Formula E-Brief: Buemi brilliant in Berlin as Abt team tactics backfire

Discussion in 'Motorsports' started by R.J. O'Connell, May 22, 2016.

  1. R.J. O'Connell

    R.J. O'Connell

    berlin eprix header.jpg
    He needed to deliver a victory to keep his championship ambitions from slipping away, and in the end, that's exactly what Sebastien Buemi did in the penultimate round of the 2015-16 FIA Formula E Championship. Buemi won Saturday's BMW i Berlin ePrix, ahead of the two Abt Sport Audi Schaeffler machines that became the focus of a huge team orders controversy that actually wasn't a controversy.

    Trading the disused runways of Tempelhof Airport for the immaculately planned apartment complexes and shopping plazas of Karl-Marx-Allee in East Berlin, this year's Berlin ePrix delivered a bit more excitement than the inaugural running - beginning with a qualifying session that saw Jean-Eric Vergne claim his third career Formula E pole, and four cars excluded from the session for various technical infractions.

    But off the line, it was Buemi who got the better of his once-successor at Scuderia Toro Rosso and took the hole shot into the first corner. Vergne wasn't keen to give up the fight, however, and re-passed Buemi the very next lap. The Frenchman was keen to hold the lead, but just enough room for one car was more than enough for Buemi to thread his way back into the lead on the sixth lap.

    Early in the race, the tight confines of the 2 kilometer street circuit saw a number of cars incur damage. The race stewards were quick to summon drivers into the pits for potentially dangerous wounds, and drivers running the gamut from outgoing Formula E champion Nelsiñho Piquet and his NEXTEV TCR teammate Oliver Turvey, to first-time Formula E racer René Rast at Team Aguri, all being handed black and orange flags for damage to their cars.

    But no summons to service was more crushing than that of Sam Bird, who was running a solid fourth place at the time with what appeared to be a wobbly front wing. Despite protests from the Brit that the front wing assembly was structurally sound, Bird was given no choice but to pit his DS Virgin car, give up his points-paying position, and in the end, he finished outside the points in eleventh - all but eliminating him from championship contention.

    Vergne was saved by the mid-race pitstops after he lost his front wing in an accident on lap 24, and continued on comfortably in the top five. But by then, any chance of a repeat podium finish was gone.

    Buemi cycled back into the lead in the pit-stops, but championship leader Lucas di Grassi - who had put one over on Buemi earlier in the month in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps - had now made his way up into a podium position. A decisive pass on Nico Prost put Di Grassi squarely into third, behind his teammate, Daniel Abt - who was running second, a career best for the young German in his home race.

    As the laps ticked down, many wondered if the "Lucas is faster than you" call would come to young Abt to help Di Grassi maximize his points haul from Berlin. Even after a late-race safety car period for a crash involving Dragon Racing's Loïc Duval, Abt still had two laps to make the switch - and indeed, the call to Abt was made - "Can you let Lucas by, he's quicker." And sure enough - by the end of the race, it was just like the Abt team had orchestrated it, with Abt holding the position over Di Grassi.

    Wait, what? Was there a blatant defiance of team orders? Had the ghosts of Villeneuve, Pironi, and Imola '82 resurfaced in the great "Multi 1166" controversy of 2016? Was Abt Sport Audi Schaeffler about to descend into chaos quicker than this series' viewership? Surely they'd have it out once they stepped out of their cars and-

    berlin eprix abt.jpg

    For Abt's part, he did gesture to try and let Di Grassi through in the last two laps. But after the race, a content Di Grassi told Autosport's Scott Mitchell: "I wouldn't feel right if I had taken the place from Daniel because he deserved it."

    By holding the position, Abt picked up his best career Formula E result in front of an elated home crowd. The young German said afterwards, "Today was simply amazing. All day everything went perfectly. The atmosphere was great. The last few days were great. Starting the race, I knew I could do it but there were some really strong guys around me."

    "In the end, even with the safety car, all was good. I’m so happy and really thankful to the team for giving me a good car today."

    Still, none of them had an answer for the Swiss Superman Buemi, a Formula E race winner for the sixth time in his career, and the first time since Punta del Este in December 2015. It will have put to rest some of the whispers that the Renault e.Dams driver had once again become unraveled in a fight for the championship - Buemi's victory and Di Grassi's third place finish mean the championship lead for Di Grassi now sits at just a single point.

    Frenchmen Prost and Vergne completed the top five finishers, while rookie sensation Robin Frijns led the way for the "Blue Falcons" at Amlin Andretti, who themselves had their best day of the season - Frijns in sixth place, and Simona de Silvestro finishing in ninth, to collect her second career points finish.

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    Perhaps the drive of the race belonged to Mahindra's Nick Heidfeld, who was one of the four drivers sent to the back of the grid after being excluded from qualifying. All that did was fire up the 39-year-old German to drive from 16th to finish a solid seventh place, one spot ahead of Venturi's Mike Conway, who recorded his career-best finish. The second Venturi of Stephane Sarrazin - who very nearly missed the race entirely after a crash in qualifying - came home to complete the points scorers.

    And so now, with the Moscow ePrix regrettably cancelled, it leaves just the two-race weekend at London's Battersea Park - which could very well be the final Formula E race in London - left to run. It leaves just one point between both Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi and a chance at becoming the second Formula E champion.

    The final two races of the season, held on July 2 and 3, will be absolute must-watch events as two of the greatest drivers in the world, at the peak of their abilities, battle for the crown.

    2016 Berlin ePrix - Official Results after 48 laps
    1st - Sébastien Buemi [SUI] -
    Renault e.dams - 53:46.086s
    2nd - Daniel Abt [GER] - Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport - +1.767s
    3rd - Lucas di Grassi [BRA] - Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport - +2.381s
    4th - Nicolas Prost [FRA] - Renault e.dams - +3.328s
    5th - Jean-Eric Vergne [FRA] - DS Virgin Racing - +4.927s [PP]
    6th - Robin Frijns [NED] - Amlin Andretti - +6.501s
    7th - Nick Heidfeld [GER] - Mahindra Racing - +7.700s
    8th - Mike Conway [GBR] - Venturi Grand Prix - +8.305s
    9th - Simona de Silvestro [SUI] - Amlin Andretti - +12.473s
    10th - Stéphane Sarrazin [FRA] - Venturi Grand Prix - +13.241s
    11th - Sam Bird [GBR] - DS Virgin Racing - +1 lap
    12th - Oliver Turvey [GBR] - NEXTEV TCR - +1 lap
    13th - Nelson Piquet Jr. [BRA] - NEXTEV TCR - +1 lap
    14th - Qing Hua Ma [CHN] - Team Aguri - +1 lap
    15th - Bruno Senna [BRA] - Mahindra Racing - +2 laps [FL]
    16th - Jérôme D’Ambrosio [BEL] - Dragon Racing - +3 laps
    Not Classified
    René Rast [GER] - Team Aguri - 42 laps
    Loïc Duval [FRA] - Dragon Racing - 39 laps
    Last edited: May 25, 2016
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