10 mar. 19

Hong Kong analysis: unlikely underdog inherits win after downtown dogfight, champion in trouble 

Marking the 50th race of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship's short history was never going to be easy but another scrappy street race in downtown Hong Kong saw the series celebrate with the usual hefty dose of unpredictability. With a dramatic dogfight between DS Techeetah's Andre Lotterer and Envision Virgin Racing's Sam Bird as the centrepiece, the series' half century turned out to be the first officially wet race in the Championship's history, which saw Sam Bird stripped of his stolen victory and Venturi's Edoardo Mortara rise as the most unlikely underdog victor on Hong Kong's iconic Harbourfront. Here's all that happened in another spectacular showdown in Spice Harbour. 

Dogfight in downtown Hong Kong sees surprise result

In one of the scrappiest street battles on record, which saw a total of eight drivers retire, the landmark 50th E-Prix was characterised by a dramatic dogfight between DS Techeetah driver Andre Lotterer and Brit Envision Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird. In the final moments of the race, Bird was chasing down race leader Lotterer when he made contact with the back of his car, breaking his rear suspension and puncturing his tyre. After sustaining the damage, Lotterer limped home nursing his stricken car and failed to finish the race, while he witnessed what looked to be a sure victory slip through his hands. "It's pretty sad, obviously. I thought it was going to be my race and he just used me to stop," said the disgruntled German moments after the returning to the pits.

"The race was fair up to that point but it is what you would call a disgusting move because it is not really the way we should race."

"I lost it thanks to him. Even if they disqualify him my race is done so honestly, it is just sad."

In the following hours, the FIA - motorsport's governing body - handed Bird a devastating blow in the form of a five-second penalty, which dropped him to sixth place in the race, handing the win to second place finisher Edoardo Mortara, second to Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler's Lucas di Grassi and third to Envision's Robin Frijns.  

"The result today is fantastic. Fourth in Santiago, third in Mexico, now my first victory in Hong Kong!," said the Swiss-Italian Venturi driver, clearly ecstatic at his newfound victory.

"The race was awesome and I've had a wonderful weekend - historically, racing in Asia brings me so much luck - honestly, I’m over the moon and I couldn’t be happier.

"The team have done a brilliant job, they put in all the hours and pull out all the stops - this result is a tribute to their hard work."

After coming so close to a win in his Formula E debut in Hong Kong last season, both Mortara and the team's maiden victory must feel all the more significant. But despite the penalty, it's Bird who takes the lead in the drivers' championship, while his team also continues to lead despite having no manufacturer backing. With just two points separating the top four drivers, the Championship title could still fall to anyone.

Underdog and street circuit specialist "never thought we'd be here"

After a hectic showdown on Hong Kong's Harbourfront, it was ultimate underdog and proven street circuit specialist Edoardo Mortara who secured both his and the team's first taste of victory in Formula E here in Hong Kong.

"If you look at my results in the past, I've always had some good results on city race tracks. I do like it, I feel like it's more challenging," said the newly crowned winner.

After a solid performance here in Hong Kong, capped off with his maiden win in Formula E, the Swiss-Italian driver adds to his tally of success in Asia with a staggering 10 wins on the testing Macau street circuit, which lies just 40 miles from Hong Kong.

"Historically, racing in Asia brings me so much luck - honestly, I’m over the moon,

"For us, it's mega - it's a small miracle. We still have a lot of things to improve but we're going the right way. It feels good.

"I never thought we would be here at the start of the season. Especially when you look at who we are facing - so many strong manufacturers. We are still a small team and we are doing a good job."

With a win under his belt, the unlikely hero climbs to fourth in the Championship standings - neck and neck with Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler's Lucas di Grassi - both with 52 points. Just one point away from Mahindra Racing's Jerome d'Ambrosio and two points off the new leader Sam Bird. For Venturi, the Monaco-based outfit is also sitting in fourth place with 66 points - a full 31 points adrift of Envision Virgin Racing in first.

"I never thought we would be here at the start of the season," said newly crowned winner Edoardo Mortara after clinching a maiden win for both him and his team in Hong Kong.  

Reigning champion in trouble, di Grassi charges on

"That's life - I'm not going to start crying or start punching through walls because it will not change anything. I take it with a smile," said reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne after another tough race, which saw him finish 13th overall. 

After he clinched the championship title in New York less than a year ago, the Frenchman's fortunes in Formula E have fallen off a cliff. Aside from a second place finish in the season opener in Saudi Arabia and fifth in Marrakesh, the reigning champ has failed to make it into the top ten.

"There is no problem," he insists directly after the race. "The car was good but when you start far away, you cannot overtake."

Five rounds in, JEV finds himself struggling 11th in the standings with just 28 points to his name. "I will have a fresh approach in Sanya," he insists. 

"I mean, what can I do - I'm not going to arrive in Sanya still being angry at this race or the last two. It's a new race with new chances and new opportunities, so it will be fine."

But while JEV struggles outside of the top ten, former champ di Grassi's rise to the top continues to gather pace. 

"Sometimes you have to race with your head, not with your heart and today," says the Brazilian.

"The way I work, I try to win every race, then if you cannot win, then you just need to score as many points as possible - it's as simple as that - it's the way my mind works

"The car is feeling good. The pace is good, so we're going to be there in the other races. The final is still eight races away, so it's too early to start thinking about that," he adds.

With his latest second place finish, di Grassi climbs to third in the drivers' championship standings while his team moves up into second. As one of only five drivers to have competed in all fifty Formula E races, di Grassi has accrued 29 podiums in his Formula E career, making him the most sucessful driver in Formula E history. Both Audi and motorsport master di Grassi's championship campaign is only just beginning.

Audi's Lucas di Grassi charges into third place in the drivers' championship standings after a second place finish and his 29th podium in 50 races in Hong Kong. 

All the fives in 50

With the dust still settling on what has been a miraculous journey over fifty Formula E races in just five years, we witnessed the crowning of our fifth different winner from the fifth different team to win in the five races that have made up the fifth season of Formula E. And, take a breath - we're only just getting started. As the ABB FIA Formula E Championship ramps up to its second race in Asia, all 22 teams and drivers prepare for battle in Sanya on mainland China. If the first fifty races are anything to go by, the next few years are looking very promising indeed. Brace for impact - the best is yet to come. See you in Sanya.