Turvey was the best-placed of the five debutants, coming home ninth. It should have been much better, but an over-long pitstop cost him at least two places.

The final point went to Stephane Sarrazin. The Venturi driver had been quick all day, but a mistake in qualifying cost him dearly. But with Bruno Senna (Mahindra) and Salvador Duran (Amlin Aguri) picking up pitlane speeding penalties, he was promoted into the points.

Now they all have to do it again. Piquet still holds the lead, but with just 13 points separating the top three – and the incredibly tricky nature of the circuit – it genuinely is too close to call.


Race 2

Nelson Piquet Jr. is the first Formula E champion. The Brazilian took the title at the end of an incredible day, with the excitement building as everyone was left holding their breath until the final lap and then some. Piquet drove in a very determined fashion from start to finish, making up a lot of places, thanks to a very aggressive strategy: his courage was rewarded with seventh place, enough for him to triumph in the title fight, which also means that, for the first time, a Chinese team, NEXTEV TCR, has produced the champion in an FIA series.

Apart from Piquet, the other hero of the moment was Englishman Sam Bird, who took his second win of the season in front of his home crowd. It was a well-deserved, if not unexpected victory, given that Bird actually took the chequered flag right behind Stephane Sarrazin, but on the slowing down lap, the Venturi driver was informed he had exceeded the permitted energy allowance. The inevitable penalty dropped him to 15th place. Bird’s great day also included setting the fastest race lap, which was worth not just the two bonus points in the classification, but also the Visa Fastest Lap Trophy in the very race in which Visa Europe was the title sponsor.

Even the cleverest of thriller screenwriters could not have come up with such an incident packed script as the one delivered at the 11th and final round of the season. A fantastic crowd flocked to Battersea Park: once again today, over 25,000 spectators packed the grandstands and the eVillage, bringing the total number of people through the gates over the duration of the event from Friday to Sunday, to around the 60,000 mark. They were treated to two equally thrilling scenarios. The first was the fight for the win, which apart from the two aforementioned drivers, also involved Belgium’s Jerome D’Ambrosio and France’s Loic Duval, who both finished on the podium. The result means that Dragon Racing has finished second in the teams’ championship, right behind newly crowned champions e.dams-Renault.


The second big story of the day was the title fight, with three contenders, Buemi, di Grassi and Piquet, who went on to cross the line in that order. However, only the last of them was smiling about his finishing position, because the six points that go with seventh place were enough to finish just a single point ahead of Buemi in the classification. The Swiss driver paid the price for a spin shortly after his pit stop: the mistake meant Bruno Senna got ahead of him to finish fourth, his best result of the season. The Brazilian proved to be an unshakeable opponent for the e.dams-Renault driver, who tried his best in the final few metres to take back the position that would have given him the title.

Lucas di Grassi would have needed a combination of favourable circumstance to take the title and, in the end, sixth place was not even enough to allow the Audi Sport ABT team to hang on to second place in the teams’ classification.

The remaining points places were filled by the Mexican Duran (eighth), Englishman Turvey who finished ninth just as he did yesterday in his debut weekend in Formula E and Nicolas Prost, the only driver who has always finished in the points this season.

The day got off to a dramatic start, as the battle for the Julius Baer Pole Position was hit by rain, just as the second group of drivers were out on track. Therefore, for the first time ever this season, the special all-weather tyres supplied to all Formula E competitors by Michelin, were given a stern test. Paying the highest price for the drops of rain that hit that track was Piquet, who was in the third group and thus found himself in 16th place on the grid, behind fellow countryman di Grassi (11th) but more importantly, a long way off Sebastian Buemi, his closest title rival, who was sixth fastest. Quickest was Sarrazin who beat D’Ambrosio by a whisker with Duval third and Bird fourth.

It was a closely fought and tense race, which was very exciting for the spectators in the park and for those following the race on television and the Internet. It was a great end to the inaugural season of the first FIA championship for fully-electric single-seaters. “Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the final would turn out like this,” commented Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag. “It was an incredible day and we achieved what we set out to do; putting on a great motorsport show in one of the most important cities in the world. We did it!”

The season ends with a prize-giving evening, which takes place tonight at the Natural History Museum in London, but thoughts are already turning to the future. On 10 July, at the FIA World Council meeting, the calendar for the second season will be published, while exactly one month later, Donington Park circuit will stage the first of three official test sessions.