Virgin Racing achieved a well deserved podium in Marrakech, with driver Sam Bird starting and finishing in second position, but not before a highly eventful day.
Following a dramatic morning practice session which saw drivers from all teams contend with the Marrakech track’s slippery surface and formidable corners, Qualifying saw Sam Bird finish 4th fastest. A strong performance in Super Pole meant the 29 year-old Brit was due to start the race from 3rd position, but a grid penalty for a weight infringement moved Sebastien Buemi down the order, leading to Sam starting the race from 2nd place.
Virgin Racing’s José María López began in 13th after a difficult morning in the two practice sessions reduced his track time in the lead up to qualifying. “For me, starting from here, and in only my second race, it’s about using today to get to know the car more and the motions of the series” the Argentinian said on the starting grid.
A slick start from the leading pack saw early jostling for position. Felix Rosenqvist retained first position whilst Sam Bird remained steady in 2nd place. The action amongst those drivers immediately behind Sam Bird began to hot up at around lap 11, and on lap 15 Jean-Eric Vergne passed Sam, pushing him down to 3rd. The two leaders then pitted but Sam and Sébastian Buemi continued on track for an extra lap, allowing them to contest their second stint with more energy.
Buemi and Sam completed their lap and entered the pitlane in positions 1 & 2. A seamless car changeover put paid to any fears post Hong Kong and Sam exited the pits in 4th behind Rosenqvist, Vergne and Buemi. The additional pre-pit lap meant Buemi and Sam both had a significant energy advantage over the two leaders, and they proceeded to hunt first and second spots down accordingly. In the meantime, José María López pitted and despite having lost a couple of places from his starting position during his first stint, the team were similarly rapid in changeover and he was back on track immediately.
Further up the pack, Vergne received a penalty for speeding in the pitlane, which he took on lap 24, moving Sam up to 3rd. Buemi then moved into the lead ahead of Rosenqvist on lap 28. Lap 29 saw José María pass Robin Frijns into tenth, following a steady stream of passing maneuvers in the laps leading up to that point.
An exciting final few laps then saw Sam move on Rosenqvist as superior energy reserves allowed him to catch and then overtake the Swede on lap 31. From here Sam closed the gap on leader Buemi before finishing a comfortable 2nd. José María in the meantime held onto 10th to pick up a valuable championship point for the team and add to Sam’s 2nd place tally.
“It’s great to get points on the board. There’s still work to do, but getting a podium is a win in itself.” said Sam at the post race press conference. “Up next is tackling Sébastien Buemi. He’s on his own level right now. Today there were 19 guys battling for 2nd place. But…I have some ideas as to how we can move that up in Buenos Aires.”
José María was similarly upbeat: “My target was to finish and gain more experience, and I finished my second race with a point, so that’s a positive. I’m now confident for our next race in Buenos Aires.”
Team Principal Alex Tai said: “An excellent result. I’m delighted Pechito is now scoring points, and through Sam we’ve seen the true capability of the car. We now look onwards to race three. Watch this space.”
Director of DS Performance Xavier Mestelan Pinon, said of the day: “The car’s performance shone through with the podium result. Marrakech was a more consistent day for us. We’re beginning to see the true performance potential of our team.”
Finally, Team & Sporting Manager Leon Price was the subject of this race’s Human Element series, whereby we profile members of the team in the lead up to and during the race weekend. Following the race, Leon commented: “Really pleased to get off the mark for the season following the upset in Hong Kong. The guys were extremely busy all day in the garage but were rewarded with a great result.”