Sam Bird takes last lap Formula E win in São Paulo for McLaren

Sam Bird takes last lap Formula E win in São Paulo for McLaren

NEOM McLaren driver soars to victory in São Paulo following scintillating scrap with former team-mate Mitch Evans.

 

Sam Bird produced a sensational last lap overtake in São Paulo to win the fourth round of the 2023/24 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship for NEOM McLaren Formula E Team today (16 March), as a dazzling duel for honours brought the capacity crowd to its feet.

 

Bird began the São Paulo E-Prix from fifth on the grid, but by lap five, he was at the front of the field, and in a race that witnessed myriad lead changes, it was the Briton who spent by far the longest at the head of the order.

 

After some early shuffling of positions, Bird – who activated both of his Attack Modes early on – reclaimed the advantage on lap 15. He would remain in control under lap 28, when Jaguar TCS Racing rival Mitch Evans – with whom he had similarly disputed victory in Brazil last year – made a move into Turn Four to seize the initiative.

 

Bird, however, was not done yet – far from it. Despite being warned by his team about rising temperatures, he sensed his former team-mate had similar concerns – and he was right. Sticking steadfastly to Evans’ rear wing, he darted back out of the slipstream on the last lap and boldly held his nerve around the outside of the New Zealander through Turns Nine and Ten, pulling off a phenomenal pass to the delight of the enthusiastic spectators.

 

Bird’s bravery was rewarded with a 12th career triumph in the all-electric single-seater series – and his first visit to the top step of the podium in some 36 races. The result also marked McLaren’s breakthrough Formula E success, with the chequered flag appropriately waved by Brazilian motor racing hero Emerson Fittipaldi, who won the second of his two Formula 1 world championships competing for the iconic British outfit half-a-century ago.

 

Having appeared set to repeat his São Paulo heroics from 12 months earlier, Evans found himself obliged to settle for the runner-up spoils, although the 29-year-old’s maiden rostrum appearance of Season 10 has nonetheless fortified his championship challenge.

 

The fight for glory distilled into a two-horse race in the end, but prior to the final few laps, Jake Dennis arguably looked to be in the pound seats. After initially slipping two spots to 12th, the defending champion stealthily gained ground and by lap 13, he was in the lead.

 

Thereafter remaining consistently in the mix, the Andretti Formula E ace engaged in a pulsating battle with pole-sitter Pascal Wehrlein, another driver who seemed a sure bet for victory at one stage. The pair’s energetic tussle cost them time to Evans and Bird ahead – and, ultimately, a place on the podium, as the opportunistic Oliver Rowland undercut them both in the final corner to sneak through into third, having begun the E-Prix outside of the top ten.

 

The trio were blanketed by less than two tenths-of-a-second as they flashed past the flag in a thrilling photo-finish, with Wehrlein similarly displacing Dennis to secure fourth and in so doing reduce his deficit to championship leader Nick Cassidy from 19 points at the start of the weekend to just four.

 

The New Zealander left Brazil empty-handed, climbing from ninth on the grid up to sixth only to end his race in the wall at mid-distance, after his front wing – damaged following earlier contact – folded underneath his Jaguar’s wheel and brought an end to his stellar run of rostrum results this season.

 

António Félix da Costa – who led a Porsche one-two on more than one occasion – fell back to sixth in the end, ahead of DS Penske stablemates Jean-Éric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne, whose bid was blunted by energy conservation issues that left the duo unable to reproduce their excellent qualifying form in race conditions.

Maximilian Günther was one of the stars of the show for Maserati MSG Racing. The German had to start at the rear of the field and serve a 10-second stop-go penalty for a post-qualifying gearbox and inverter replacement, but scythed his way through the order – aided by a brace of safety car interventions – to finish ninth. Season 2 champion Sébastien Buemi completed the scorers for Envision Racing in tenth.

 

The 2023/24 Formula E campaign continues with the series’ inaugural race in Japan – the Tokyo E-Prix – on 30 March.

 

Sam Bird, NEOM McLaren Formula E

“I said on the radio, ‘I think he’s struggling’ and I was told to cool the car, and then I saw the lift points and I thought ‘well look, it’s now or never. I’ve got to go.’ He defended the inside and gave me just enough room on the outside to have some kind of move. I don’t know how close it was to the wall, but it was fair racing and we got it done.”

Mitch Evans, Jaguar TCS Racing


 


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