Lucas Di Grassi could not have realised it at the time, but when the Venturi of the sleep-deprived Stephane Sarrazin piled into the rear wing of the Brazilian on the first lap, it began an improbable sequence of events and decisions which resulted in perhaps the most unlikely victory in Formula E’s short history.
It had begun the way all the great comeback stories do; with adversity. Sent out in the first qualifying group he found himself laying down rubber for later runners on a track which offered precious little grip amidst high temperatures. Daniel Abt was disqualified from pole and sent to the back for a tyre pressure infringement, handing pole to NEXTEV NIO’s Oliver Turvey.
Sebastien Buemi began the race from 7th and was seemingly assured of extending his colossal lead in the championship; or so we thought… With the evening sun bearing down on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Turvey made a superb start from Jose Maria Lopez, whilst Nick Heidfeld surged past Jean Eric Vergne for 3rd place.
Further back, Sarrazin hit Di Grassi as mentioned earlier, leaving debris. The safety car was deployed on Lap 3 of 45, enabling Di Grassi to pit for repairs. Instead of swapping cars early on and opting to fight for fastest lap, the Abt team repaired the damaged rear wing in under a minute; remaining on the lead lap was absolutely crucial even though at this stage Di Grassi was dead last.
The race resumed on Lap 5. Buemi swiftly retook 6th position from Felix Rosenqvist in a textbook late-braking move at Turn 1. Starting Lap 13, a grave misfortune struck race leader Oliver Turvey who slowed with a terminal battery issue; he climbed from the NEXTEV visibly dejected but having impressed everyone with his performance throughout the day. To compound matters the car was stuck in an awkward position blocking the pit lane exit. Thus leading to… Safety Car number two.
It was on Lap 17 that Jermoe D’Ambrosio in the Dragon car chose to pit under safety car, followed by Di Grassi the lap after. The safety car pulled in, and 3rd to swap cars was Vergne who was the first to pit from 3rd on Lap 25 after being stuck behind Heidfeld. Due to a slow stop for Heidfeld and a very fast out-lap for JEV, he was able to leapfrog the Mahindra; it seemed that only Lopez stood between the Frenchman and his first FE victory.
Now leading the field was Di Grassi, who had passed D’Ambrosio. Yet another safety car was triggered when Loic Duval ground to a halt at Turns 4 and 5. Jean-Eric Vergne began to attack Lopez, D’Ambrosio defended 2nd and Di Grassi built up a small lead.
On Lap 35 Lopez attempted a move around the outside of D’Ambrosio at Turn 1, but he spun and narrowly avoided being collected by Sebastien Buemi who did a similar mistake. With 3 laps remaining, D’Ambrosio locked up heavily, and Vergne was finally through into 2nd.
Then it all kicked off in the stadium section: Prost tagged Heidfeld into a spin. The sister Mahindra of Rosenqvist bounced over the inside curb and was then powerless to stop as he flew through the air into Heidfeld; both Mahindras were out.
Going into the final lap D’Ambrosio was passed around the outside by Bird and forced to stop as he hit 0% energy, but he had put on a fantastic display of driving which earned him many plaudits. Up front Vergne got close, but couldn’t spoil Di Grassi’s miraculous victory.
Circumstance had definitely played it’s part (as a disappointed Buemi was keen to point out) but Di Grassi had also more than risen to the occasion and managed a risky strategy to perfection. Further down Jaguar were also ecstatic with their first ever points; a double points finish infact, with Evans holding off Prost to place a hugely impressive 4th and Carroll beating Piquet Jnr. for 8th.
Techeetah also had two scorers for the first time as Esteban Gutierrez completed a solid if unspectacular run to pick up the final point on his debut in 10th. Also noteworthy were the recoveries of Jose Maria Lopez and Abt to 6th and 7th respectively.
So, a spectacular race ended in Mexico with Lucas Di Grassi’s victory cutting down Sebastien Buemi’s championship lead to just five points. The Brazilian is determined for a rematch of last season, but with the Renault e.Dams still the best car he is going to need to outsmart, outscore and outlast Buemi across the remaining eight rounds.
The next race is the Monaco ePrix on the 5th of May.