The Season 6 champion returned to form last time out with third in Hyderabad but this was something else in a properly attritional race at another mega, all-new track - with just 13 drivers finishing the knife-edge encounter.
The Porsche driver had clambered his way through the top 10 and into the top three by Lap 20. With the pack squeezed by a Full Course Yellow on Lap 21, the top four were split by just 1.5 seconds and the scrap for the lead was anybody's. Envision Racing's Nick Cassidy had outdone impressive rookie and polesitter Sacha Fenestraz and Maximilian Guenther through the first round of ATTACK MODE activations - going longer before opting for his initial 50kW boost and creeping into the lead.
With the quartet out-front nose to tail thanks to Guenther clipping a wall and pulling the car over into retirement, throwing that caution, Cassidy headed Fenestraz - by less than half-a-second with da Costa and Vergne for company. The former teammates in third and fourth swept by Fenestraz as the Nissan jumped through the ATTACK MODE loop and set about leader Cassidy.
The move for P1 was one of the best you'll ever see. On Lap 24, Da Costa produced an outrageous pass to steal the lead from Cassidy at the trickiest part of the track – that seat-of-the-pants Turn 7, 8 and 9 combo that had been the site of three crashes earlier in the weekend. The Season 6 champ sent it around the outside of Turn 7 and made it stick up the inside at Turn 8 – keeping his foot in.
The Porsche driver then pulled enough of a gap to take his second mandatory ATTACK MODE and retake the lead but he missed the activation loop – handing the lead to Hyderabad winner Vergne a lap later. The Frenchman had never had back-to-back wins to this point.
The former teammates then fought to the flag – Vergne having taken just one of his 11 victories to-date by more than two seconds and he was right off the back of a vintage defensive drive in Hyderabad. The gap was half-a-second with the full 30 laps down and just two added on for the time lost to cautions to come.
On Lap 21, Da Costa then tried the same stunning overtaking manoeuvre once again, this time on Vergne – one of the toughest competitors out there. As before, there was no room to breathe but he still sent it around the outside of Turn 7 into 8 and 9 and on to a memorable race win under severe pressure from JEV.
Meanwhile, Fenestraz had made it by Cassidy to take a potential podium but heartbreakingly, the Nissan driver hit the wall on the final lap – that was that. So near, yet so far for the rookie after another super impressive race weekend. Cassidy gratefully accepted the gift for silverware.
Rene Rast (NEOM McLaren) steered to a cool fourth after a six-place gain, while Sebastien Buemi (Envision Racing) took the flag fifth. Dan Ticktum ensured NIO 333 would score strongly again with a sixth-placed finish - two top sixes on the bounce for the Anglo-Chinese outfit which has started GEN3 well.
Reigning champion Stoffel Vandoorne settled for relative scraps and seventh while his teammate steered to the podium. Norman Nato (Nissan), Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche) and Jake Hughes (NEOM McLaren) rounded out the top 10 and the points.
Elsewhere, standings leader Pascal Wehrlein in the sister Porsche ran clean into the back of Buemi’s Envision Racing car on Lap 1 – massively overcooking it and outbraking himself into retirement.
The poor luck for the Jaguar TCS Racing team didn't let up. Sam Bird's damaged car wasn't fit to make the start after his qualifying shunt, then Mitch Evans was slapped with a drive-through penalty for an overpower violation, dropping him out of a strong fourth spot at the time, early in the race.
Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis had worked his way up to ninth, looking to capitalise on standings leader Wehrlein’s retirement, but he’d be shot down by a drive-through penalty for under-pressured tyres.
Despite that retirement, Wehrlein still leads the Drivers' World Championship with 80 points to Jake Dennis' 62. Vergne jumps to 50 points in third with da Costa now into fourth on 46. Porsche head Envision Racing 126 points to 84 in the Teams' running.
Next up, it's Sao Paulo on 25 March for a third new event in a row for Formula E.