BUEMI SURVIVES FORMULA E CHAOS
LONDON EPRIX ACTION
edemption. Just two weeks earlier, Sebastien Buemi had watched his Japanese teammate Kazuki Nakajima pull over and concede the lead of Le Mans with just minutes remaining.
Two weeks later, the Swiss driver was dripping in champagne as he saw off fellow sportscar ace Lucas di Grassi in order to succeed Nelson Piquet Jr’s mantle and become the second FIA Formula E champion.
But – like last year when he lost out on the title by a point – it wouldn’t be easy. Far from it.
At Turn 1 of Sunday’s finale on the very first lap, Abt driver di Grassi – tied on points with Buemi heading into the race – ploughed into the back of his title rival as both blamed each other for the incident in a Senna/ Prost, Brazil/japan-type drama. The resulting collision took both out of any chance of an overall finish, so instead they fought for the points on offer for fastest lap, which would become the decider. Although di Grassi came close, it was difficult to see the excellent Buemi and his superior Renault e.dams losing out on such a battle. On his 16th tour, and in his second car after the shunt, he pumped in the 1m24.150s. That gave him the two points for fastest lap and the title. Di Grassi had no response in his spare car.
While Buemi’s team-mate Nico Prost walked away with Saturday’s race the TV cameras barely fell upon him such was the ferocity of the midfield battle centred on Buemi and di Grassi, but also containing JeanEric Vergne, Sam Bird, Daniel Abt and Robin Frijns.
As well as the title fight, di Grassi and Buemi also had the constructors’ championship to think of, but that was put out of reach in the latter stages of the first race thanks to an aggressive move around the outside by Abt on Frijns, the two made contact putting both out of the race and effectively ending Abt’s title hopes with Renault e.dams’ Prost and Buemi in the top five.
Behind the escaping top two of Prost and Senna – which was entertaining in itself purely for nostalgia – it was Briton Oliver Turvey, Vergne, di Grassi and Buemi, after the latter had forced his way past Abt after a frustrating period for the Swiss driver. The two title challengers were down the order thanks to rain in their qualifying groups and scything their way through the field together nicely having started 10th and 12th on the grid respectively.
With the two together it was only a matter of time before trouble ensued. Di Grassi almost lost his wing after a bold move on Vergne at Turn 8 – which di Grassi later labelled as “stupid” for leaving the door half open and then closing it abruptly.
Di Grassi’s front wing endplate detached from his car, meaning he could continue. Incredibly he consequently set the fastest lap.
That was almost instantly retaken by Prost though, who went unchallenged through the pitstops and a brief safety car for Abt and Frijns’ earlier shunt. Senna did an admirable job to stay with him in what is an inferior car. It was Mahindra and Senna’s best result in Formula E to boot.
While they scurried away, drama unfolded with three laps to go. Turvey crashed out of third blaming damage from a hit from Vergne, which caused a concertina effect, with the Frenchman taking third. Bird used this opportunity to dive down the inside of Buemi and steal fifth, but on the final lap the Brit and last year’s Sunday race winner ran out of power. It almost ended in tears as Buemi ploughed into the back of Bird whose power ran out in the worst possible place: the middle of a straight.
Luckily it came on the last lap and Buemi finished, but he still lost three points to title rival di Grassi.
But, no matter. Both Buemi and di Grassi had to set a qualifying time in the rain on Saturday and were therefore both out of the superpole battle, but on the Sunday it was dry and both made it to the five-driver shootout.
Buemi was supreme, just under a second quicker than team-mate Prost, who was his only realistic rival in the session. Not only was it relevant to be on pole for the tight London track, it also meant he earned three points for the honour, and that put he and di Grassi equal on points into the second race of the weekend with the latter starting directly behind Buemi on the track in third.
Then, Turn 3. With di Grassi hitting the back of Buemi and consigning them to qualifying runs to try and set the fastest lap, Prost again ran away with the lead, even more emphatically this time. But all eyes were on the fantastic Buemi and di Grassi. Despite the opening drama, they both focused and produced supreme laps around the Battersea Park circuit.
Prost’s closest challenger was Abt, who attempted to make up for his misdemeanour on Saturday by completing a brilliant overtaking move past Nick Heidfeld for second place. The positions appeared set for most of the race but on the last lap Vergne, Heidfeld and Antonio Felix da Costa were penalised for using more than the allowed amount of energy. Da Costa especially missed out on a brilliant result after starting 13th and running in the top five. He’d managed a similar feat in Saturday’s race.
That left a surprised Jerome d’ambrosio to round out the top three, with Loic Duval and Stephane Sarrazin completing the top five.
While a brilliant season produced a titanic battle, the way in which the title was decided left a sour taste. After such an impressive season of racing, it was a shame that the championship was decided on a fastest lap. But the quality of the two drivers fighting for the series’ overall honour proves that Formula E is full of quality.