14 Jul 18
ARGHHHHH! Came the scream over the crackly radio channel. "I can't believe it - what a crazy race... god it feels good!" shouted the Techeetah's Jean-Eric Vergne, struggling to hold back the emotion in his voice. For over seven months, the Frenchman has battled his way through traffic on the streets of nine of the world's most iconic cities on five continents. And today, against the backdrop of Manhattan, Vergne made it all worthwhile as he was crowned ABB FIA Formula E Championship here in New York City.
"I have waited the whole season for this," said Vergne, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. "Really, I have no idea what it means to me to be champion – I need more time to take it all in! All I know is that it’s a good feeling but to know the full extent of winning the championship, I don’t know yet."
But it's not over yet for our newly crowned champion - far from it. Tomorrow, in the second instalment of the double-header season finale, Vergne and his partner in crime Andre Lotterer will need to step up one more time if they are to clinch the teams' championship title. With just five points separating Techeetah and Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler- there's still a title to play for in New York.
And, if today's performance from the Audi boys is anything to go by, then JEV and Lotterer will have to work very hard indeed. "I guess still having the race tomorrow – I cannot completely relax, I can't go crazy tonight, so on the Sunday night, whenever everything will be over, I will be able to enjoy it to the full extent," said Vergne in a fleeting moment of sobriety.
Pulling in yet another stunning one-two led by outgoing champion and today's winner Lucas di Grassi, Audi led the majority of the second half of the race, collecting a grand total of 44 points in the process. "The Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler car was just a rocket today," said di Grassi. "I had good fights with Dillmann - I had good fights with a lot of the drivers, clearly ecstatic with his second victory of the season but all too aware of Vergne's ultimate victory. "I think JEV did a fantastic championship – he deserved to be champion...he did everything correctly."
But all was not well in the Audi camp. Despite finishing second, Abt was clearly disgruntled with the result. Asked if he had received orders from Team Principal Allan McNish to stop racing his teammate towards the end of the race, he simply replied, "yes." In what could have been Abt's third victory of the season, the Audi driver was called to not challenge di Grassi for the win. "I was aware that Lucas was behind me…I was being told not to take risks. I’m happy for Audi…the team deserves this but of course, I can’t sit here and smile like crazy," he added. "We are absolutely able to win the teams’ championship – that was always the target here."
Occupying the last step on the podium was Season 2 champion and Renault e.dams driver Sebastien Buemi who started the race on Pole. "When di Grassi overtook me, I didn’t want to fight as I knew that energy was very important, and it wouldn’t have made sense," said the Renault driver. "In the end, I didn’t have the pace and they were stronger. So one more race and I have to work on next year as clearly in terms of efficiency they were in a different league today, so I’m happy to be the best of the rest.”
But, amid the chaos and championship celebrations, let's not forget DS Virgin Racing's Sam Bird. While he may have missed out on not just the podium but crucially the championship title, Bird fought a good fight here in the blistering heat of New York. "That's the maximum I can do," he said candidly. "I can't be despondent, I can't be unhappy - I'm very proud of my team. That's just the way it goes sometimes. Congratulations to JEV on a superb season. He's a worthy champion but we'll be back next year to fight."
While the drivers' championship title has already been wrapped up, the battle for New York rages on as Audi and Techeetah go head-to-head in the season finale in a bid to claim the all-important teams' championship title. With just five points between them, four of the fastest cars and some of the best drivers on the grid, let battle commence.