DIRIYAH, Saudi Arabia – Sam Bird sped to victory in the opening round of the Formula E season on Friday at the Riyadh Street Circuit.
BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Alex Sims pulled away in the lead from the pole, leaving Mercedes-Benz EQ drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries in second and third.
After five minutes, the Attack Mode activation zone opened up, with all 24 drivers now able to pass through the Attack Mode activation zone – located off the racing line – in order to pick up a 35kW power boost during the race.
Disaster soon struck for Nissan e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi, who stopped on track while the grid passed by. Unable to restart his car, the Swiss driver retired from the race.
After a number of attempts from Envision Virgin Racing’s Bird to pass Rokit Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara and move towards a podium finish, the Brit passed the Swiss driver with 30 minutes left on the clock.
Leading the way, Sims kept the two Mercedes drivers at bay in his BWM as the German powerhouses battled for the win. Close behind was Bird in his Audi-powered Envision Virgin Racing challenger, followed by TAG Heuer Porsche’s Andre Lotterer in fifth.
With 17 minutes left in the race, reigning champ Jean-Eric Vergne retired, returning to the pits with damage to the front wheel of his car.
Coming off the start/finish straight, a patient Vandoorne made his move on race leader Sims, taking the lead through turns 18 and 19. At the same time, Bird attacked, passing Sims to move into second. Dropping back further still, Lotterer moved into third, knocking Sims off the podium.
Not content with a second place finish, Bird attacked Vandoorne with 10 minutes remaining. Taking the lead in his Audi-powered car, the Brit handed it to new entrants Mercedes and Porsche as Lotterer remained in third.
After working his way up the grid, Nissan e.dams’ Oliver Rowland advanced past Sims to fourth, passing the BMW driver with six minutes to spare. Coming into turn five, Audi’s Daniel Abt failed to stop his car after a collision with Antonio Felix da Costa and was left stranded after colliding with the wall.
With three minutes left, the BMW i8 Safety Car was deployed while the German’s car was collected until the race restarted with just over a minute to go.
Bird, maintaining his lead, held out to collect his first win of the season. Trailing the Brit was Porsche’s Lotterer in second, followed by Mercedes’ Vandoorne in third.
“I felt confident going into the race. Envision Virgin Racing gave me an amazing car,” Bird said. “Last year was difficult and I went through a sort of transformation involving plenty of thinking and mental stuff. It’s very special to win today. There are 23 other amazing drivers out there, so to come out on top means a lot. It’s a great start to the year, but the hard work doesn’t stop. We have another race tomorrow. There’s potential in the car so we need to maximize what we can.”
Rowland was fourth for Nissan, followed by Bird’s teammate Robin Frijns.
Sam Bird, Andre Lotterer, Stoffel Vandoorne, Oliver Rowland, Robin Frijns, Nyck de Vries, Edoardo Mortara, Alex Sims, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Mitch Evans, Pascal Wehrlein, Felipe Massa, Lucas di Grassi, Antonio Felix da Costa, Oliver Turvey, James Calado, Neel Jani, Maximilian Guenther, Brendon Hartley, Ma Qing Hua, Daniel Abt, Jean-Eric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi.