DS TECHEETAH’s Vergne romps to victory in Bern

Jean-Eric Vergne solidified his position at the top of the Drivers’ Championship by storming to victory in a thrilling inaugural Bern E-Prix, securing his third win of Season 5 for Acronis technical partner DS TECHEETAH.

While the reigning Formula E champion clinched victory in the race, Vergne’s dominance in Bern started in qualifying, with the Parisian pilot navigating his black and gold DS E-Tense FE.19 to pole position, securing three bonus points by beating Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans to the top spot in qualifying.

Lining up on the front row of the grid, Vergne executed the perfect start from his starting slot to lead into the first corner from the outset, extending an immediate advantage over second-placed starter Evans while Nissan e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi maintained third in front of his home crowd.

While the top three starters for the Bern E-Prix made a quick and clean getaway, behind, a small amount of contact for Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein resulted in an immediate spin while a touch from Jerome d’Ambrosio on the tail of Robin Frijns pitched the Dutchman into the wall and out of the race. With most of the circuit blocked, race control quickly waved the red flag, halting the E-Prix after less than one minute of green flag running.

With drivers from the lower half of the field gaining as a result of the incident at the start, taking to the escape road of the Turn 12/13/14 chicane, the restart order was a debated affair, with Lucas di Grassi – who jumped to eighth place after starting in 19th – arguing that the present order should be maintained. As written in the rulebook, however, it was decided that the restart order would be in the order of the starting grid, with this being the last point when all drivers were recorded on track through timing.

Following a lengthy stoppage, Vergne led the field to green once more while Jaguar’s Evans continued to follow close behind, hunting down his prey. With 26-minutes + 1 lap remaining, Evans decided to strike, running through the Attack Zone situated in between Turns 8 and 9 to secure a 25kW power boost.

Closing in on Vergne, Evans was stuck to the rear of the Frenchman’s gearbox in desperation, longing to get past while knowing fine well that the DS TECHEETAH driver would arm and deploy Attack Mode himself when the opportunity came.

Running through the designated zone, Vergne did just that, using the device to defend from Evans before successfully opening a small lead at the front. Relentless, however, Evans closed back in and deployed his final use of Attack Mode with 17-minutes + 1 lap to go, again trying the same strategy as he had earlier in the race. With Vergne again rearming and redeploying the power boost device, the stalemate on track persisted, with the pair running in formation.

With Evans struggling to close in enough to attempt an overtake, it appeared that Vergne’s run to the chequered flag would be simple – all the driver had to do was maintain his present defensive driving. Rain was an ever-present threat, however, and quickly the Bern Street Circuit became drenched, resulting in slippery and tricky conditions in the final minutes of the E-Prix.

At the front, Vergne remained unphased, carving his way through the track conditions to remain in front at the all-important waving of the chequered flag, beating Evans by 0.160s and demonstrating a defensive driving masterclass by doing so.

Winning in Bern, Vergne took his third victory of the season while the race also marked the driver’s third consecutive podium finish and DS TECHEETAH’s fifth in succession, with both the driver and team further improving their chances of taking the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships with only one weekend of racing remaining in Formula E’s present 2018/19 campaign.

“It was definitely not easy!” Vergne told Motorsport Monday. “It was the most stressful moment of the season that’s for sure [when the rain came]. [Mitch] was clearly faster than me and the level of risk that I took was not that high because I have the championship to look after. Maybe the DS car is wider! I’m in a very good position but it’s not going to change my approach for New York. I have more of a lead than last year which is good and it’s perfect for the team. We want to win the championship!”

After following Vergne for the entire race, Evans crossed the finishing line in second place to take Jaguar Racing’s second podium of the season while Buemi took third for Nissan e.dams, standing on the final step of the podium in the capital city of his home nation of Switzerland.

Missing out on the podium, Andre Lotterer secured fourth place at the chequered flag in the second DS TECHEETAH car, with the triple 24 Hours of Le Mans winner fighting from eighth on the grid.

“It was pretty much inevitable to have that situation [in Turn 1],” Lotterer told Motorsport Monday when reflecting on his race. “This is the compromise we have to live with in Formula E and it’s linked with the privilege of racing in the heart of cities and the FIA is trying to the best job at homologating tracks. The chicanes are there to ensure that we don’t arrive at some corners too quick without enough run-off. They did the right thing with the red flag, regardless of rules or no rules and then the race was pretty good. At the beginning, I was a bit sceptical on overtaking so I stayed patient and then I could use Attack Mode pretty well to pass and was flirting with the podium when I saw the rain but that would have been a bit too much risk so I took it home.”

A post-race investigation, however, found that Lotterer ignored the exit light in the pit lane, with this resulting in the application of a 22-second time penalty post-race, relegating the pilot to 15th in the final classification.

Due to Lotterer’s penalty, Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird finished fourth place while Maximilian Gunther completed the top five for GEOX Dragon, followed by Daniel Abt in sixth, Alex Lynn in seventh, Felipe Massa in eighth for Acronis technical partner Venturi Formula E, Lucas di Grassi in ninth and Stoffel Vandoorne in 10th.

With one weekend and two races remaining in Formula E’s fifth season of competition, Vergne holds a lead of 32 points in the Drivers’ Championship while DS TECHEETAH continues to hold first in the Teams’ Standings, 43 points ahead of Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler.

Formula E’s 2018/19 campaign will come to a close on the weekend of July 13 and 14 as the all-electric single-seater series returns to New York City to decide the Season 5 championship once and for all in the Big Apple.

Chris Soulsby

Chris Soulsby

Formula E Editor at MotorsportWeek and MotorsportMonday.

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