SANTIAGO, Chile — Sam Bird handled the heat under pressure from Pascal Wehrlein to win his first Formula E race of the season Saturday afternoon in the sweltering Santiago sunshine.
With Wehrlein hot on his heels in the closing stages of the warmest Formula E race on record, Bird held his nerve with a peerless performance around the perimeter roads of Parque O’Higgins in the center of the Chilean capital.
Bird had to keep a close eye on his mirrors with both drivers on alternative strategies. Without any activations left, Bird found himself vulnerable from behind – as Wehrlein saved his final burst of energy in a bid to vault ahead with only minutes to spare.
Despite his best efforts and clawing Bird in, Wehrlein couldn’t make a move and had to settle for second as his hopes of victory faded with rising temperatures.
“We went with Audi for a reason,” Bird said. “Through the help of Audi Sport, the skill-set of the data engineers who pulled back the pace and mechanics… I’m now here – and we’ve been able to claw back time and learn from mistakes. Everyone was struggling out there, so I’m absolutely delighted to bring it home.”
Fellow countryman Daniel Abt rounded out the podium places, inheriting a position from Alexander Sims after the BMW i Andretti Motorsport driver incurred a penalty for causing a collision with Edoardo Mortara.
Contact with Sims sent Mortara spinning, but the Venturi Formula E Team driver valiantly fought back to finish fourth.
Buemi wasn’t so lucky to avoid the barriers, crashing out of the lead in close quarters with Bird at the turn six and seven chicane – the same corner he encountered trouble with in practice earlier in the day.
The 2015/16 champion led away from the front – after being promoted to Julius Baer pole position following the exclusion of Lucas di Grassi for an infringement in qualifying. However, Buemi couldn’t convert a first win for the newly-named Nissan e.dams outfit.
Winner in Marrakesh and championship leader coming into the race, Jerome D’Ambrosio came home in eighth – but later dropped to 10th after being handed a five-second penalty for speeding under Full Course Yellow.
The result means D’Ambrosio relinquishes his place to Bird at the top of the driver standings – with title protagonists Antonio Felix da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne failing to add to their points tally.
After another searing showdown in Santiago, Formula E now heads to Mexico City and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for round four of the 2018/19 ABB FIA Formula E Championship on Feb. 16.