In one of the most dramatic races of the season, Jean-Eric Vergne claimed Virgin Racing’s fourth podium of the 2015-16 FIA Formula E season, in the Championship’s penultimate race in London this afternoon.
Vergne’s third-placed finish proved to be a fantastic result for both the team and the driver considering the Frenchman crashed out in Q1, losing the front end of his car and slamming into the wall, forcing the team’s mechanics and engineers into a race against time ahead of the main event.
It was an intense battle from the get-go here in London as the weather played a large part in how the day on track panned out.
After two smooth Free Practice sessions for both Sam Bird and Jean-Eric Vergne, Vergne’s day took a turn for the worse during Qualifying as he crashed before his timed lap, causing significant damage to his car.
Meanwhile, Bird was set to go in Q4 when, in true British style, the rain came – leaving the track wet and slippery. Despite this, the Brit pulled out the best lap of the qualifying group to claim P7 on the grid.
With the rain slowing down his competitors, Vergne qualified for Super Pole, however he was unable to take part due to the damage to his car. With Vergne on the starting grid in P5 and his teammate in P7, it became clear that the Virgin Racing drivers had a battle on their hands for the team’s home race, on a track which presents few overtaking opportunities.
As the lights went green in London at 16:00 local time, the cars shot off the start line and Lucas Di Grassi immediately started to apply pressure to Bird, finally overtaking on lap 12. His teammate Daniel Abt quickly followed suit on lap 15 leaving Sebastien Buemi on Bird’s tail until he also managed to overtake, leaving Bird in P9 and Vergne defending his position in P5.
As the battle between championship leaders Di Grassi and Buemi continued, ahead of Bird and behind Vergne, Abt fiercely defended his teammate from Buemi’s attack.
Meanwhile, the Virgin Racing team had fixed Vergne’s damaged car in time for his pit stop. Bird came in first from P9 and left the pits in P10. Vergne however came into the pits in P5 and left in P4 ahead of Robin Frijns, gaining what would prove to be a vital place in the race.
As the rain started to fall again, Buemi managed to squeeze past Abt in a bid to chase down Di Grassi and Vergne. Meanwhile a few spaces behind, Abt ended up hitting the wall and taking out Frijns, propelling Bird up to P8 and introducing the safety car.
As the race drew nearer to its conclusion, the atmosphere in the Virgin Racing garage was intense. Once the safety car went in, Bird gained an impressive two places as Turvey crashed out leaving Vergne in P3. As the safety car was deployed once more with 3 laps to go it almost appeared as though these would be the final positions, but on the final lap Bird’s energy was low, forcing him to slow down and see Buemi and Da Costa go past with seconds to go.
With Vergne finishing P3 and Bird P7, it meant the fourth podium for the Virgin Racing team this season, who also hold more pole positions than any other team in the championship.
“It was a great result,” said Vergne. “I’m really happy and owe this one to my team. Today I had some luck after my crash when the rain came, so no one could beat my time. The team has done an incredible job to fix the car in time before the race, so I need to say a big thanks to them. Hopefully we can get another good result tomorrow.”
His teammate Bird is now more determined than ever to repeat last year’s success at the final race of the season tomorrow. “Today was a tough race. I know I can do better on this track and I’m going to give my all tomorrow – this season has had highs and lows and I want to finish on a high, I believe I can.”
Virgin Racing Team Principal Alex Tai was torn between Vergne’s success and Bird’s disappointment. “I am extremely pleased for Jev as his season is getting much better but I am also bitterly disappointed for Sam, who is one of the most talented drivers I know. Thankfully we have tomorrow to make a difference and I know both drivers are determined to finish on a high.”
Xavier Mestelan Pinon, Director of DS Performance reflected on the day’s events: “I’m pleased we have once again been able to show that we are capable of podium wins after so many set backs. Well done to the team for putting the DSV-01 back together after Qualifying, it’s hard work that has paid off. After what we’ve seen today I have no doubt that tomorrow will be full of more memorable moments.”
The final round of the 2015-16 FIA Formula E season will take place tomorrow at Battersea Park in London at 16:00.