Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird secured a hard-fought victory during today’s thrilling Formula E season opener in Hong Kong. The British racer, racking up his and the team’s sixth win, battled his way back to the front after a pit stop issue looked to have cost him the spoils to win by a margin of 11 seconds – the second largest in Formula E.
Meanwhile, team-mate and rookie Alex Lynn put in an impressive comeback drive to gain eight positions to finish eighth and record his first Formula E points finish.
Drama started from the very first lap at the 1.86km Harbourfront circuit, with a multi-car incident at the back of the pack causing the championship’s first ever red flag. At the safety car restart, Bird – starting P2 after a superb qualifying performance – continued to pressure race-leader Jean Eric-Vergne. As the halfway stage approached, Bird made his decisive move, selling Vergne the dummy to go around the outside before squeezing up the inside of the turn 6 hairpin.
The following lap Vergne pitted hoping to make the undercut and leaving Bird to work on extending his lead. Bird then stopped a lap later, but history looked like it could be repeating itself, when his car change didn’t go as planned as it had done the previous year. He re-joined in P3 but was handed a drive-through penalty for not changing cars inside the garage area. A few laps later he took his penalty but amazingly re-joined still in the lead after Vergne was held up battling with Nick Heidfeld.
Bird then controlled the race to the chequered flag to continue his record of securing victories in every Formula E season to date. He now leads the drivers’ championship, with Lynn in eighth place after gaining an additional position following post-race penalties for other drivers.
Sam Bird said: “What a race! We came into this season knowing we had a good car but also knew there was a lot of strong competition, so certainly didn’t expect to win straight out of the blocks. When I knew I had my drive-through [penalty] I tried to push as hard as I could and was expecting to come out in P8 or P9 so was surprised when my engineer told me I was P1. It’s a great way to start the season and my thanks goes to everyone at the Virgin Racing team.”
Alex Lynn said: “To finish ninth after starting P16 is not a bad result and overall I’m happy with how things went. Avoiding the crash on the first lap was the main thing but I had strong race pace and know if we can qualify higher up then we can stay at the front.”
Team Principal Alex Tai commented: “What a way to start the season! Congratulations to Sam for his win today and also to Alex for his first points finish. We knew we had a competitive car both in terms of performance and efficiency and that showed today. The team did an amazing job and we’re hoping we can continue this form into tomorrow and the rest of the season.”
DS Performance Director Xavier Mestelan Pinon added: “What a pleasure to open the season with such a victory. Congratulations to Sam and all the team here in Hong Kong but also in Versailles for this exceptional result in this very demanding championship.”
Following a post-race decision by the stewards, Bird will have a 10-place grid penalty applied for tomorrow’s (Sunday 3 December) round two for an infringement in the pit lane.
2017/2018 FIA Formula E Championship – Hong Kong E-Prix – Round 1:
1. Sam Bird, Virgin Racing, 43 laps
2. Jean Eric Vergne, Techeetah, +11.575
3. Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing, +12.465
4. Nelson Piquet Jr, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, +15.324
5. Daniel Abt, Audi Sport Abt Scheffler, +17.205
6. Antonio Felix Da Costa, Andretti, +18.083
7. Edoardo Mortara, Venturi, +19.797
8. Alex Lynn, Virgin Racing, +20.904
9. Nico Prost, Renault e.dams, +24.785
10. Luca Filippi, NIO Formula E, +25.500
Driver standings – after round 1:
1. Sam Bird, 25pts
2. Jean Eric-Vergne, 21pts (P)
3. Nick Heidfeld, 15pts
4. Nelson Piquet Jnr, 12pts
5. Daniel Abt, 11pts (FL)
6. Antonio Felix da Costa, 8pts
7. Edoardo Mortara, 6pts
8. Alex Lynn, 4pts
9. Nico Prost, 2pts
10. Luca Filippi, 1pt
Team standings – after round 1:
1. Virgin Racing, 29pts
2. Techeetah, 21pts
3. Mahindra Racing, 15pts
4. Panasonic Jaguar Racing, 12pts
5. Audi Sport Abt Scheffler, 11pts
6. Andretti Formula E, 8pts
7. Venturi, 6pts
8. Renault e.dams, 2pts
9. NIO Formula E, 1pt
10. Dragon, 0pts