In the hottest race in Formula E history, Sam Bird manages to keep his cool as he wins for Envision Virgin Racing in Santiago. Through many penalties within the race, Bird is now second in the championship, only one point behind Jerome D’Ambrosio.
With lots of changes being made throughout qualifying and super pole in Formula E today, we were no doubt going to see fireworks within the E-Prix as drivers try to redeem their earlier mistakes. Sure enough, we were not disappointed as Santiago proved to be one of the most exciting yet confusing races of the season. The first change being noticeable as Sebastian Buemi had taken pole position from Lucas DiGrassi due to his qualifying exclusion.
As the red lights went out and the cars were released from their starting position, the top of the pack stayed the same as the first five managed to go round the circuit in close proximity without any incidents. Daniel Abt managed to make a move early on to pass Sam Bird who was now in fourth position. Further down the pack was a different story, Andre Lotterer seem to struggle as the cars came down to the first corner. When the cars reached the chicane, they looked like a futuristic version of the old mobile phone game ‘Snake’ as they followed one another, getting very snug. This is where we saw the first contact of the race with Gary Paffett and Antonio Felix Da Costa. It was Paffett who went wide and as he tried to come back onto the racing line, Da Costa was right there and they had a little touch.
All drivers continued to stay very close together and things were looking pretty good on lap two as we still had 22 out of 22 drivers but, that was almost short lived when we saw Tom Dillman suddenly came to a hault in the middle of the road between turns 12 and 13. This then caused a yellow flag, yet the Frenchman had a spot of good luck and just as we thought disaster had struck the NIO racing driver, he managed to get his car going again and the yellow flag was lifted.
Attack Mode was then opened on lap 3 but everyone stayed silent for the time being, not giving away any strategies. With 38 minutes remaining in the race, Sebastian Buemi was the first to use Attack Mode as he could feel the heat from Pascal Wehrlein, who was taking part in his second ever Formula E race. Buemi had a far enough lead to move from the racing line and take those designated access points but it could have cost him dearly as he almost collided with Wehrlein when coming back onto the racing line. Luckily, the two of them acted sensibly and kept their cars on the right track.
Sam Bird then showed his fighting spirit as he began catching Wehrlein to try and take second place. Bird had already gained a place on the first lap and fancied getting further up the pack, so with just under 35 minutes to go, Bird then used his first Attack Mode to try and gain an extra boost on his quest for that second place. No more than two minutes later, Bird completed the move and passed Wehrlein, even after Bird broke his onboard camera whilst knocking into the back of the Mahindra driver when trying to overtake him previously. With his extra power, Bird took Wehrlein through turn one on lap 10 of the race.
Bird continued to soar around the track and began to apply pressure on Buemi. On lap 12, Bird tried to take Buemi at turn 14 but couldn’t finish the move, he tried this move again with 17 minutes remaining but it wasn’t meant to be. Later, on lap 22, Buemi locked up before the chicane and crashed into the wall, allowing both Bird and Wehrlein to pass. This meant that Bird was now leading the race with 15 minutes remaining.
It was very touch and go on the last remaining laps of the race whether Bird would be able to complete the E-Prix as he only had 4% of his battery left. The Envision Virgin Racing team were practically shouting down the radio for Bird to conserve his energy and to also take note of the new in lap proceedings which caugh Di Grassi out earlier on in the day. Despite their fears, Bird brought the car home and took victory in Santiago, earning him the second place in the Formula E championship, behind Jerome D’Ambrosio by one point. Envision Virgin Racing has now moved into the top spot of the Team Championship.
After talking about the exciting part of the race, we move onto the confusing and bewildering part where we saw eight cars unable to finish and penalties being handed out left, right and centre. It was more bad news for Maximillian Gunther as his car stopped on track, meaning another non finish for him. Stoffel Vandoorne was on set for a really good finish this time after making it into this first Super Pole, but just as the FanBoost results had been announced and finding out he had won for the third consecutive race in a row, we saw him hit the wall, meaning his race has also come to an end. A surprise non-finisher was Jean-Eric Vergne who must have been feeling was rather dizzy after spinning twice during the race. The most noticeable was at turn 14 thanks to Da Costa who bumped him up the back, causing Vergne to lift and turn 180 degrees. Continuing the non-finishes were Dillman, Da Costa, Buemi, Felipe Massa and Oliver Rowland.
Moving on to the penalties, we saw many cars being deemed ‘under investigation’ throughout the race which caused a change in the finishing order even though the E-Prix had ended. Lucas Di Grassi was under investigation for cutting the chicane and for causing a collision. We then found out after the race had ended that he was to have a converted stop and go penalty into a time penalty which saw him gain no points. Alexander Sims was also under investigation for causing a collision, which in turn gave him the same converted stop and go penalty, meaning his third place was taken from him and awarded to Daniel Abt. The most shocking one of all was Bird becoming under investigation as he was collecting his trophy on the podium for being underweight after the race but this did not amount to anything and Bird kept his win in Santiago.
Speaking to commentators just as he had crossed the finishing line, Bird detailed how he was feeling. “That was really tough you know, the tarmacs breaking up, what can I say? Well done team” Bird began, but when he was congratulated on his faultless drive, Bird let us in on a little secret, “I made a major, major mistake into 12, I thought the race might be over but I corrected it” he explained. We then thought Bird had run out of battery as he was down to just 3% at the end of the race but, luckily, he was just stopping to treat the crowd and all of us at home to some doughnuts. Don’t forget to check back in with Overtake Motorsport for more Formula E news.
Feature Image Credit: ABB FIA Formula E Website