The beach-side location for the first Formula E race in South America was the perfect backdrop for Sebastien Buemi to finally recreate his pre-season form and bag his and e.dams-Renault’s maiden win.
But although it was Buemi who sprayed the victor’s champagne on the podium, it was Jean-Eric Vergne who stole the show. Having received a late call-up to race for Andretti, the ex-Toro Rosso Formula 1 racer, made a stunning impact, securing pole position for his debut race.
He was beaten off the line by the fast-starting Nelson Piquet Jr (China Racing), but the Brazilian had clipped a wall in an effort to establish an early advantage, and with his car’s handling slightly awry he could only fend off Vergne’s attack for so long.
Once ahead, Vergne soon pulled away, stretching out a comfortable advantage as Piquet diced with Buemi and e.dams team-mate Nico Prost. However, all of Vergne’s hard work was undone in an instant. He was the first of the leaders to stop, but almost as soon as he returned to the track so the Qualcomm Safety Car was deployed after broken suspension sent Venturi’s Stephane Sarrazin spinning.
The sister Venturi entry of Nick Heidfeld led the pack after the stops, but the German owed the place to exceeding the maximum energy usage, and a drive-through penalty was inevitable.
This left Buemi in the lead, with Vergne and Piquet filling his mirrors. Another late caution period – caused when Matthew Brabham crashed his Andretti entry after a strong, battling drive – appeared to have set up a grandstand finish.
Vergne used his FanBoost to close right onto Buemi’s tail, but before he could truly test the Swiss driver’s resolve, broken front suspension ended his fantastic debut.
"I came here to have fun and that's what I did,” said Vergne. "The weekend would have been perfect if I had won, but somehow the suspension broke and that was that, so it's a bit of a shame. But that's racing.”
Piquet couldn’t quite get close enough to Buemi to even threaten a move, but second place was his best result so far, and was some compensation for Putrajaya, where he appeared set fair for a podium when he was taken out in a collision with Jarno Trulli.
After a good start, but a poor first corner, third place fell to Lucas di Grassi. It means the Audi Sport Abt driver has now finished on the podium in all three Formula E races so far.
“I had a very good race start,” he said. “But then I was squeezed by [Jaime] Alguersuari in the chicane and just managed not to touch the wall. It was quite a bad first corner. After that I was just attacking Jaime for the whole first stint, but he was very aggressive on closing and making us both lose time. I was just trying to finish in the points. We proved again that we had the pace and another podium feels good.”
It was a different story for Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird. The Putrajaya winner went to Uruguay just three points behind the Brazilian. But a crash in qualifying meant he started from the back, and another crash in the race ensured he left pointless and tied on points with Buemi – 18 down on di Grassi.
After a series of duels with the likes of Sarrazin and Brabham, Trulli came home fourth to score his and the team’s first points. The result means that all 10 teams have now registered a score.
Alguersuari recorded his best result of the season to take fifth for Virgin Racing, while Bruno Senna survived a clash with the wall avoiding the spinning Sarrazin that left him three-wheeling into the pits to score his first points for Mahindra in sixth.
Unlike Vergne, the two other series debutants struggled. At China Racing Antonio Garcia had numerous flirtations with the wall throughout the event, but was on course for a point when Heidfeld (who picked up a second penalty for speeding in the pits) used his FanBoost to take 10th place on the line.
After a break from racing lasting four years, Salvador Duran understandably took a while to play himself in at Amlin Aguri. He had some technical issues too and eventually finished 16th, four laps down.
This weekend’s Buenos Aires event is the last chance for the other drivers to close in di Grassi before the series takes a mid-season break ahead of the Miami ePrix on March 14. There have been three different winners in three races and 19 drivers have already scored points. But among all this diversity there’s been one constant, and that’s di Grassi taking home some silverware.