Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird scooped the first win of the new ABB Formula E Championship season with his Audi-powered entry, leading TAG Heuer Porsche of Andre Lotterer and Mercedes-Benz EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne in third at the first round of a doubleheader on the Riyadh street circuit in Saudi Arabia.
Starting from pole, BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Alex Sims pulled away as the lights went out, leaving both Mercedes-Benz EQ drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries in second and third.
After five minutes, the “Attack Mode” activation zone opened up, giving all 24 drivers the chance to pass through the activation zone located off the racing line by picking up a 35kW power boost. At the same time, disaster struck for Nissan e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi, who stopped on track with a mechanical issue.
After a number of attempts, Bird finally passed Rokit Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara for fourth, the Briton passed the Swiss driver with 30 minutes left on the clock. and closed on the leading trio, where Sims was keeping the two Mercedes drivers at bay while Bird and Lotterer followed close behind.
Coming off the start/finish straight, Vandoorne made his move on race leader Sims, taking the lead through Turn 18-19.
At the same time, Bird attacked, passing Sims to move into second. Lotterer also demoted Sims soon thereafter.
Bird got around Vandoorne with 10 minutes remaining, while Porsche’s Lotterer also made his way around the Mercedes driver just before Audi’s Daniel Abt failed to stop his car after a collision with Antonio Felix da Costa (BMW) and was left stranded after colliding with the wall. With only three minutes left, the safety car was deployed while the German’s car was collected, and the race was restarted with just over a minute to go.
Audi’s Bird held off Lotterer and Vandoorne to the finish, while Oliver Rowland (Nissan e-DAMS) and Bird’s Envision Virgin teammate Robin Frijns rounded out the top five.
“I felt confident going into the race. Envision Virgin Racing gave me an amazing car. I think some of it is down to the new beard!” joked Bird.
“Last year was difficult and I went through a sort of transformation involving plenty of thinking and mental stuff. It’s very special to win today. There are 23 other amazing drivers out there, so to come out on top means a lot. It’s a great start to the year, but the hard work doesn’t stop. We have another race tomorrow. There’s potential in the car so we need to maximize what we can.”
Runner-up Lotterer admitted thoughts of payback were in his mind as he trailed Bird in the closing laps.
“I thought about having a crack at Sam [Bird] to give him payback for Hong Kong last season,” said the Porsche driver, referencing their controversial collision last March while fighting for the lead. “We weren’t sure on how much energy we had left, so I decided to bring it home safely.
“Tomorrow we have another race and it’ll be much harder,” Lotterer added. “Either way we take today as it was, which is an amazing debut for the Porsche team. We all worked very hard, we came here, and we did our best. Second place is a great way to start and boost the confidence of the team.”
It was a forgettable opening race for two-time reigning series champion Jean Eric Vergne, whose DS Techeetah entry was unable to move up from midfield after qualifying just 11th, and retired with 17 minutes remaining with damage to the front wheel of his car.
Race 2 follows on Saturday.