The Marrakesh E-Prix started with a first-corner clash, saw the top ten shaken several times when the drivers used the attack mode and surprised with a dramatic finish.
Having started from Pole Position, it was Envision Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird who defended his lead through the first corner. The Brit was closely followed by Jean-Éric Vergne (DS Techeetah) who started second on the grid.
Vergne made an ambitious move, diving up the inside through the long left-hander. With Bird closing the door, the inevitable happened: the pair made contact and Vergne spun on the middle of the track. Forunately the oncoming traffic was able to avoid a crash with the DS e-tense FE.19. Nevertheless there were loads of contact in the pack.
One of those suffering from the first corner incident were the HWA Racelab drivers. Stoffel Vandoorne had to return to the pits, from which he never re-emerged. His team-mate Gary Paffett had to retire as well. “Stoffel braked a little too late into turn one and hit me from the side, causing damage to the car. I then suffered a puncture shortly after and was forced to retire”, Paffett recalled.
Another first corner victim was Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein who was hit hard from behind by a late-braking Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler). “It wasn’t the race debut that I wanted. It’s very frustrating”, said the German who was forced to retire. di Grassi was able to continue and kept fighting hard within the top ten, managing to finish the race in seventh position.
Despite Vergne falling back to end of the field, there was no time for Bird to relax. The BMW i Andretti Motorsport duo António Félix da Costa and Alexander Sims were chasing him. Both were eventually able to find a way passed, dropping Bird down to third.
Having led the race for almost 40 minutes, the spectators could see Sims pulling alongside Da Costa into the braking zone of Turn 7 in an attempt to snatch the lead. Followed by the most dramatic moment of the race with both drivers locking-up, making contact and neither making it through the corner. Da Costa ended up in the barrier in the run-off area of turn 7 while Sims was slowly able to recover, finishing fourth.
“Of course, it is a great shame for the whole team. The race should not have finished like that”, Sims said. Da Costa added: “I would like to apologise to the whole team. Alex did a great job today. I held my ground when he drew level with me and my front wheels locked up. That was my mistake and it had negative consequences for me and for Alex. I should have let him go past and been content with second place.”
Jérôme D’Ambrosio (Mahindra Racing) who started down the field in 10th, has not only steadily progressed up the ranks but suddenly found himself in the lead. Experiencing trouble recovering Da Costa’s car, the safety car was deployed with the cars lined-up in close formation, facing another intense moment as the clock hit zero – leaving just one lap to the chequered flag.
With the drivers having to use the attack mode twice during the race, increasing the power from 200 kW (272 hp) to 225 kW (306 hp), D’Ambrosio, Vergne, André Lotterer (DS Techeetah), Sébastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams), Mitch Evans (Panasonic Jaguar Racing), Daniel Abt (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler), Maximilian Günther (Geox Dragon Racing), Edoardo Mortara (Venturi Formula E Team), Nelson Piquet junior (Panasonic Jaguar Racing), Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.dams), Oliver Turvey (NIO Formula E Team) and Felipe Massa (Venturi Formula E Team) were all charged up for the restart.
Sims, di Grassi and Tom Dillmann (NIO Formula E Team) also activated the attack mode for the last lap remaining. The drivers fought again on the very last metres. Despite D’Ambrosio running wide over the kerb in the final corner as well as being chased by Frijns to the line, the Belgian secured the third victory of his Formula E career.
It’s the first time the 33-year-old has not benefitted from a post-race disqualification as it was the case on both previous occasions. The win marks his first win since Mexico City E-Prix in 2016. “The race was really hard-fought and incredibly intense. At least that’s what it felt like from inside the cockpit.
A couple of things played-out to our advantage and winning this race means a lot for the team and the hard work over the past few weeks. We’ll enjoy tonight, but tomorrow we get back to work”, summarised D’Ambrosio. He was joined by Frijns and Bird in second and third on the podium. Sims, Vergne, Lotterer, di Grassi, Buemi, Evans and Abt completed the top ten.
The wait for round three of the 2018/19 ABB FIA Formula E Championship won’t be a long one with the Antofagasta Minerals Santiago E-Prix right around the corner on 26th January.