Thriving in the sweltering 113-degree heat in Santiago, Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird emerged victorious in the third ABB Formula E Championship EPrix of the season, closely followed by Mahindra Racing’s rookie driver Pascal Wehrlein, while Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Daniel Abt inherited third when a penalty denied BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Alexander Sims a podium place.
Polesitter Sebastien Buemi — who inherited the spot after a penalty to pole winner Lucas di Grassi — led the way at the start, while Bird wasted no time in moving past Abt.
Stopping on track just a few minutes into the race was NIO’s Tom Dillmann, who picked up damage after hitting bodywork debris. With record temperatures in Santiago – 45 degrees Celsius on track – the race is the hottest in the history of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
Like a repeat of the DS Techeetah team’s collision in Santiago last season, Andre Lotterer once again hit into the back of his teammate — albeit channeling the energy through BMW i Andretti’s Antonio Felix da Costa — sending Jean-Eric Vergne spinning into oncoming traffic, demoting the Frenchman and Portugal’s da Costa to 20th and 21st respectively.
With 30 minutes left, Buemi led the way with Bird now in second and Mahindra’s Pascal Wehrlein in third. With nearly all 22 cars and drivers trading knocks and bodywork through the tight streets of Santiago, a full-course yellow was deployed with 25 minutes left of the race after Max Guenther’s car stopped on track.
With the racing restarted, Bird and Buemi went head to head at the front of the pack. Meanwhile, HWA Racelab’s Stoffel Vandoorne understeered into the wall on the exit of Turn 3 while trying to defend, losing both front wings and damaging the back of his car.
After the full-course yellow deployed again, racing restarted with 18 minutes left. Still fighting over third, Mahindra rookie driver Wehrlein kept close to Bird and race leader Buemi. After a miserable debut in Marrakesh, in which his race lasted only a few minutes, the new Mahindra driver looked to be heading for a podium finish.
With just 15 minutes to go, Buemi overran through the chicane (Turn 6/7) — the same place he crashed out earlier in the day during practice 1 — and shattered the front of his car, handing the lead to Bird. The Swiss driver limped back to the pits and retired. Shortly thereafter, reigning champion Vergne also dropped out after he spun going into to Turn 3 along with BMW i’s da Costa, reducing the field to just 15 running cars.
Sims now made his way to third, behind Wehrlein and Bird, while a battle raged behind involving Envision’s Robin Frijns, Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara, Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans and DS Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer.
Hungry for the win on his first full Formula E race, rookie Wehrlein went on the attack, challenging veteran Bird in the final minutes. But, the heat and crippling track temperatures took a toll on Wehrlein’s car, and he fell away from Bird who took the checkered flag 6.489s clear.
Sims initially took third but the BMW again faced disappointment, as he was issued a time penalty for causing a collision that dropped him back to seventh, and promoted Abt onto the podium in third.
BMW i Andretti Motorsport released a statement on Sims’ penalty that said: “We as a team respect the decision of the stewards and we have elected not to appeal the result.”
Winner in Marrakesh and championship leader coming into the race, Jerome D’Ambrosio came home in eighth but was classified 10th after being handed a five-second penalty for speeding under a full-course yellow. That result means D’Ambrosio relinquishes his place to Bird at the top of the driver standings, with title protagonists Antonio Felix da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne failing to add to their points tally.
Formula E now heads to Mexico City and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for Round 4 on February 16.