HYDERABAD, India. Sat. 11 Feb. 2023 – Jean-Éric Vergne (DS PENSKE) held on to win an extraordinary first-ever ABB FIA Formula E World Championship race in India in front of a sellout crowd and a host of dignitaries, Bollywood celebrities and sports stars.
Vergne fought hard in the final third of the race to stay ahead of Envision Racing pair Nick Cassidy and Sébastien Buemi, though António Félix da Costa (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team) ultimately took third after the Swiss was penalised post-race.
It’s Vergne’s first trip to the top step of the Formula E podium since Rome in April 2021 (Season 7) and he achieved it in style. Vergne made his way to the front of the pack on lap 15 of 32 (plus one lap following a safety car), the double champion sweeping by Buemi at the hairpin after the Jaguar TCS Racing pair removed one another from the equation two laps prior.
That incident saw Sam Bird make a lunge on the dirty side of the track on fourth-placed Sacha Fenestraz (Nissan Formula E Team). The Brit could not slow his I-TYPE 6 in time, colliding with teammate Mitch Evans – who was in third at the time – pitching the Kiwi’s car into a spin. Both Jaguars were ultimately forced into retirement with the unlucky Fenestraz also left tumbling down the order in a race where a podium double looked a possibility for Jaguar.
Vergne led the way from that moment but had his mirrors full of Cassidy’s Envision Racing machine as the chequered flag drew closer. The New Zealander had managed to gather up an extra four percentage points of usable energy on Vergne come the closing stages of the race. However, Vergne is regarded as the consummate Formula E fighter and used every trick in the book to keep Cassidy at bay and cross the line first in what many will regard as one of his best wins and one that will live long in the memory on Formula E’s first visit to India in front of a sold-out crowd of over 25,000 people.
Buemi followed home in third but an overpower infringement saw him demoted to 15th spot via 17-second penalty, equivalent to a drive-through. That promoted TAG Heuer Porsche’s António Félix da Costa onto the podium in his 100th race, the Season 6 champion having started the race in 13th. Teammate Pascal Wehrlein crossed the line fourth after picking his way through the order from 12th on the grid.
Sérgio Sette Câmara avoided trouble and climbed through the pack from 15th on the starting grid to produce NIO 333 Racing’s best result since Berlin in Season 4.
Meanwhile, Oliver Rowland made a move for the podium on Buemi – not aware of the Swiss‘ impending penalty at the time – with just a lap to go. It didn’t work out and saw him shuffled to sixth. Nevertheless, Rowland collected his first points of the season for Mahindra Racing in the team’s home race. Norman Nato steered to seventh and the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap.
Reigning champion Stoffel Vandoorne (DS PENSKE) finished in eighth for his best result of the season so far, while André Lotterer(Avalanche Andretti Formula E) and Edoardo Mortara (Maserati MSG Racing) rounded out the top 10.
Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti Formula E) was the victim of an over-enthusiastic René Rast move on lap 26 at the hairpin – the NEOM McLaren Formula E Team driver outbraking himself and rear-ending Dennis‘ car. That proved costly for the Brit, who was running comfortably in fourth and on for a strong points haul – particularly given the strong finish for the other man out front in the standings, Pascal Wehrlein.
That left Wehrlein with an extended 18-point advantage on Dennis, with Vergne leaping to third in the Drivers‘ standings. TAG Heuer Porsche has taken a 23-point lead over Avalanche Andretti in the Teams‘ World Championship.
In addition to the sellout capacity crowd of more than 25,000 fans, the historic race was attended by FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Sri K T Rama Rao, Minister for IT, Industries & Commerce, Government of Telangana. Also enjoying the electric racing action were Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, current Indian cricketers Shikhar Dhawan, Deepak Chahar and Yuzvendra Chahal along with his actor and choreographer wife, Dhanashree Verma.
Jean-Éric Vergne, No. 25, DS PENSKE, said:
“I’m very, very happy. It was a tough race – I had to defend quite hard at the end but we somehow managed to win it. It was a clean race, no mistakes. Very happy with the win today. It’s good for everyone’s heart in our team. For the first few races it’s good to boost it with a good race like that so couldn’t be happier.
“I like new tracks – I think it’s cool. Especially this one – it’s a lot of fun. When there is a lot of little secrets to find on the track, I probably find them quickly enough.”
Nick Cassidy, No. 37, Envision Racing, said:
“I mean I had a really good car today – huge thanks to all my guys. I think at the races this year we’ve been pretty good. I really feel for Mitch and Jaguar today because they’re a great partner and they’ve started the season very strongly. I think the package we have is really strong and so I’m super sorry to see them go out the race like that.
“(On reason behind having no duels this season but getting on the podium). Apart from we’re good in races? Honestly, we’re there in quali as well. Riyadh, Mexico and here, the difference between P1 and being in the duals and being P5 has been two-tenths. There’s not a big margin between 5th and starting 10th or potentially pole. That day will come.”
António Felix da Costa, No. 13, TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, said:
“It felt like it meant to be. The race actually started really well and then I got squeezed by Dennis and I lost a lot of positions. But we stayed calm and worked our way back to the front slowly, and managed our energy. It hasn’t been an easy start for me. It was an emotional day for me looking back at the now 100 races or the 99 races before and where I am and things not working out like I want them to be. I can’t be satisfied with the way I am qualifying at the moment. Having said that, I have an amazing team behind me, always pushing me and giving me the tools. So I know it’s only a matter of time before we do a better job in qualifying and obviously the car can race really well. And yeah I’m really happy I came all the way to India and got a podium in my 100th race.
“So much happened. I got angry, I was happy, I was calm, I was stressed. But again, I worked well with the team throughout the whole race and I guess that’s the experience of 100 races if I’m honest -starting there and coming all the way here.”
Round 5 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship is the 2023 Cape Town E-Prix on Saturday, 25 February, the first time Formula E has raced in South Africa.
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