Vergne extends championship lead after classic Di Grassi duel

Jean-Eric Vergne extended his lead at the top of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship after a classic race long scrap saw him take his second victory of the season from Lucas di Grassi at the beautiful and speedy beach circuit located on Uruguay’s Punta del Este.

The Techeetah driver led from pole to flag but was pressed all the way by the Brazilian, who was due to start from pole position before a controversial qualifying saw him demoted a place for clipping a bollard at the Turn 14/15 chicane.

So Vergne, who also bagged three valuable pole position points, as a result, ended the race just ahead of de Grassi with Sam Bird a brilliant third for DS Virgin Racing.

“I think I need a glass of vodka right now but what a race and fantastic result for the team and a perfect weekend,” said a delighted Vergne afterwards. “Technically speaking it was the only option to extend the lead by winning the race so it’s all going very well and I have to thank the guys and the team at Techeetah. We are working so hard and it’s tough for everybody but I can’t be any happier for the guys and it shows that hard work pays off.”

Vergne made a great start from Di Grassi, who held off Alex Lynn into the first corner. An early yellow flag and safety car bunched up the field on lap 3 after Nick Heidfeld stopped on the track. Not that it bothered Vergne too much, the Frenchman maintaining his lead from the Brazilian.

As is often the case in the world of Formula E racing, the mid-distance pitstop window so often dictates the final standings. And with Di Grassi swarming all over the rear of Vergne’s gearbox and the Frenchman having lost radio contact with his team it soon developed into a classic battle between the duo, Di Grassi doing everything he could to get past and even touching his rival during the closing laps.

“I am not really happy,” said a visibly upset di Grassi afterward. “They took away my pole position very unfairly and then this track is impossible to overtake although we had the fastest car. I tried a couple of times but it was going to be a crash or we stayed where we are. I tried very hard, Jev defended very well so congratulations to Jev, did zero mistakes the whole race and congratulations to Sam who did a good job to come back from the back but today we had the fastest car from pole and to win but we only managed second.”

Bird, starting from tenth on the grid, forged his way through the field and into a podium position by the finish and was arguably the driver of the day.

“I stayed clean, made some good moves and it was a great pit stop from the guys,” said Bird afterward. “Then I was able to get my head down and came out in front of my teammate and started putting some laps, started to see the gap come down slowly. I think I started off that stint with a little less energy than them but as I was catching I was gaining a little energy whilst they were fighting so it was all looking quite good but I didn’t quite have the legs in the last couple of laps to make a challenge but third from P10 is a good day’s work.”

Mitch Evans was due to start from third but was subsequently disqualified for having the wrong weight balance but flew through the field, using his fan boost to good effect to blast past Felix Rosenqvist en route to fourth in his Jaguar. Like Bird, his was an impressive drive indeed, the New Zealander making up fully 13 places from his starting position after a fantastic late overtake on Lynn.

Renault e.dams driver Sebastian Buemi, fourth in the championship, had to pit after breaking one of his wheel tie rods against the wall on the exit to Turn 13, forcing him to jump into his second car and effectively ending his race.

And teammate Nicolas Prost could only manage 15th after suffering an accident during his flying qualifying lap, breaking his front left and leaving himself an uphill struggle.

The results mean that Vergne now leads the championship by 30 points from Mahindra’s Rosenqvist with Bird only three points behind in third. Buemi remains fourth on 52 points despite his DNF from Piquet Jr. and Evans.

Techeetah leads the team standings from Mahindra Racing and DS Virgin Racing.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.