Sam Bird, Virgin, Formula E, Santiago, 2019

Bird holds off Wehrlein to win after Buemi blunder

Formula E

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Sam Bird scored the eighth Formula E victory of his career in a retirement-strewn Santiago Eprix run in punishing temperatures. The Virgin racer inherited the lead when Sebastien Buemi threw it away, and withstood pressure from Pascal Wehrlein who shone in his second appearance in the series.

It was was officially Formula E’s hottest race, with track temperatures in excess of 38C. Heat pushes battery, brake and tyre limits – as well as challenging drivers wrestling 900kg cars on a dusty track, without Formula One’s power steering.

Lucas di Grassi was quickest in qualifying by an extraordinary 0.6 seconds. However he was found to have infringed brake safety rules on his return lap from group qualifying.

The sanction related to the incident at the previous round where Tom Dillman, unable to stop on the pit lane, damaged both Virgin cars. Following this Formula E’s brake manufacturers stipulated that drivers must not brake more on their in-lap than on their 250kW qualifying lap. In breach of this rule, Di Grassi was disqualified from all qualifying sessions and sent to last place, handing pole to Buemi.

After a clean getaway on a filthy track all 22 cars made it through lap one unscathed. However, with 43 minutes remaining Tom Dillman stopped on track, causing a short yellow flag period while he re-cycled his car to get moving again.

Race leader Buemi used his attack mode with 39 minutes to go, trying to make a gap between himself and Wehrlein. The activation zone, positioned on the outside of turn three, was to be used for two mandatory activations of four minutes each. Buemi had enough of a lead to stay ahead of the Mahindra, which was swiftly followed by third-placed Sam Bird, who used his extra mode to challenge the rookie.

With 34 minutes remaining, Andre Lotterer triggered a chain reaction at the hairpin to the detriment of his Techeetah team mate. Lotterr nosed Antonio Felix da Costa into Jean-Eric Vergne, spinning the reigning champion and eventually forcing him to retire with damage.

Bird made a clean overtake on Wehrlein with 33 minutes to go, despite the Mahindra also activating Attack Mode – though their battle had allowed Buemi to gain a significant lead.

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30 minutes remaining

PositionDriverTeamAttack Mode remaining
1Sebastien BuemiNissan e.Dams1
2Sam BirdVirgin1
3Pascal WehrleinMahindra1
4Daniel AbtAudi1
5Edoardo MortaraVenturi2
6Stoffel VandoorneHWA2
7Alexander SimsBMWi Andretti1
8Maximilian GuntherDragon1
9Oliver RowlandNissan e.Dams2
10Robin FrijnsVirgin1

Gunther, then running in a strong eighth, stopped on track just past the hairpin with 29 minutes to go. Unlike Dillman earlier, he was unable to restart the car and forced to retire, which left cars circulating under full course yellow for several minutes.

Just before the full course yellow was called, Edoardo Mortara and Alexander Sims allegedly collided in a strange spin that left Mortara facing the wrong way, allowing Sims and Stoffel Vandoorne through to fifth and sixth.

By this point track temperatures, especially on the asphalt elements of the circuit, were extremely high – and combined with the lateral g-force of the cars after several hours of running, this was pulling the surface apart. Already extremely dusty, the Tarmac itself was marbling, spreading huge chunks of road surface off (and sometimes on) the racing line. As a consequence, seemingly bizarre spins started happening as drivers struggled to retain control.

Jose Maria Lopez had one such spin at the hairpin, under the yellow flag for his stricken car. Lotterer had been making an interesting attempt to overtake Di Grassi (for which he would subsequently be investigated) at the same time, despite the yellow flag and forced Lopez slightly off-line and into the marbling.

The race restarted with 22 minutes to go, Bird immediately aggressively attacking Buemi for the lead only to return to full course yellow with just under 20 minutes to go after Vandoorne lost control, shattered the bodywork on his car and sprayed debris across the track.

Racing returned with 18 minutes left but soon afterwards Buemi threw his potential win away. The Nissan Edams driver smacked a wall, limped into the pits and handed Bird the lead.

15 minutes remaining

PositionDriverTeamAttack Mode remaining
1Sam BirdEnvision Virgin1
2Pascal WehrleinMahindra1
3Alexander SimsBMWi Andretti0
4Daniel AbtAudi1
5Edoardo MortaraNIO1
6Robin FrijnsJaguar1
7Mitch Evans1
8Andre Lotterer1
9Oliver Rowland1
10Lucas di Grassi1

Vergne and Da Costa added their names to a growing list of retirements when both pulled into the pits with 13 minutes to go, the earlier incident having damaged their cars too badly.

Meanwhile it seemed like a redemptive drive from Mortara for a top five finish, having lost Vandoorne ahead of him and furiously battling with Frijns as both activated attack mode. He had a more-than-near miss when he slid on the now gravel-like surface, hitting the chicane so hard polystyrene flew at Frijns, but held onto fifth.

With four minutes remaining, second-placed Wehrlein activated attack mode and drastically cut Bird’s lead. Both had roughly 20% usable energy remaining but Bird had no more attack mode activations. But at the same time Mahindra team boss Dilbagh Gill warned Wehrleinhis car was reaching critical temperatures and he needed to lift off to have any hope of bringing it home.

With low energy levels, high temperatures and a crumbling track surface, Bird and Wehrlein had no option but to lift and coast to the finish line. Bird crossed the line in first place, followed by Wehrlein and Sims.

However the BMW driver’s joy was short-lived: Sims was awarded a time penalty in lieu of a drive-through for causing the collision with Mortara earlier in the race, demoting him to seventh before he could even reach parc ferme.

Further post-race penalties were handed to Lopez and Di Grassi, readjusting the top 10 significantly and allowing D’Ambrosio up to eighth. Bird himself was placed under investigation for an underweight car, but was cleared.

By becoming the third different winner in as many races in the season so far, Bird has cut D’Ambrosio’s championship lead to a single point, and Virgin have taken the lead of the teams championship.

1. Sam Bird (Virgin)
2. Pascal Wehrlein (Mahindra)
3. Daniel Abt (Audi Abt)
4. Edoardo Mortara (Venturi)
5. Robin Frijns (Virgin)
6. Mitch Evans (Jaguar)
7. Alexander Sims (BMWi Andretti)
8. Jerome D’Ambrosio (Mahindra)
9. Oliver Turvey (NIO)
10. Jose-Maria Lopez (Dragon)
11. Nelson Piquet Jr (Jaguar)
12. Lucas Di Grassi (Audi Abt)
13. Andre Lotterer (DS Techeetah)
14. Garry Paffett (HWA)
DNF Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.Dams)
DNF Antonio Felix da Costa (BMWi Andretti)
DNF Jean-Eric Vergne (DS Techeetah)
DNF Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.Dams)
DNF Stoffel Vandoorne (HWA)
DNF Maximilian Gunther (Dragon)
DNF Felipe Massa (Venturi)
DNF Tom Dillman (NIO)

2019 Formula E Santiago Eprix highlights

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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27 comments on “Bird holds off Wehrlein to win after Buemi blunder”

  1. Has there been any explanation as to why Vandoorne crashed? It looked like he had no control of his car.

    1. @francorchamps17 yes- I asked him about it after the race, he went off line and hit marbles from the tarmac, which was breaking up under heat stress and the lateral g of the FE cars.

      When you hit a load of hot, tarred gravel like that the car essentially turns into a giant roller skate and he couldn’t hold it. He said it was his mistake but a very easy one to make on a deteriorating surface.

      1. @hazelsouthwell

        hit a load of hot, tarred gravel like that the car essentially turns into a giant roller skate

        Is it a bit like Aquaplaning on gravel?

  2. Make a mistake, you go in the wall. Incredible hot temperatures made the track even more slippery.
    That race was FE essence: so unpredictable, edge of the seat stuff and no room for errors.

    Bird & Wehrlein were on a class on their own today, great battle at the end of the race!
    Pascal could have won without the “orders” from the pit.
    Mahindra continues to deliver, so is Virgin-Audi.

    Big names failed today: Techeetas struggled, Da Costa was badly outpaced by Sims, Buemi faded under pressure.

    Bad mistake from Vandoorne, could have put HWA there in big scoring point position.

    1. @thegamer23 I think he couldn’t have – he admitted in the post race presser to being fired up at the end of the race but the temperature was very critical, he might either not have finished or would have fallen back badly if he’d continued to push.

      But that doesn’t take away from an incredible performance and a stunning battle with Bird, who has four seasons experience on him.

      1. Interesting, thanks a lot for the inshight Hazel!!

  3. Digrassi and punting other drivers, name a more iconic duo.

    This race is a full battle of attrition. I don’t think there were any good overtake during this race (maybe that three cars action on the penultimate hairpin, but thats it). It reminds me to Berlin last year, but less crashes. I really hope there will be more circuits like Riyadh, personally that was the best race yet this season.

    P.S. typo on paragraph 7 Lotterr
    And if I may suggest, please put a small driver standings table at the end of an ePrix article (maybe top 5?)

  4. Really interesting race. Love watching Formula E Gen 2 cars. I am finding the attack mode fascinating. Bird had to hold off 4 minutes of Wehrlein which was crucial to his win.

    The technology still has a way to go, but if in 5 years time you do have 4 wheel drive, and almost F1 level speeds… then you have a very compelling racing series that is trying hard to make itself available to as many people as possible.

    Personally my 7 year old boy and I together watch this with more intrigue than Formula 1. I prefer attack mode to pitstops.

    1. I agree. I am not sure the technology really does have a long way to go. The only thing holding it back is the battery tech and that is improving fast. I love F1 and have done for over 3 decades, however I am finding FE a more comelling watch right now as the racing is brilliant and right on the edge! It is nice that the cars do not fall apart as easily as F1 cars too as it means that we do not loose drivers from the race quite as quickly after small bumps.

      1. It took Gen 1 cars 5 years to change? Hopefully it should be not as long until the next iteration. Also to really take advantage of the speed, one would assume that a race track based race needs to happen at some point. The big criticism is that it is slow and an not and F1 contender. However I can see it getting their, just a matter of development.

  5. At first, i thought Attack Mode was too gimicky to work, but it is proving (at least for me) to be a very good you know nice addition to racing if you know how to use it. Bird won this race because he used Attack Mode better than Wehrlein: he passed the German with AM and held off perfectly when Pascal activated his a few laps after. Like with DRS, on some tracks it feels a little overpowered, but in Santiago it wasn’t and aloowed some very interesting battles (on a street track that felt very hard to pass on).

    P.S: such a shame about DiGrassi’s pole. When i heard he was under investigation and knowing the margin he took pole with (more than half a second), i was convinced he used something illegal during his run, but it seems that was not the case. It’s a bit unfair to produce such a stellar lap without infringing the rules, and be disqualified for a brake issue during the cool-down lap.

    1. I really enjoy attack mode. Pitstops are contrived in F1, because they are mandatory and the tires are made too degrade. With pitstops all the action happens off track, then it takes a while to sort itself out.

      The graphics are great for attack mode, my boys knows exactly whats going on, which is more then can be said for F1.

      I can see FE eclipsing F1 when the money comes in and the tech is where it can be. 4 wheel drive has been mentioned by Di Grassi, and potentially F1 beating speeds, because electric has that potential. Then some races need to go on to racetracks because of their speed.

      All depends on the pace of development though. Gen 1 cars were around for far too long.

  6. Matthew Restaino
    27th January 2019, 9:14

    As the on board from Mortara’s car showed Sims did not hit him surely the penalty has to be rescinded?

    Also odd that Lotterer caused race ending damage to Vergne and Da Costa and yet no penalty. Ditto Rowland on Massa.

    Seems the stewards pick and choose the incidents they penalise on a whim.

    1. Matthew made good points here. Hazel… What is the position on reversing penalty decisions made on the day at the track? Can the team lodge a complaint? Can the FIA overrule the race stewards?

      1. BMW did lodge an appeal and it was denied. I’m not sure on what grounds.

        1. Bmw had to very unlucky races. That penalty should be removed.

          However if you change your mind every 5 minutes as an authority you will lose peoples trust and respect. If they has actually penalised Sam Bird for being underweight, the series would have looked like a joke.

          I feel BMW were hard done by. The stewards need to mature a bit. I am sure it will come over time.

  7. Gen 2 Formula E is turning out to be even more entertaining than Gen 1 – sensational race, there was action all the way through to the end, no downtime at all. And it’s so cool to watch the drivers racing aggressively in both attack and defence.

  8. i’ve given formula e a chance and i don’t think i shall be watching anymore as i just do not find it to provide the sort of actual racing i want to and enjoy seeing.

    formula e always feels like a lottery rather than an actual race because there is too much chaos be it penalties, contact, fanboost or this silly action zone. yes there is racing going on and action but it all feels chaotic and artificial rather than an actual race & i just do not enjoy this.

    it feels too much like mario kart & while i do enjoy playing mario kart i don’t want to watch something like that for real.

    1. So you prefer racing when it is just a number of cars following each other around and around without being able to get close enough to overtake each other?

      Formula 1 is great but FE definitely provides better racing right now.

  9. Formula E feels so fresh to watch on TV. They’ve made some good enhancements. In particular it’s great seeing *all* of the drivers enjoying themselves and seemingly all have a chance to get on the podium at least. Where as in F1, realistically it’s about 4 drivers getting on the podium and 2 for the championship.
    The teams all look genuinely into the racing as opposed to politics and business that always overshadow the racing in F1.
    The criticisms of the ‘gimmicks’ are quite laughable given F1 has been worse. Especially with its forcing of cars onto unsuitable tires to ‘improve the show’ and the driver decisions being run from the computers in the garages.
    The ‘Mario Kart’ part of FE is down to the drivers, as it’s hidden from the guys with the computers until the last minute. I actually look forward to playing a Formula E related game/simulation now. It’s kind of fitting technology now starts to merge what can be possible in games.

  10. I can only watch this with my tv on mute. I can’t stand the sound of these powerunits. Put on some blues or so.

  11. Re: di Grassi –

    “Formula E’s brake manufacturers stipulated that drivers must not brake more on their in-lap than on their 250kW qualifying lap.”

    Could someone explain this please? How can braking less prevent a collision? Surely, if you’re about to run into someone you want to hit the pedal as hard as possible.

    1. Very strange penalty. It almost seems as if someone has a grudge with DiGrassi. He gets disqualified repeatedly. Very bizarre.

    2. It is a very strangely worded rule which could be simplified to ‘return to the pits within 2-3 minutes of completing your flying lap’ or similar. However, it’s worth noting only di Grassi fell foul of it

    3. @dave-f it’s to do with overstressing the brakes. I’ll admit I don’t know why drivers would want to do this (I’m trying to find out) but it seems some of them weave on the brakes on their slow in-lap, maybe to heat the tyres.

      That cooks the brake seals or at least has the risk of doing so, so on a slow lap they have been instructed not to muck about, basically.

  12. Really good race to watch. One day this will be the premier motorsport but not there yet, getting closer. Feels like switching topline racing to electric is like picking the right time to switch to dry tyres on a drying track. May go old school to prove the technology…..when someone beats combustion cars at LeMans 24 hours using electric only, then its time.

  13. Amazing racing action! More drama, emotion and overtaking than an entire F1 season! Lack of noise and relative speed is fading…

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