Lucas di Grassi took his second consecutive win of the season in New York, as Jean-Eric Vergne fought through the field to move out of reach of title rival Sam Bird and secure the ABB FIA Formula E Championship with one round to spare.
Both title contenders started on the back foot after a difficult qualifying session, but Vergne drove a resilient race from the back row of the grid to fifth position – beating Bird and extending his lead to 31-points and clinching the Formula E crown regardless of the result tomorrow.
After being excluded from qualifying due to technical infringement, it looked like the championship would go down to the wire once more. However, Vergne calmly and carefully moved his way up the order leaving Bird defenceless – becoming the fourth different champion in as many seasons.
Bird couldn’t match the speed of his nearest competitors and agonisingly had to watch his championship hopes fade away as Vergne eased by and off into the distance, eventually coming home in ninth for DS Virgin Racing.
It was a different story for Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, which repeated its dominant display from Berlin to pick-up another one-two finish and hold the accolade as the only team to manage it on two separate occasions.
Outgoing champion di Grassi showed the speed to pick-up his second win in succession after standing on the top step last time out on the streets of Zurich.
Di Grassi started out of position in 11th after a tricky qualifying session, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Brazilian taking his eighth E-Prix victory, which came from the second-lowest winning starting position – only bettered by his own effort in Mexico City last season from a lowly 15th place.
His Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team-mate Daniel Abt led the majority of the race during the opening stint – moving ahead of Sebastien Buemi, who lined-up on Julius Baer pole position for Renault e.dams. Both Audi cars pitted on lap 23 to swap cars and returned to the track in close proximity.
As di Grassi put pressure on Abt, the German made a mistake in the new section of track at Turn 6 and forced him out of position on the run down to the popular overtaking point at the Turn 11 chicane. Di Grassi pulled alongside Abt and made the move for the lead.
Abt chased di Grassi to the chequered flag after a heavy crash from Alex Lynn brought out the Qualcomm safety car with less than 10 laps to go – but it was to no avail as Abt had to settle for second place and Visa fastest lap.
Buemi rounded out the podium places in third for Renault e.dams, ahead of Venturi’s Tom Dillmann in fourth – his highest-ever finishing position in Formula E beating his previous best of seventh in New York last year.
Nick Heidfeld continued a consistent run of form and matched his result from Zurich in sixth behind Vergne, with TECHEETAH team-mate Andre Lotterer following the newly-crowned champion through the pack from 19th to seventh.
Maro Engel held position in eighth ahead of Bird and Nico Prost, who dropped from third on the grid to complete the top-10 points-paying positions.
Vergne may have already sewn-up the title and etched his name in the history books, but there’s still one more race to go tomorrow and just five points separating TECHEETAH and Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler in the team standings.
Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, said: “The Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler car was just a rocket today. I had good fights with Dillmann, good fights with a lot of the drivers in fact. The second stint was a bit weird – in Formula E, it makes no sense to open a gap because if a safety car or any other disruption happens, you’ve wasted energy to open that gap. So, I was just trying to make sure that Daniel was at just the right distance, but then after Lynn’s crash, it’s just a flat-out race to the end, which was very different. Daniel made a mistake in braking at Turn 6 and went a little bit wide through the dust. Then his tyres were bad for the next segment, before the back straight and I knew that it was a good moment to attack.”
Daniel Abt, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, said: “Going into this race we knew we had a strong package. I was aware that Lucas was behind, and I was told not to take risks, so I don’t know if there was a miscommunication. I’m happy for Audi – the team deserves this but of course I can’t sit here and smile like crazy. We’re absolutely able to win the teams’ championship – that was always the target here – then we can end the season really proud.”
Sebastien Buemi, Renault e.dams, said: “To be honest I was focussing on my race, and initially I felt that I could stay at the front. I had similar pace to the Audi cars and I had a feeling I had a little bit more energy. When di Grassi overtook me, I didn’t want to fight as I knew that energy was very important, and it wouldn’t have made sense. Then I just had to hold the gap, but it wasn’t so easy as I had an issue with the brakes, the temperature completely diverted, and I couldn’t brake and was locking-up everywhere. In the end, I didn’t have the pace and they were stronger. Still, there’s one more race to go and then I have to work on next year as clearly in terms of efficiency they [Audi] were in a different league today, so I’m happy to be the best of the rest.”
Jean-Eric Vergne, TECHEETAH, said: “I can’t believe it – what a crazy race – god it feels good! Really I have no idea what it means to me to be champion. I need more time to process it – all I know is that it’s a good feeling. I guess still having the race tomorrow – I cannot completely relax. I can’t go crazy tonight, so on the Sunday night when everything will be over… I will be able to enjoy it to the full extent. I have waited the whole season for this. When I crossed the line I honestly didn’t know I had won. My engineer told me, ‘I guess we’ve done it,’, so I said, ‘what do you mean?’ Then Lotterer went past me and clapped, so I knew something was up. When I found out I was speechless. I enjoyed the race, but obviously, it was very tough. Some drivers were quite hard and overconsumed energy to try and not let m e by. It was actually really complicated, a real fight unlike in Zurich – today, the drivers were tougher!”
– Champion at last; it’s Jean-Eric Vergne’s first title since winning the British Formula 3 Championship back in 2010.
– High-risers; Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler is the only team to win from starting outside the top-three positions this season – Daniel Abt in Mexico City and Lucas di Grassi in Zurich and New York.
– Losing the lead; it’s the first race this season that Daniel Abt has led without converting it into a victory, including the disqualification in Hong Kong.
Source. Formula E