Sam Bird took victory at his debut event with Jaguar Racing in Round 2 of the season-opening Diriyah double header, heading home Robin Frijns (Envision Virgin Racing) with DS TECHEETAH’s Antonio Felix da Costa a net third.
A red flag five minutes from the scheduled end of the race brought things to a premature end, confirming the Brit's victory with Frijns following in second. DS TECHEETAH's Antonio Felix da Costa came home a net third after teammate Jean-Eric Vergne received a 24-second post-race penalty for failing to use his second ATTACK MODE activation, which saw the Frenchman demoted to 12th.
Frijns got away cleanly from pole to fend off Sette Camara into Turn 1, and Bird immediately challenged the DRAGON / PENSKE AUTOSPORT driver to make a tidy move stick for second up the inside of Turn 2.
Antonio Felix da Costa banged wheels with Nico Mueller and Sebastien Buemi further back – passing the Nissan e.dams to take eighth spot with the Portuguese’ DS TECHEETAH teammate a little way clear in seventh and hounding Mueller.
With five minutes gone, Bird was biding his time behind Frijns, as Sette Camara, Oliver Turvey (NIO 333), Mueller, Tom Blomqvist (NIO 333), Vergne, Da Costa, Buemi and Nick Cassidy (Envision Virgin Racing) completed the top 10.
On Lap 5, Vergne pounced on an error by Blomqvist to pinch sixth and the Brit falling to eighth at the hands of the reigning champion a lap later. Meanwhile, Buemi and Cassidy diced for ninth, with the Swiss coming off best with a regulation pass into Turn 18 to set about hunting Blomqvist up ahead.
The lead pair drew out two seconds on Sette Camara in third, with Turvey running a collected race in fourth with Mueller kept at arm’s length. Meanwhile, the two DS TECHEETAHs hunted in packs as the Frenchman jumped for ATTACK MODE - his teammate following.
Mueller was first to fall to Vergne on Lap 10 and the double Formula E champion was on a charge. Turvey succumbed shortly afterwards as the DS driver climbed into fourth – now comfortably the fastest man on track.
Frijns was next to dive for his first mandatory ATTACK MODE activation and importantly, he was able to hold off Sette Camara to keep within touching distance of the now race leader Bird – the Jaguar driver still to use that initial 35kW boost, and take the pain of going off-line to cross the ATTACK MODE loop.
The Dutchman reeled in Bird to make it beyond the Brit into Turn 18, as the Jaguar went for ATTACK MODE. It didn’t work out at all nicely for the experienced Formula E racer, though, with Bird also temporarily losing third spot to Sette Camara allowing Frijns to pull out a two-second gap on Lap 14.
Over the half-way mark, and Vergne’s charge continued apace with another regulation pass for third, this time on Sette Camara, just as Jake Dennis (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) was crunched by Pascal Wehrlein’s Porsche, which threw a Full Course Yellow (FCY) – holding the cars as they stood at 50km/h until the circuit was cleared.
Bird had found his way beyond Frijns for the race lead just prior to that FCY, with the latter heading for ATTACK MODE number two but once again, the Virgin racer was able to bite back – despite Frijns saying he was overconsuming energy over team radio.
Bird tried to return the favour, and with the leader having to go on the defensive, the two DS TECHEETAHs were brought into play with Da Costa now heading Vergne in third and fourth, respectively, with 17 minutes plus a lap to run.
On Lap 22, Bird did make that move at Turn 18 stick, while the two DS’ came to blows at Turn 21. Vergne came out on top in third but the pair of black and gold cars were now 2.2 seconds back from the leaders after their disagreement.
Two laps later, Bird headed Frijns by 0.8 seconds and held onto that advantage through his second ATTACK MODE activation. Contact between Lynn and Evans ultimately caused the end of the race via a Red Flag leaving bird to head home Frijns, Vergne, Da Costa, Cassidy, Sette Camara, Mueller, Turvey, Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.dams), and Rene Rast (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) on track.
Twenty four second penalties for Vergne and Rast followed the chequered flag, however, as neither used their second ATTACK MODE activation. This demoted the pair to 12th and 17th, respectively and nudging those ahead of them come the end of the race up the order.
Further penalties were also handed out to Cassidy and Guenther. The Envision Virgin Racing rookie was demoted from a debut point-scoring fifth-place finish for speeding under Full Course Yellow conditions. Whereas BMW's Guenther received a five-place grid penalty for the next round in Rome after causing a collision with Blomqvist in Turn 18.
"I was a bit emotional in the car," said Bird. "It was a big move and a big step for me moving away from what was my family in Envision Virgin Racing to join Jaguar Racing, but they've welcomed me with open arms and I'm pleased to deliver this win.
"The whole point of the opening two rounds was to come here and score decent points and if you'd said I'd come away with 25 points, I'd have taken that. Robin was so respectful and a pleasure to race against which is exactly what you'd expect of his calibre. It was really, really good."
Bird’s last win in Formula E came 11 races ago on the championship's previous visit to Diriyah, and this result sees the Brit extend his unique streak of a victory in every season to-date. It also draws him level with Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) in second on the all-time winners’ table with 10 victories.
With the Mercedes-powered Mercedes-EQ and ROKiT Venturi Racing drivers missing qualifying to rectify a braking issue, Nyck de Vries, teammate Stoffel Vandoorne and Venturi's Norman Nato were forced to start from the back of the pack.
The Dutchman wound up ninth in the end thanks to Vergne, Cassidy and Rast's penalties. This meant he took home the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap, now having made the top 10 and as a result, he leaves Diriyah top of the Drivers' Championship on 32 points - seven ahead of Bird. Jaguar, meanwhile lead the way in the Teams' running from Mercedes and Virgin.
The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship heads to Rome on April 10 for Round 3 of Season 7.