DIRIYAH, Saudi Arabia – Nyck de Vries strode to victory in Formula E’s first night race on Friday as the Mercedes-EQ driver dominated the Diriyah E-Prix at the Riyadh Street Circuit.
The Dutchman’s victory was picture perfect in the end, with de Vries handling Safety Car periods and pressure from behind to romp home four seconds clear of the pack.
De Vries launched well to cover the advances of Pascal Wehrlein and Rene Rast, with Rast pushing his compatriot for second place into turn one. A poor getaway from Wehrlein allowed De Vries to build an early gap to the pack – some 1.2 seconds by the end of the first lap.
Vries led Wehrlein, Rast, Edoardo Mortara, Mitch Evans and Alex Lynn early on while Jaguar’s Sam Bird got the jump on Maximilian Guenther into the chicane for seventh.
Rast looked racy in the Audi right away, looking to apply pressure on Wehrlein as they raced for second. De Vries responded to the pressure by setting and maintaining race pace – though retaining that one-second gap led to complaints of energy overconsumption.
The battle between Evans in fifth, Lynn sixth, Bird seventh and Guenther in eighth looked feisty, with just 1.5 seconds covering the quartet. Bird was able to make up more ground with a slice by the Mahindra setting him off after his teammate on lap eight.
Approaching the half hour, Rast’s engineer gave the German free reign to attack Wehrlein for second. A typically elbows-out move from the DTM champion saw him around the outside of the Porsche into the chicane. Wehrlein leapt for Attack Mode immediately to try and muster a response, following de Vries, who’d already jumped for his first 35kW boost out front.
Rast kept de Vries honest despite the Mercedes-EQ running in Attack Mode, with the Audi driver electing to make use of the full 235kW on Lap 14. Mortara had his full complement of power deployed, too, and having made his way up to fifth, dispatched Wehrlein and Evans into the chicane for third in a stunning three-wide double pass.
On Lap 16, Bird and Lynn came to blows in the scrap for sixth with the Mahindra coming off worst, meaning the BMW i Safety Car had to slow the race at the half-way stage. De Vries, Rast, Mortara, Evans, Wehrlein, Guenther, Oliver Rowland, Porsche’s Andre Lotterer, Mahindra Racing’s Alexander Sims and Lucas di Grassi – who’d gained six places – rounded out the top ten.
De Vries got things back underway with less than 15 minutes plus one lap left to run, and immediately put the hammer down to steal 1.7 seconds on those behind.
Just a couple of laps later, Guenther got it all wrong through turn two which ended with the BMW sideways and into the wall with a big hit and in need of recovery and springing the Safety Car once again. De Vries had just used Attack Mode number two with Rast and Evans following – allowing Mortara to steal second. But, importantly, the pair had already taken the lap time hit of going off-line for their second and final Attack Mode activations under the sanctity of the Safety Car.
Five minutes plus a lap to go, and de Vries still led from Mortara, Rast, Evans, Wehrlein, Sims, Rowland, di Grassi, Vandoorne and NIO 333’s Oliver Turvey – the Brit a big mover in the opening race.
Rast was able to grab track position back when Mortara swept right at the chicane for a second shot of Attack Mode but the battle was now on with the Venturi 35kW to the good over the Audi until the checkered flag. Rast couldn’t fight for long, though, with the Swiss moving out of the Audi’s slipstream on that long back straight to retake second. Mitch Evans followed a lap later with a carbon copy manoeuvre on the German for third.
De Vries crossed the line with plenty in hand, whilst Mortara followed in an impressive second with Evans holding firm for third, despite Rast using every trick in the book to get by. Wehrlein completed the top-five in fifth.
“My first victory in Formula E. What a fantastic result and a perfect start to our second season,” said De Vries. “I don’t know why, but I was quite calm after the race despite the pleasure of winning. It’s been a great weekend for me so far, setting the fastest time in every session and then winning the E-Prix itself. That’s obviously a very nice feeling, but it was by no means an easy race. There were so many safety car deployments, and it was difficult to always select the right energy management. It took a lot of communication with the team, but it’s great that I was able to come home with the win in the end. Many thanks to the whole team. I know it sounds like a cliché, but everyone in our team has worked very hard over the winter to get us up here on the podium today. So again, a huge thank you to the whole squad for their tireless work. You’ve earned this victory.”