The battle for the Formula E championship between Sebastien Buemi and Lucas Di Grassi continued in the fifth round at the Monaco ePrix, with both drivers fighting for victory until the very last lap.
The start was a lot calmer than FE’s previous visit to Monaco; Buemi and Di Grassi led the field relatively unscathed, although Stephane Sarrazin embarrassingly stalled on the grid but got going again. The only driver to suffer damage was Jose Maria Lopez in the DS Virgin, who had been hit by Daniel Abt on the opening lap and this led to a black and orange flag for the Argentinian.
Before Lopez could pit though, the DS Virgin mechanics were suddenly occupied with their other car. Sam Bird – running in 7th behind Maro Engel – damaged his right rear wheel at the second swimming pool chicane when he lost the back end and hit the barrier. After a long delay, a new rear wing and Bird was on his way again, now aiming for a consolation point for fastest lap.
On Lap 14 of 51, Daniel Abt was making progress up the field passing Robin Frijns’ Andretti for 8th, but that was one of the few position changes on a narrow, short lap limited room to attempt an aggressive overtake.
Jean Eric Vergne discovered this to his cost on Lap 22, when after several aborted attempts, he tried to go around the outside of Nelson Piquet Jr. for 3rd place. Piquet kept to the inside, refused to yield, the two cars bumped wheels and the Frenchman’s Techeetah ended up planted in the barriers as he ran out of road. The beneficiary of this incident was Nick Heidfeld, who slipped past the two interlocked cars to gain 3rd place.
A safety car period at half distance commenced to remove Vergne’s vehicle and repair the damaged barrier, during which all drivers still running decided to swap cars. The Jaguar and Dragon teams looked to anticipate the safety car, pitting their drivers a lap before everyone else, but this backfired as they ended up stuck behind the safety car and were eventually let through to rejoin the back of the queue. This was especially costly for Mitch Evans who was running just outside the points at the time.
The final stint was somewhat uneventful until the last few laps. Buemi looked to maintain a small but sufficient gap throughout to Di Grassi and used his FanBoost to extend it to 1.8 seconds. Di Grassi began to fight back though and reduced the gap to a few tenths, but didn’t use his own FanBoost, probably because he was marginal on energy come the finish.
Nevertheless the two drivers traded personal best lap-times and with each back-marker lapped Di Grassi was able to make an impression on his title rival, but he wasn’t able to use his better pace in this stint to try and execute a move.
It felt a bit like Buemi was just teasing Di Grassi and the watching audience, but in reality he was simply trying to keep enough usable energy in the battery in order to make the finish. It was a tense end to a slightly tepid contest, but coming after such a brilliant race last time out in Mexico, Monaco was always going to disappoint by comparison.
Nick Heidfeld was delighted to join the two title protagonists on one of the most prestigious podiums in world motorsport. Piquet himself was still able to finish 4th but Vergne was unimpressed with the Brazilian’s driving, and said so in no uncertain terms.
Maro Engel scored Venturi’s best result of the season with 5th to put the local team a few points shy of Jaguar in the constructors’ table. Rosenqvist and Abt supported their teammates with 6th and 7th place finishes. Gutierrez scored another points finish in 8th. Finally Nico Prost and Mitch Evans rounded out the points after Da Costa got an unsafe release penalty.
Formula E returns next Saturday, May 20th, for the 6th round of the championship at the Paris ePrix.