As he stood on top of the podium, Nelson Piquet Jr held his trophy in one hand and his crash helmet – a tribute to his father’s original design – in the other.
The significance of the moment was plain for all to see. In 1980, Nelson Piquet scored his first F1 win in the Long Beach Grand Prix. It was the first big step in a career that would yield 24 Grand Prix wins and three world titles.
For Piquet Jr, after coming so close in Miami only to lose out in the pitstops, who knows how significant this could be. He’s now up to second in the championship, and if he can replicate the form he showed in California again, he’s going to be hard to beat.
Piquet thought he could have taken pole but for traffic on his best lap. Either way, a perfect start allowed him to get inside Daniel Abt into the first corner and into a lead which – pitstops aside – he would hold until the end.
In the closing stages there was some confusion with his team over the radio regarding whether they wanted him to coast more or less, but in reality he was never challenged on his way to a well-deserved win.
Piquet said: “The start was one of those times where everything goes right, the car didn’t wheelspin much and it seemed like both cars in front didn’t have a very good reaction. So I got almost alongside Daniel [Abt] and broke as late as I could into the first corner. I was really confident on the brakes here and I found a way to control them which can be a big issue with these cars. As soon as I got the lead it was just a matter of managing from the front and keeping calm without making mistakes. The last race in Miami we lost a great result from a mistake in the pitstop so I think it was crucial to hold on to the lead here. I just made sure I managed the gap to Jean-Eric [Vergne] behind me and just brought it home. This one meant a lot to me!”
With Hollywood A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio and Adrien Brody looking on, the Long Beach ePrix got underway in frenetic style. Poleman Abt and his fellow front-row starter Nico Prost were slow away, but as Piquet was threading his way into the lead, further back cars were spread right across the track as they cut the chicane looking for a piece of unoccupied asphalt.
In the melee Sam Bird tagged the back of Sebastien Buemi. The Virgin’s right front suspension broke in the impact. He limped back to the pits and swapped cars with the aim of using his FanBoost to set fastest lap. He almost did too, but was denied by Prost – recovering after a drive-through for hitting Jerome D’Ambrosio from behind.
The race was starting to settle down when Scott Speed locked a wheel going into the chicane. He ran too deep and over the exit kerb. With his front wheels in the air, he was powerless to stop the car smashing into the wall. It took the Andretti man out of the race and led to the Qualcomm Safety Car being deployed.
At the restart Vergne used his FanBoost to pass Prost for third. As Piquet was streaking away, so Abt was at the head of a great fight for second with Vergne, di Grassi (who nipped into fourth), Prost, Buemi and da Costa all embroiled in the fight.
Da Costa pulled a move on Prost, who was really struggling. Jerome D’Ambrosio was the next man to pass the Frenchman, who then punted the Dragon Racing driver out of the way. Da Costa dropped out of the hunt when the Amlin Aguri driver lost eight seconds in the pits. He eventually finished seventh but had the pace for a podium.
Abt’s chances of a second-straight top-three finish were ended when he was penalised for excessive energy use, although he’d already lost a place to Vergne during the pitstops.
Further back Charles Pic picked up a penalty for T-boning Jarno Trulli out of the race in a move that brought the safety car out again.
With Piquet comfortably out in front and Vergne equally safe in second, the main focus in the closing stages was the battle for third between di Grassi and Buemi. The e.dams-Renault driver was always close, but never close enough to make a move.
Vergne said: “It’s good, it’s been four years since I stood on the podium. In my three years with Toro Rosso in Formula 1 it wasn’t possible so I’m really happy to be here. Maybe I should have been here earlier but that’s racing and you never know what can happen and I’ve been quite unfortunate in the past three races. This result is good points for the team, they are pushing hard in the championship and the podium is always the objective. It was a difficult start to the day with me crashing heavily in practice but I have to say thanks to the guys for fixing it and hope this podium serves as an apology!”
Nevertheless after the disappointment of Buenos Aires and Miami, fourth place was a decent result. The same was true of Bruno Senna, who had a trouble-free race for Mahindra for once. He led briefly during the stops and returned to the track just as Prost was passing. He just managed to squeeze himself ahead to equal his best result of the season.
D’Ambrosio reckoned fourth place was possible but for the incident with Prost and another with Nick Heidfeld, who ended up in the barriers after trying to pinch the Belgian into the wall as he made a pass.
Jaime Alguersuari had a low-key run to eighth for Virgin. Loic Duval survived a wild sideways moment that resulted in a very near miss with Amlin Aguri’s Salvador Duran to take ninth, while Stephane Sarrazin collected the final point for Venturi.
New championship leader di Grassi said: “It’s an honour to be back in the lead of the championship. We should have had a very good result in Buenos Aires and a good result in Miami without the mechanical failures, which were neither mine nor the team’s fault. To return to the podium was the main goal here even if it was my fourth podium in six races…it was off the back of two tough results.”
Next up is Monaco, a place where Nelson Piquet Snr never won. There is one driver in the field whose surname has become synonymous with the Principality over the years. What odds on Bruno Senna keeping the emotional fairytale run going on May 9.
To view the results in full click here.