BREAKING NEWS: AFTER A PENALTY, THERE HAS BEEN A CHANGE IN PODIUM PLACINGS (SEE END)
Race 5 of the season was the 50th Formula E race and it was therefore fitting that the series was back in China where the very first Formula E race was held. Although that race was in Beijing while this 5th race of Season 5 was on the waterfront streets of downtown Hong Kong. It was also the 50th Formula E race for veteran Brazilian driver, Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler)
The rain held off yet again, but the track was in various degrees of wet and dry from an earlier downpour, making driving tricky especially over the painted areas of the street track which become like ice when wet. The track had 10 turns, six to the right and four to the left with mixed surfaces.
It was a game of cat and mouse between German, Andre Lotterer driving for DS Techeetah and Briton Sam Bird of Envision Virgin Racing, which ultimately ended in contact with Bird's claws causing a tyre blow-out.
It was a new and exciting lineup on the grid, with very few of the favourites near the top. In pole position, rookie-driver Stoffel Vandoorne giving HWA Racelab it’s first real chance of the season. He was supported by teammate Gary Paffett in 4th position on the grid.
Happy with 2nd position was experienced driver Oliver Rowland racing for Nissan E-Dams, who are in eighth place out of the eleven teams.
Andre Lotterer, was in 3rd position. In the third and fourth rows, there were a few previuos podium placegetters with Lucas di Grassi, Edoardo Mortara, Sam Bird, and Sebastian Buemi.
New Zealander, Mitch Evans racing for Panasonic Jaguar Racing was disappointed with his qualifying rounds which saw him in 17th position on the grid. However, unlike Race 4 which saw him move up by attrition, this time, he did move up to 7th position at race end which was largely through some passing.
Finally, the wet qualifying conditions hadn’t favoured series leaders Jerome d’Ambrosia (Mahindra) and Antonio Felix da Costa (BMW I Andretti) who were both at the back of the grid.
Going into the first corner of the race.
A very aggressive start saw 42 changes of position in the first lap alone, and Rowland immediately claiming pack leader before the first turn.
Bird made huge strides up from his 3rd row start overtaking Vandoorne into 2nd place at about six minutes in.
Sims (BMW i Andretti) locked out putting him at the back of the pack and the yellow flag came out after Piquet pitted. Meanwhile, it was becoming obvious that Filipe Nasr (Geox Dragon) was in trouble with smoke pouring out of his car. Instead of retiring he continued on, hitting the wall and taking out both Mahindra cars with him.
A very disappointed series leader, D’Ambrosia, has called for a penalty in next race against Nasar.
The White Geox Dragon car takes out the two red Mahindra cars. Meanwhile, french drivers Vergne and Dillman escape harm.
Full course yellow followed, preventing any further passing and then it became necessary to temporarily stop the race under the red flag while the debris was removed.
The Cars return to pit during the red flag and drivers can walk about.
After the Red Flag
The timer was started again and two laps had to be completed behind the safety car before they got the green flag. Most drivers took advantage of the situation to activate the first of their attack modes.
On the first turn out, Rowland’s car suddenly lost power and trailed to the back of the pack. It seemed he had pressed the yellow flag button on his steering wheel by accident, not a difficult thing to do on these cars. This handed Bird the lead while at the same time Lotterer passed Vandoorne putting himself in second.
This steering wheel is from Bird's car, showing how easy it would be to press a button as you turn the wheel.
Holding the lead for just 3 minutes and with 33 minutes to go, Bird took a wide line around turn 2, allowing Chinese team DS Techeetah Racing (Andre Lotterer) to slip into the lead. For most of the remainder of the race, Bird sat on Lotterer’s tail, literally knocking his rear at one stage. The pair’s lead increasing over the rest of the pack as both took turns at beating their fastest lap times until Lotterer’s team told him to take it easy as he was losing power much faster than Bird and the rest of the pack.
With 20 minutes 30 seconds to go, Vandoorne was in trouble, allowing Mortara (Venturi) to overtake into third position. A couple of minutes later, Vandorne lost power and stopped, ending the dream of his first time on the podium.
Buemi (Nissan E.Dams) suddenly went through a chicane and it became apparent that he had a damaged front left wheel. The safety car came out, while Vandoorne’s car was removed.
The Final Minutes
Mortara in third place was able to catch the huge lead Lotterer and Bird had created as the cars bunched up behind the safety car. However, he seemed content to sit back and wait, possibly hoping the aggressive leaders would take each other out of contention.
Now in 10th place, Rowland touched the wall and broke the Nissan E.Dams’ rear axle. The safety car came out again and the track cleared with just 2 minutes to go. With the slow down having resolved Lotterer’s power issues, all he needed to do was hang on in the lead. However, he continued to defend aggressively, while Bird attacked aggressively and another touch to Lotterer’s tyre caused it to blow out. Lotterer floundered to a stop and Bird crossed the line in a contentious win.
The final placings and a closeup of Lotterer's damaged car
The race was full of cars making contact with other cars. The issue of a code of conduct was raised by the commentators. There has been no consensus in the series as to what is acceptable contact and behaviour and what is not. Therefore, while Bird took the podium, his win was insecure until the protest is resolved.
Traditional podium selfie
Race 6 will also be held in China, in the southern island city of Sanya, off the coast of Vietnam.
Nicki Shields finds Singer/Songwriter Liam Payne in the crowd
AFTER BIRD WAS PENALISED 5 SECONDS FOR KNOCKING LOTTERER OUT, MORTARA WENT ON TO CLAIM HIS MAIDEN WIN. SECOND PLACE TO LUCAS DI GRASSI (AUDI SPORT ABT SCHAEFFLER). BIRD'S TEAM MATE ROBIN FRIJNS ROUNDED OUT THE PODIUM PLACES WITH A THIRD PLACE FOR ENVISON VIRGIN RACING.
[Rachelle Tilsley - Better NZ Trust - 10 March 2018]