After a chaotic day caused by heavy rain in the morning, BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Antonio Felix da Costa claimed victory in the opening race of the fifth season and new era of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
Portugal’s da Costa led the 22 Gen2 cars from pole position for the 45-minute race on the 2.495km/1.55-mile Ad Diriyah street circuit. (This year all races will be 45 minutes in duration rather than a set number of laps, with one lap following the time limit.) Venturi Formula E’s Edoardo Mortara, who had already crashed once in the morning practice session, locked up his wheels just moments after the start and slammed into the wall again. He resumed with damaged bodywork to rejoin at the back of the pack.
After five minutes, the Attack mode activation zone opened up for the first time The new power-up requires all drivers to activate the higher power mode twice during the race, with each burst lasting four minutes.
With 36 minutes to go, the two DS Techeetah drivers — reigning series champion Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre Lotterer in third and fourth respectively — fended off Geox Dragon’s Jose-Maria Lopez who was bearing down in fifth. Vergne made his way past Nissan e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi for second just as Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist crashed out.
Having held the lead all race, da Costa fell victim to Vergne’s attack as the Frenchman took him on the outside of Turn 18. Sandwiched in between the two DS Techeetah cars, da Costa did his best to fend off another Techeetah assault from Lotterer.
Battling to maintain fourth was Buemi and Lopez as they went wheel to wheel. Seeing an opportunity to advance, Mahindra Racing’s Jerome d’Ambrosio slotted into the gap, pushing Buemi down to fourth.
Back at the top, Lotterer engaged Attack mode, hunting down da Costa. But, shortly after passing him, both he and race leader Vergne lost the lead while serving a drive-through penalty in the pits. Rejoining the race in fourth, Vergne went back on the attack in a bid to regain the lost ground.
After missing the narrow Attack mode activation zone twice, Lopez ended up stranded on the exit of Turn 14 after sustaining damage to a rear wheel of his car. Under the safety car, the cars regrouped under the new rules for the 2018/19 season, which allow drivers to close any gaps under a full-course yellow.
Restarting the race with only three minutes to go, nine cars activated Attack mode in a final attempt to improve their position in the opening race of the season. Going wheel to wheel, Beumi and Lotterer jostled for fifth place, with Lotterer winning out. Still in the lead, da Costa lit up his car’s halo device as he activated FanBoost — the fan-voted additional power-up — to put more distance between him and Vergne in second.
Still challenging to the bitter end, Vergne made one last effort but it wasn’t enough — da Costa crossed the line to clinch the win by just 0.4s ahead of Vergne with Jerome d’Ambrosio in third.
“We did it baby, we’re back!” screamed da Costa over the radio, moments after crossing the line.
“Finally, finally! Buenos Aires, Season 1 was a long time ago!” he added, referring to his only other Formula E win.
Venturi Formula E’s Felipe Massa made his way past HWA Racelab rookie Stoffel Vandoorne on the inside and up into ninth place with 29 minutes to go, but the F1 veteran wound up 14th after being hit by a drive-through penalty. In all eight drivers received penalties due to various technical violations in qualifying and the race.