After a hugely positive first half of the day in Hong Kong which saw both Virgin Racing drivers qualify in the Top 4, the day ended in huge disappointment with Sam Bird experiencing a technical problem during the car changeover whilst leading the race, and Jose Maria Lopez being left with severe handling issues after contact at the first corner.
For fans, the Formula E Season 3 opener in Hong Kong was an outstanding spectacle. Set against the amazing backdrop of one of the world’s megacities, it was an exciting and unpredictable race until the very end. Unfortunately for Virgin Racing, what started out as an extremely positive day, ended with the feeling of a huge opportunity lost as the team’s clear performance gains over off-season were not realised in terms of the race result.
Sam Bird looked highly competitive all day, delivering strong performances in FP1 and FP2. He carried that into qualifying where he set the 4th fastest time, a full second quicker from the eventual pole.
But the real star of qualifying was Jose Maria Lopez. After not being able to run at full power during either of the first two practice sessions, a good qualifying result looked impossible. However, at his very first race in Formula E, ‘Pechito’ more than rose to the challenge, setting a time that put him 3rd on the starting grid.
Locking out the second row of the grid was a great result for the team, but no more than it deserved after all of the work it has undertaken over the last 6 months in terms of design and development of its Season 3 challenger, the DSV-02.
As the race got underway, both Virgin Racing drivers got a good start, with Sam overtaking Jose Maria on the run down to the first corner. However as they passed through the first corner hairpin there was a coming together and unfortunately for Jose Maria, it left him with severe handling problems for the remainder of his first stint.
The defenceless Jose Maria was overtaken quickly and dropped well down the field, eventually retiring later in the race in his second car. Unfortunately for Pechito, he was unable to use the Fanboost he had won earlier.
Sam, on the other hand, surged forwards, taking second position, and then eventually the race lead when he passed Nelson Piquet Jr. Holding off the challenge of Sebastian Buemi, Sam looked a likely race winner as he opened a 3.3 second gap on the field. However, during the car changeover preceded by a safety car incident, Sam’s second car wouldn’t start, and he went a lap down on the new leaders whilst stuck in the garage, before the problem could be rectified. This ended his chance of victory and although Sam fought back through the later stages of the race, clearly displaying the pace we know is in the car, it was too much of a mountain to climb and he finished 13th.
Speaking after the race, Sam said: “We ran into technical difficulties during changeover. Whilst it’s obviously gutting given the lead I’d opened, it’s better we diagnose and iron out the problems now at race one, rather than later in the season.”
In the paddock there was sympathy for Jose Maria Lopez who commented “I had contact in the first corner, and I never really came back from it.”. Speaking of his Formula E debut however, he remained upbeat: “I had a fantastic qualifying, I won fanboost for which I’d like to thank all my supporters, and I now know I can deliver in Formula E. The car is fast and I think qualifying proved that. I’m sure the end result will be much, much better in Marrakech”.
Team Principal, Alex Tai, reinforced those comments when he said ‘We proved today that all of the effort that has gone into designing and developing our Season 3 car with DS Performance over the last 6 months has been worth it. We clearly have a fast car, and but for some awful luck today would have finished on the podium and perhaps even have won the race. We’re all highly passionate individuals in the team and I know how much a day like this will hurt each and every one of us, but there are huge positives to come out of the weekend in terms of the underlying pace of the car, and I’m sure we’ll bounce back strongly in Marrakech and demonstrate to everyone exactly what we’re capable of.’
The same sentiment was reflected by DS Performance Director Xavier Mestelan Pinon: “The results on the board today were not in line with the level of this team, and this car. Jose Maria Lopez proved in qualifying how fast we are, and Sam Bird demonstrated our energy efficiency. We eagerly await the next race.”
Chief Technology Officer Sylvain Filippi, subject of our ‘Human Element’ campaign whereby we profile members of the team in the lead up to and during the race weekend, commented ‘For sure it’s not the result we were expecting after qualifying. We have improved in all areas in Season 3, but a day like this doesn’t demonstrate that, which is the biggest frustration.’