- Oct 27, 2014
Most important to the driver’s championship was the trials of emphatic Putrajaya winner Sam Bird; he binned it in qualifying, and didn’t make much progress during the race before misjudging the first corner and being launched by one of the sausage kerbs into the unforgiving wall at turn 2. The always unlucky Nick Heidfeld cannily managed to get in front in the pitstops during a safety car period, only to get two drive-through penalties afterwards.
The beachside track located in the “Monaco of South America” was tight as I thought, yet was actually quicker as well. Looking at the map of the 1.7 mile track, I feared that the many chicanes could really disrupt the flow, but instead drivers were able to push through the corners, creating a fast and risky back section to the lap. If these were F1 cars driving around, the turbulent air they produced would almost certainly mean a less adventurous race than the one we got. Formula E can consider itself lucky that its electric-powered cars don't suffer from this, and they can therefore run as close together as they do. The combination of this, the bumpy road surface and the car’s low grip from their narrow grooved tyres meant lots of entertainment watching them attack the circuit, even while sliding right next to the walls. This series may be something of a novelty at the moment, but tell that to the drivers, who all fought for places throughout and made several daring passing attempts, even if a lot of them didn’t work out.
Though I may have joked in my preview about the Formula E teams and drivers heading to the beaches of Uruguay, dealing with sand blown onto the track by crosswinds was in fact another challenge faced. It especially affected getting off the line for those on the left-hand side as sensational debut poleman Jean-Eric Vergne found out, caught in wheelspin while China Racing’s Nelson Piquet Jr. led away from 2nd on the grid. Vergne then chased Piquet for most of the first stint but couldn’t get by. The Frenchman was voted for FanBoost but a technical issue prevented him from using it in his first car, so he had to get by Piquet the apparently old-school way, going down the inside into turn 8 on lap 13.
And trust me, it feels good being able to write that sentence. I know I’ve expressed my dislike of FanBoost before, but it really would pain me if one of these races was decided by someone getting a crucial boost past through essentially reality television tactics instead of sporting ones, as Vergne came close to doing against Buemi later on in the race. Would it then be more accurate to put in the records “Jean-Eric Vergne plus his thousands of Twitter followers” as the race winner? Perhaps we the audience are lucky then that all the drivers who’ve so far used FanBoost have seemed cursed by it. This time Nick Heidfeld got his aforementioned penalties, Amlin Aguri stand-in Salvador Duran (who, if I was being cynical, basically got Katherine Legge’s votes) spent much time in the pits and was very quiet all race, while Vergne himself retired with suspension failure on the penultimate lap as he chased Buemi down. But regardless of how effective it is, FanBoost remains the black mark on this otherwise very enjoyable series and the sooner it's gone the better. Still, Vergne’s stellar weekend, one taken “into the unknown” as he put it, deserved more than heartbreak and mere kudos. Whether he continues with Formula E to Bueno Aires next month isn’t clear, but on this evidence maybe he’s found a place where he can start winning, and regularly.
And he didn’t make fellow Toro Rosso dropout Buemi’s win easy, though the Swiss driver could have done without the numerous safety car periods bunching the field back up. The e-Dams driver’s power management was excellent compared to Vergne and Piquet Jr., but it didn’t pay the dividends it should have. Despite some sudden late-race raggedness while defending he still took the win, and now he should definitely be a championship contender. He’ll first have to catch up with Lucas di Grassi, the consistent Brazilian again keeping out of trouble in his Audi Sport ABT to take 3rd and a third straight podium, now holding an 18-point lead over Buemi and Bird, both on 40 points.
Of the other notables? Nelson Piquet Jr. probably wasn’t quick enough for a podium on pure pace today, but made sure to capitalize when rivals faltered and maintained his 2nd place. Such was the number of safety cars that Bruno Senna could clout the wall, severely warp his rear suspension, still make it back to the pits and change cars without losing much time! That was one bit of good fortune in an otherwise miserable first few races for the fast Brazilian, having already been excluded from qualifying thanks to his own Mahindra crew’s misdeeds, and he eventually finished 6th. It was good to finally see Stephane Sarrazin in the Venturi make more of an impact, even if he mixed some good overtakes with overdriving while defending, leading to his own off and retirement. Buemi’s teammate Nicolas Prost will be frustrated by the drive-through penalty which ruined his chances of a podium again, while Andretti’s Matty Brabham certainly showed us his disappointment at crashing while battling with Jarno Trulli. Surely it was just a coincidence we saw so many incidents in a race held in the Maldonado department of Uruguay? And yes, it took a while for the national anthems to start playing on the podium, but they actually played in full this time! It’s an admittedly rather small but very public part of the race program that’s Formula E’s steadily improving on.
So leaving aside my own dislike of FanBoost and those pesky sausage kerbs, Formula E’s third race was full of pleasant surprises, the biggest being that Punta del Este might just be my favourite track so far. Quick, bumpy, punishing, but wide enough for overtaking, the close-running cars took what looked like an unappealing layout and provided a good race. Roll on Argentina…
Race Result (31 laps)
1 Sébastien Buemi e-Dams 25 pts
2 Nelson Piquet Jr. China Racing 18
3 Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT 15
4 Jarno Trulli Trulli GP 12
5 Jaime Alguersuari Virgin Racing 10
Standings after 3 races
1 Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT 58 pts
2 Sébastien Buemi e-Dams 40
3 Sam Bird Virgin Racing 40
4 Nicolas Prost e-Dams 24
5 Nelson Piquet Jr. China Racing 22
What did you think of the race? Was Buemi a deserving winner or would Vergne have been your choice? Any other “driver of the day” suggestions? Comment below!