It’s official: after a nail biting weekend of action which saw some of the world’s best motor racing drivers duel not once by twice on the tight streets of Battersea Park, London during the final two rounds of the inaugural FIA Formula E championship, Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr driving for NEXTEV TCR has won the very first Formula E drivers’ title by just one point.
The world’s first open-seater 100 percent electric vehicle motor racing series, Formula E makes use of specially-designed electric cars fitted with a powerful lithium-ion battery pack providing a useable 28 kilowatt-hours of energy and 200 kilowatt electric motors. With each race lasting around 45 minutes to an hour, drivers pit mid-race and swap out their cars for a fully-charged one, and can only use one set of tires for the entire qualifying and race session.
Entering into the final two rounds in Battersea Park with a 17-point lead on fellow Brazilian Lucas di Grassi of ABT at the top of the Formula E driving standings, Piquet’s lead was dramatically cut to just five points after Swiss driver Sébastian Buemi secured a commanding victory after securing pole position during a very tense qualifying session on the demanding track.
Buemi’s win, securing him 28 points for the championship, was also enough to win team e.dams-Renault — co-founded by Formula 1 racing legend Alain Prost — the coveted Formula E team title for the season, thanks to a 64-point lead at the top of the team standings with one race to space.
With the title fight of round 11 set to happen the very next day, teams and drivers were forced to execute the quickest turnaround of the season, while the track team found themselves making a much-needed modification to the exit of Turn 1. This was to fix a particularly brutal bump on the exit to Turn 1 which concerned the drivers during Saturday’s initial practice session so much that an temporary narrowing of the track at Turn 1 was necessary for Saturday’s race, alongside a ban on overtaking in that corner and a rolling safety-car start.
Rather than being constructed specifically for the event, the 1.82-mile race course was constructed out of the existing roads which formed much of Battersea Park’s Carriage Drive, meaning that it was far less even and far more challenging than a custom-built race track. Thanks to the overnight works on Saturday evening however, Turn 1’s hump had been completely eliminated ahead of Sunday’s race, giving drivers the opportunity to take the sweeping left-hander at full speed.
But like Saturday, Sunday wasn’t championship leader and race favourite Nelson Piquet Jr’s day, as heavy, intermittent rain between the first and second qualifying round saw Piquet start sixteenth on the grid, Buemi start in ninth, and Di Grassi start in eleventh. With Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin of team Ventrui benefiting from the dry track of the first qualifying session, he was able to clinch pole for the race ahead of Dragon Racing’s Jerome d’Ambrosio and Loic Duval in second and third place.
Starting fourth on the grid was local boy Sam Bird of Team Virgin, who had finished one car behind Piquet during Saturday’s race.
As with all Formula E races this season, the three most popular drivers of each race — as voted by fans on social media — were awarded fan boost functionality for the race. Increasing the power output of the electric motor from the 150 kilowatts they are limited to during racing to 180 kilowatts for just five seconds, drivers with fan boost can activate the additional power once per car during the race, giving them two chances to execute a fan boost manoeuvre to assist with an overtake or a fastest-lap attempt.
As votes closed on Sunday, Piquet Jr, Buemi and Brit Oliver Turvey were awarded Fan Boost for the final race of the season, but with all three starting well back in the race, each driver faced a tough challenge to make their way through the field.
After a clean start, Sarrazin held onto his pole throughout the race, looking to secure his first win of the season after what has been a very disappointing year for him thus far. But Bird, determined to win in his home country, put in a masterful performance, driving both more efficiently and more quickly than many of the drivers in front.
Pitting one lap after most of the field, Bird also entered into the second-half of the race with a significant energy advantage over those in front, aggressively overtaking both Dragon Racing cars and posting the fastest lap of the race just five laps from the end of the race. Meanwhile, the top three championship contenders, Buemi, di Grassi and Piquet had were kept from a podium finish by the ultra-defensive driving of sixth-place Bruno Senna, nephew of the Late Ayrton Senna. While Buemi had qualified sixth for the race, a spin shortly after swapping cars saw him lose a place to the Brazilian, who wasn’t keen on letting him have it back.
With the race drawing to a close, Bird kept the pressure on first-place Sarrazin, trying several times during the final laps to pass the Frenchman. But while Bird crossed the line in what appeared to be second place, telematics from Sarrazin’s car quickly informed race officials that the effect of defending first place had caused Sarrazin’s battery to run out of its allocated charge before crossing the line, resulting in a 49-second penalty for power over-use that pushed him to fifteenth place in the overall standings.
With Buemi unable to overtake Senna to regain his sixth place, the Swiss driver missed out on the much-needed advantage over Piquet — but the penalty awarded to Sarrazin ultimately saw him earn 10 points for finishing fifth, resulting in a total season total of 143 points. Despite finishing two places further down the field, Piquet’s five-point lead on Buemi going into the race, combined with earning six points for finishing seventh, was enough to let him hold onto the title by just one point.
Talking to us after the race, Bird said he was ecstatic to have one the final round of the inaugural FIA Formula E championship on his home turf, and was already looking forward to next season. Describing the car-to-car contact between him and Sarrazin during the final few laps as “a little kiss,” Bird said he wasn’t even aware of the win until it came to parking his car in the pits. Expecting to pack in the space reserved for second-place, he found that it was already occupied by the car of Jerome d’Ambrosio.
“I was thinking, Who’s the muppet that has parked in the wrong place?” he joked.
Although this season has only just come to a close, pre-season testing for the 2015/16 season begins in just 42 days’ time, with the calendar for next year already rumored to be expanded to take in a few extra cities.
Having been present at not just one but two rounds and spent some time talking to the drivers, the teams and the fans, we think next season is certainly going to be one you won’t want to miss.
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