Audi Sport ABT’s Lucas di Grassi inherited a historic victory in the first ever all-electric single-seater race, capitalising on a final lap incident between the frontrunning Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost.
Following an anticlimactic race start which saw a lengthy safety car period caused by the early retirement of Bruno Senna’s Mahindra, the race began to ramp up dramatically in its closing stages.
Polesitter Nicolas Prost (e.dams-Renault), who initially looked set to be the series’ first lights-to-flag race winner, started to increasingly come under pressure from Venturi’s Nick Heidfeld in the final laps.
The German ex-Formula One ace had leapfrogged his rivals thanks to a slick pitstop strategy, which elevated him from fourth to second midway through the race.
Heidfeld looked unlikely to pass his French rival as they entered the final lap of the race, with earlier overtaking attempts having been unsuccessful. However, a calculated drive through the circuit’s final sector allowed him to close the gap to Prost on the exit of the penultimate corner. As the two leaders entered the final corner of the race, a last gasp dive into the braking zone saw Heidfeld pull alongside Prost, who then moved across to cover the inside line, making contact with the German driver.
Heartstopping drama ensued as Heidfeld’s car careened out of control and hit a trackside kerb at speed, catapulting the car into the air and into the nearby catch fence, to cries of terror of the watching crowd. Meanwhile, Prost also skidded to a halt.
“I thought it was going to be a very big crash as well. Once I hit the kerb it felt like I was in the air forever”, Heidfeld reflected.
“I closed my eyes and waited for the impact and then I thought ‘Oh that was lucky!’”
Lucas di Grassi, running in third at the time, capitalised on the misfortune of the frontrunners to inherit first place and collected the chequered flag as the race victor for Audi Sport ABT.
“The team did a great job all through practice and qualifying; yes, we made a few mistakes but overall I’m extremely happy to be the first ever winner of a Formula E race”, he beamed.
Andretti Autosport’s Franck Montagny crossed the line in second place, having started eighth, ahead of Virgin’s Sam Bird who enjoyed an inspired drive from twelfth on the grid.
Di Grassi’s teammate Daniel Abt had initially finished third, but was demoted to tenth following a time penalty for excessive energy consumption. The German youngster had used 28.2kWh throughout the race, 0.2kWh more than the allowed 28kWh.
Katherine Legge (Amlin Aguri) and Jaime Alguersuari (Virgin) also received penalties for similar infringements.
Sebastien Buemi (e.dams-Renault), who had established himself as a championship favourite following a dominant performance throughout pre-season testing, failed to finish the race after retiring on lap 19.
The second ePrix takes place in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on November 22.
FULL RACE RESULTS
1. Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT, 52:23.413s
2. Franck Montagny, Andretti Autosport, +2.867s
3. Sam Bird, Virgin Racing, +6.559s
4. Charles Pic, Andretti Autosport, +19.301s
5. Karun Chandhok, Mahindra Racing, +23.952s
6. Jerôme D’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing, +31.664s
7. Oriol Servia, Dragon Racing, +41.968s
8. Nelson Piquet Jr, Team China Racing, +43.896s
9. Stephane Sarrazin, Venturi, +43.975s
10. Daniel Abt, Audi Sport ABT, +1:02.507s
11. Jaime Alguersuari, Virgin Racing, +2:00.613s
12. Nicolas Prost, e.dams-Renault, Collision
13. Nick Heidfeld, Venturi, Collision
14. Michela Cerruti, Trulli, + 1 Lap
15. Katherine Legge, Amlin Aguri, + 1 Lap
16. Ho-Pin Tung, Team China Racing, + 2 Laps
- Takuma Sato, Amlin Aguri, Retired
- Sebastien Buemi, e.dams-Renault, Retired
- Jarno Trulli, Trulli, Retired
- Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing, Retired
Image credit: FIA Formula E