The first race of the FIA Formula E Championship 2017/18 was run in Hong Kong, where the 20 cars were ready for the fourth season for the electric single-seaters.
Jean-Eric Vergne had taken Pole Position for the Techeetah team. That Pole was taken in a very special way, where he spun out of the final corner and ended up crossing the timing line backwards! Sam Bird in DS Virgin Racing was second fastest ahead of Nick Heidfeld in Mahindra Racing.
The defending Formula E Champion Lucas di Grassi was beaten by teammate Daniel Abt at Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler with his fourth position, while Felix Rosenqvist in the other Mahindra Racing sneaked ahead of di Grassi.
It was a really bad qualifying for the Renault eDAMS team, where the 2015/16 Champion Sebastien Buemi only started 9th, while Nico Prost hit the wall and had to start in 17th only.
Neel Jani got off to a really grim start of his Formula E career at Dragon Racing. He got a 10 place grid penalty for having to change the battery in one of his cars. Since he only qualified 17th, he would start the race in dead last.
Jean-Eric Vergne took the start, while Nick Heidfeld tried to drive around the outside. It didn’t work out of Heidfeld, and he had to slot into fourth.
Melee happened halfway around the first lap. Nelson Piquet Jr. went over a curb, resulting in Andre Lotterer trying to drive around the outside. There wasn’t space enough for him, so Lotterer ended up blocking the track, with four cars behind him. Race Control decided to throw the Red Flag to clear the track. There wasn’t any major damage to the cars – they just needed to be separated again.
After half an hour of Red Flag, the race was resumed behind the Safety Car with all cars able to restart.
Jean-Eric Vergne lead the race ahead of Sam Bird and Oliver Turvey. Lucas di Grassi was tired of running behind Daniel Abt, so he tried to make a pass on the outside, ending with the two cars hitting each other – fortunately without any damage to the cars.
Later on Lap 5, Sebastien Buemi made a contact with Lucas di Grassi. The Brazilian slammed the door on the Swiss driver, so both cars kept their postions.
Felix Rosenqvist was spun around by Luca Filippi, so the Swede dropped all the way back to P15. Not exactly what one of the favourites for the title needed. The stewards gave Filippi a drive-through penalty for the contact.
Nick Heidfeld tried to overtake Oliver Turvey around the outside on Lap 9, but the manoeuvre didn’t work, and instead Daniel Abt was able to grab fourth position from his countryman.
Maro Engel had sneaked up to P9 after starting P14, so there was plenty of pace in the Venturi car. Venturi did by the way announce a partnership with HWA, the Mercedes works team, as a precursor to Mercedes officially entering Formula E in 2019/20.
There was huge drama after 16 laps of the race. Lucas di Grassi came into the pits with a broken right rear suspension and had to go very early in to car number to be able to complete the race.
Oliver Turvey had to pit early as well and go for his second car, dropping him far back.
Jean-Eric Vergne came under a lot of pressure from Sam Bird, who had a huge advantage compared to the Frenchman. The two cars were battling inches apart, before he could dive past in one of the hairpin turns.
Andre Lotterer received a drive-through penalty for cutting the track.
Sam Bird was able to drive one lap further than Vergne, so he could build an even bigger gap. There was a drama however when he was going for the car swap. The pitlane was so dusty, that he couldn’t slow down the car and ended up locking up all four wheels, and he actually nearly ran down some mechanics. He returned to the track as the leading driver but was under investigation by the stewards.
Sebastien Buemi suddenly slowed on the track, but after a reset of the car, he was able to get going again – with many positions lost.
Jerome D’Ambrosio hit technical issues early in the race and fell to the last position of the race.
Maro Engel continued his impressive march, and he was all the way up to 4th place after all the pitstops had been completed. That was a gain of 10 positions by the German.
Nick Heidfeld put Jean-Eric Vergne under a lot of pressure, in the fight for second in the race.
31 laps into the race, the stewards handed a drive-through penalty to Sam Bird for dangerous driving in the pitlane. Bird was very swift at taking that penalty, and with the way that the pitlane layout was, he actually managed to take the penalty and still rejoin ahead of Vergne and Heidfeld! So the penalty only really cost him around 6 seconds.
Felix Rosenqvist had driven back up the field once again and was pushing Maro Engel for fourth. He was actually physically pushing the German a bit but fell back again.
Vergne was blocking all he could in the fight with Heidfeld, and was zig-zagging from side to side, which was very very closed to the limit of what was allowed. Heidfeld made the safe choice and fell back, since it otherwise would have come to contact between the two cars.
There was a big shake-up in the positions right outside the podium on the penultimate lap. Nelson Piquet Jr. made it past Felix Rosenqvist, who lost a position to Daniel Abt as well. One lap later, Rosenqvist also had to give way to Antonio Felix Da Costa.
But there was nobody able to beat Sam Bird and DS Virgin Racing, who took an impressive victory by 11 seconds – despite his drive-through penalty. Jean-Eric Vergne in Techeetah finished second ahead of Nick Heidfeld i Mahindra Racing and Nelson Piquet Jr in Panasonic Jaguar Racing.
Maro Engel received a 22 seconds time penalty for having used too much power during the race, so he lost fourth position and dropped all the way back to P14.
In interview after the race, a boiling Nick Heidfeld was very angry at Jean-Eric Vergne, whom he thought had blocked way too much and tried to push the German into the wall. The stewards decided not to do anything about it.
That was the end to the Saturday race. Round 2 will be run tomorrow, with a guarantee of another action packed race.