Formula E’s Paris debut sees Ma and Duval invalid at les Invalides, as di Grassi takes the win under the safety car
Lucas di Grassi extended his lead in the drivers’ championship after a commanding victory around the streets of Paris’ 7eme arrondissement. Despite the greenery surrounding the track, however, Saturday at les Invalides was no walk in the park for the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver.
It was Sam Bird who claimed his third pole of the season for DS Virgin Racing, and although the Briton was overtaken by di Grassi off the start - the Brazilian making his move down the inside of Turn 1 - a solid drive should have led to a podium finish were it not for a late mistake that relegated Bird to sixth place for the second ePrix running.
After a clean start, the pack was running in near-grid formation until Loic Duval stopped on the escape road on lap 6, bringing out first yellow flags and then full course yellows before racing was restored on lap 8.
One-third of the way through the race, with batteries on the first car averaging around 50 percent, the overtaking manoeuvres began in earnest, with Antonio Felix da Costa passing Oliver Turvey for eighth place a minute before Sebastien Buemi slipped past Stephane Sarrazin for fifth.
The move on Sarrazin marked the beginning of Buemi’s charge for what would eventually be a podium finish. Once the Renault e.dams driver had made short work of his Venturi rival it was teammate Nico Prost who was next in the Swiss racer’s sights. On lap 22, Buemi made it past the hometown hero just as da Costa pulled into the pits with only one percent of his power remaining.
Buemi was the one to watch for much of the Paris afternoon, the Swiss racer taking the lion’s share of the radio traffic as he bemoaned the DS Virgin of Bird, which proved challenging to overtake. For the best part of 15 laps - before and after the drivers pitted to swap cars - Buemi found Bird’s car getting wider with every passing attempt. On lap 34, Buemi deployed his fan boost in an ineffective overtaking manoeuvre, and it looked as though Bird was sure to retain third place till the end of the race.
But with five laps remaining Bird locked up and ran into the Turn 1 escape road, giving Buemi the opportunity he was waiting for to slip past and claim the final podium position. Bird also lost ground to Prost and Sarrazin, ending the race in sixth place for the second consecutive weekend.
“Sam is a great driver and he’s doing great things, but he takes a lot of risks,” Buemi said in the post-race press conference. “He tried to brake so late on the inside and it just didn’t go his way. He was all over the place for the last few laps.”
Bird’s moment of drama was not the last of the ePrix’s major incidents - one lap after the Briton brought out the yellow flags it was time for a safety car, thanks to Ma Qinghua piling his Team Auguri car into the wall.
With only four laps remaining it was touch and go whether the racing would resume before the chequered flag. With Ma’s car proving difficult to clear, the final laps of the first Paris ePrix ended under the safety car, and di Grassi was able to extend his championship lead untroubled by Jean-Eric Vergne and Buemi, who completed the Paris podium.