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Zurich ePrix: Jean-Eric Vergne's worst finish takes title fight to New York; Lucas di Grassi finally wins a race

The 2018 Zurich ePrix will be remembered as a legendary one. There was drama, intense overtaking, rapid reversal of fortunes, frustration and triumph. Reigning world champion Lucas di Grassi claimed his first Formula E win of the season for Audi, followed by DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird in second and Jerome D'Ambrosio taking third for Dragon. Current championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne of Techeetah could only manage P10 — his worst finish of the season (and his first outside the Top 5 as well).

Schaeffler's Lucas Di Grassi celebrates after winning the Zurich ePrix. Reuters

Schaeffler's Lucas Di Grassi celebrates after winning the Zurich ePrix. Reuters

The ePrix Itself

The qualifying saw an unlikely pole-sitter as Mitch Evans claimed pole for Jaguar. It was the maiden Formula E pole for both Evans and the Jaguar team. His qualifying trophy was a giant ‘cow bell’ — how cool is that!

 

Sam Bird qualified third, while Vergne had a disastrous qualifying session and qualified in a lowly 17th place. It was Vergne’s worst ever starting position this season — making it evident that his race would be about damage limitation and clawing back all the points he could. The race itself saw the top drivers playing a game of musical chairs as abundant overtaking and various incidents played out.

At the start, Evans sped away into the lead but his advantage was slowly reduced as Andre Lotterer and Bird closed in on him. Meanwhile, di Grassi, who had started from sixth on the grid, had started putting pressure on the front runners. He found a way past Bird on Lap 13 (after a textbook perfect overtake), hunted down Lotterer and finally blasted his way past leader Evans, using the power advantage he had over Evans. 

An elated di Grassi said after the race, “The car has been really fast and we were able to attack at the right moment. In the previous races, victory kept slipping through my fingers but we finally did it here. I want to dedicate this victory to my son, who will be born in a couple of weeks.”

Misfortunes for Vergne

Vergne, who drove like a true champion, pulled off some fantastic moves to claw himself up the order. He clearly knew what was at stake and had the all-important title on his mind, his possible first in Formula E. Unfortunately, he lost out a chunk of time (almost 14 seconds) during the car change, when his car refused to start. This undid all his hard work, pushing him back down the order, but Vergne continued to fight, even setting a ‘fastest lap’ along the way. Yet, luck continued to elude him.

Five of the front running drivers (Vergne, Evans, Lotterer and Sebastien Buemi) were given a drive-through penalty for speeding during the full course yellow. Vergne continued to fight, managing to force his way back into the points (P10) before the chequered flag. This penalty also allowed Bird and d’Ambrosio to secure their places on the podium.

Mahindra Racing had a mixed weekend with Felix Rosenqvist only managing P15 thanks to an incident between the Swede and Vergne that saw the former ram into the wall, scattering car debris all over the track and triggering a full course yellow. His teammate Nick Heidfeld took P6 — a comforting result after a string of poor race results. It is almost disheartening to see Rosenqvist’s title challenge disintegrate as the season progressed.

 

Race to the championship

This race was a defining moment in the driver’s championship battle. Heading into the race, championship leader Vergne had a commanding 40-point lead over Bird. Many expected him to seal the deal in Zurich itself, given his superlative form this season. However, in what will be remembered as a race that personified unpredictability, Vergne could only manage P10.

To add insult to the injury, his teammate Lotterer notched up the fastest lap at the fag end of the race, snatching away the honour — and the point that comes with it — from Vergne. As a result, Vergne conceded 17 points to Bird in the championship standings. From resting on a comfortable lead, Vergne has now been relegated to a position where Bird could well challenge him to the crown in the last two races of the season — the New York ePrix. Interestingly, Bird dominated and won both races of the New York ePrix last season — it is a track he knows pretty well. It is probably in the benefit of the sport that the battle goes down to the wire.

Making history in Switzerland

The Zurich ePrix will surely be remembered as an exciting race, but it is historic for another reason. The tragic and disastrous 1955 Le Mans race (which killed 83 spectators and injured 180 more) had led to Switzerland’s imposition of a ban on circuit racing. This is the first time in 64 years that motorsport is being welcomed in Switzerland — a major coup that Formula E has pulled off, reflective of the growing clout of the series. Even more impressive is the fact that the race organisers have agreed to extend their original six-year contract all the way till 2027 — immense commitment from a country that has been off the motorsport grid for so long.

The Zurich ePrix was unusual for other reasons as well. Formula E prides itself on consistently organising its races on Saturdays — but this ePrix was an exception. The race happened on Sunday, to accommodate the halt of public transport. The track itself is special too — there were tramlines running across corner 1, and the pitlane area is cobbled (something that left the teams quite concerned). Unlike the Formula 1 race at Baku, where temporary asphalt is placed over the cobbled streets, Zurich did no such thing, offering drivers and teams an additional challenge.

Formula E also launched a new virtual racing game — a ‘live ghost racing app’ across multiple platforms that allows fans to race against Formula E drivers in real-time. “I remember before we launched the first-ever season of Formula E, we said fans no longer just want to watch or follow a sport — they want to participate in it too. The cutting-edge technology used to create the live ghost racing game is extraordinary,” explained Alejandro Agag, founder and chief executive of Formula E.

Evidently, Formula E is pushing the boundaries of technology on multiple fronts — first automotive and now virtual racing.


Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 13:35 PM

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