Formula E: Vergne takes title early as Audi triumphs over Techeetah

Source: Jean-Eric Vergne (Twitter)

Jean-Eric Vergne claws back to fifth place, securing his Driver’s Championship a race early as Lucas di Grassi leads an Audi 1-2 home, ahead of teammate Daniel Abt.

The weekend in New York kicked off with a bang as both Techeetahs were disqualified from the qualifying result after the FIA found that they had used too much power during his flying laps. Eventual race winner, Di Grassi, also had to fight his way up the field as the Brazilian started in 11th.

Polesitter, Sebastian Buemi held the race lead and was followed by Renault teammate Nico Prost as Jaguar’s Mitch Evans failed to accelerate off the line and later retired. Abt would inherit 3rd behind the two Renault drivers as Vergne and Techeetah team-mate, Andre Lotterer started to make up their way up the field following their qualifying cancellation.

Abt overtook Buemi on lap 6 for the race lead as Prost fell back in which Venturi’s Tom Dillmann occupied 3rd. Championship protagonist, Sam Bird, who needed to finish ahead of Vergne to take the title fight to Sunday’s race, started in 14th and started to make his way up the order.

It wasn’t until lap 16 in which the Championship rivals were fighting for the same piece of track as Vergne overtook Bird for 10th. Di Grassi had made his way up to 3rd and was rapidly catching Buemi for 2nd. Di Grassi made his move on lap 20 to get past the Swiss driver to now only be 3 seconds behind Abt in 2nd.

The driver’s pitted for their mandatory pit-stops at the end of lap 22, but a slower change-over meant that Abt’s lead over Di Grassi had shrunk. The battle commenced between the Audi drivers as on lap 24, they were nose-to-tail. After making slight contact, Di Grassi attacked and passed Abt for the lead, albeit in an aggressive overtake, which did not please Abt. He fought back but the pair held stations after a command from the Audi pit-wall.

After overtaking Bird, Vergne’s title chances were helped when he passed Lotterer to move into the place he needed to clinch the championship. Bird, now 9th, saw his chance of taking the championship slowly slip away.

The race was suspended on lap 35 when Bird’s teammate, Alex Lynn, crashed heavily. The Brit lost the rear of his car going through turn 5 hitting the barriers in the process. The Safety Car was called out meaning that the race was to be capped at 45-minutes plus one lap of racing.

Racing resumed on lap 40 with Di Grassi streaking away to clinch his second victory in a row ahead of Abt and Buemi.

In a last-ditch attempt, Bird overtook the Venturi of Maro Engel for 8th but he still needed to overtake Prost to keep his championship fight alive for another race. Prost held onto 7th.

Dillmann held onto 4th in an incredible drive just ahead of Vergne while the Mahindra of Nick Heidfeld overtook Lotterer for 6th. Bird’s championship fight was over and Vergne had secured his title, but celebrations would have to wait as there was still one more championship to decide.

Audi’s 1-2 had put them within striking distance of Techeetah who was holding a 5 point advantage. Behind, just 19 points separated Mahindra Racing, Renault e.Dams and Panasonic Jaguar Racing while 6 points separated NIO Formula E and Dragon Racing. Just to add to the drama, the heavens had opened and for the first time in Formula E, the drivers were on a wet track.

With the track still wet come qualifying, conditions were far from ideal. Buemi, Di Grassi, Abt, Vergne and Lotterer had made it through from the qualifying groups to reach Super Pole. Although not setting purple sectors, Buemi pulled it out of the bag in the 3rd sector to snatch Pole Position from Lotterer and his second pole in two days. Vergne would start 3rd with Abt 4th and Di Grassi 5th after a mistake on his final lap.

After qualifying, the weather worsened with spectators being evacuated from the grandstands until the weather front passed. There were even concerns that the race would be pushed back to a later starting time or suspended altogether.

After a frantic start, Vergne had jumped Buemi for the lead. Lotterer slotted into 3rd with Di Grassi 4th, Nelson Piquet Jr 5th and Abt in 6th. It was a great start by both of the Techeetah drivers, but was it too good a start? Had Vergne and Lotterer jumped the start? Both were under investigation by the stewards on lap 3. Nevertheless, Lotterer continued to fight, building a time gap and passing Buemi for 2nd on lap 4.

A Full Course Yellow was brought out after Dragon’s Jose-Maria Lopez broke his suspension causing major damage to his car. Lopez ground to a halt with the FYC now in activation. There was more misery for Dragon as Jerome d’Ambrosio was taken out by NIO’s Luca Fillipi. Fillipi crashed into NIO team-mate Antonio Felix Da Costa and then cut across the track and hit D’Ambrosio. NIO’s chances of passing Dragon in the championship were dashed.

The Stewards awarded Da Costa with a 10 second stop/go penalty for causing the collision between himself and Fillipi. Under the FCY, the stewards awarded Lotterer with a 10 second stop/go penalty for jumping the start. On the plus side, race leader, Vergne was no longer investigation which meant that Techeetah were still in with a chance of clinching the title.

By serving his penalty after the FCY had ended, Lotterer dropped to 15th and now had to try and get back in the points paying positions to help Techeetah. By lap 12, Di Grassi and Abt were on the move as di Grassi overtook Buemi for 2nd and Piquet for 4th. This meant that Audi was now level on points with Techeetah.

Abt overtook Buemi on lap 19 for 3 rd place and lifted Audi into the lead by 4 points. Behind, both Jaguar’s and both Mahindra’s were scrapping over 5th to 8th place as going into the race only 13 points separated the two teams.

Abt, along with both Mahindra’s, the Jaguar of Evans, and Bird, pit, swapping into their second car on lap 23. Vergne, Di Grassi, Buemi and the rest of the field pitted at the end of lap 23 with Vergne maintaining the lead ahead of Di Grassi and Abt. Felix Rosenqvist had jumped Evans for 5th with Heidfeld in 7th and Piquet in 8th.

The Fanboost results were in with Buemi, Vergne, and Abt getting an extra boost of power in which Buemi used to his advantage on lap 27 to get past Abt for 2nd. Abt re-paid the favour and re-overtook Buemi for 2nd as Engel retired from the race.

Lotterer, who after his penalty was 15th, had managed to close down the gap to the top ten and the fightback was on as he overtook Prost for 11th on lap 37. Lotterer then overtook Stephane Sarrazin for 10th place and now he was in the points.

Mathematically, if Lotterer could manage to finish 8th, the points swing would be back in Techeetah’s favour. Lotterer made the crucial move on Bird for 9th and by doing this, Bird would now be 3rd in the Driver’s Championship behind di Grassi.

Just like in Punta Del Este earlier on in the year, di Grassi hounded Vergne in the second half but as in Punta, Vergne held onto the win.

Di Grassi and Abt would finish 2nd and 3rd as Audi waited nervously so see where Lotterer would finish. 8th place was Heidfeld’s and with Lotterer in 9th, Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler claimed the team’s championship.

Vergne finished the season on 198 points with di Grassi stealing 2nd from Bird by a single point. Techeetah lost out to Audi by just 2 points and Mahindra held off Renault and Jaguar to 4th .