- Oct 27, 2014
Nelson Piquet Jr led from the start to take his first Formula E win at Long Beach, elevating him to just one point behind Lucas di Grassi, who resumes his championship lead.
Both the 29 year-old Brazilian driver and his team China Racing had a livery change for this event; the cars were grey and yellow, while Piquet Jr’s helmet used his father’s classic design to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of Piquet Sr’s first ever grand prix win, also at Long Beach. Even if the race wasn’t a classic, it’s a feat he won’t soon forget.
With e-Dams driver Sébastien Buemi’s demoted to 10th on the grid due to exceeding maximum power usage in qualifying, Daniel Abt (Audi Sport ABT) and Nicolas Prost occupied the front row with Piquet Jr in 3rd. Both the German and Frenchman experienced wheelspin, and the Brazilian opportunistically went for the inside of Abt, managing to take a tight line through the first corner and emerge in the lead.
The chicane predictably caused disarray as 20 cars at once wouldn’t fit, but everyone survived except for Sam Bird (Virgin Racing), the Briton squeezed into the outside wall by fellow championship contender Buemi and damaging his suspension. Bird was forced to change cars the same lap and with the energy shortfall was never going to finish the race from there. It’s another big setback for Bird, who risks losing touch in the standings if this run continues.
Piquet Jr immediately stretched more than a second’s advantage, but that was soon nullified on lap 4 by Scott Speed riding the kerbs and crashing at the chicane in the same manner as Abt did in practice, disappointing for the American after being so impressive on his Miami debut.
A safety car period was called to clear up Speed’s Andretti Autosport, but racing had barely restarted when Piquet Jr’s China Racing teammate Charles Pic went too fast into the final hairpin and collected the innocent Jarno Trulli (Trulli GP), Pic eventually getting a drive-through penalty.
And in this race, the emphasis was on “eventually”, race control taking surprisingly long to respond to incidents and transgressions. One was with Prost, the Frenchman not continuing his race-winning pace from three weeks ago, falling behind Vergne, Buemi, António Félix da Costa (Amlin Aguri) and Jérôme d’Ambrosio (Dragon Racing). With the latter Prost reverted to his rustier racecraft by ramming the Belgian driver at the hairpin, only getting a penalty several laps later which dropped him to 14th by race finish. He was joined down there by Abt, whose bad luck resumed after his Miami podium with his own penalty for exceeding maximum allowed power usage (150kW).
One beneficiary was teammate Lucas di Grassi, who recovered from two races without big points by finishing 3rd behind Piquet Jr and Vergne. It’s an important moment for his championship as Prost and Bird faltered, but now they all have to deal with Piquet Jr, who was basically unchallenged for the whole race. Indeed, even with the multiple safety car periods Long Beach provided a quieter race than usual for Formula E. The Californian track’s corners provided good challenges, invitingly fast but tightening on exit, but the low grip offline made it difficult to set up moves, the drivers perhaps learning from Abt and Vergne’s crashes before the race.
The main battle towards the end was Buemi chasing down di Grassi, the Swiss recovering well from his demoted start, which soon became a four-car train with Vergne in front and Bruno Senna from behind. It was Vergne’s turn to gain Andretti big points, and he finally has something to show for four promising races with 2nd. Meanwhile the Brazilian Mahindra driver had more energy in reserve than those ahead of him, but with less than ten laps left at that point he couldn’t take advantage of it. Still, 5th equals Senna's best result this season and is a rare brighter spot in a season of misfortune for the team. Both Dragon Racing drivers made the points again with d’Ambrosio 6th and Loïc Duval 9th, as Buenos Aires winner da Costa just about stayed in touch with the championship contenders in 7th.
Piquet Jr said after the race he might keep his dad’s helmet design for good luck, and considering the frontrunners’ form throughout this topsy-turvy season, he’ll probably need it. Long Beach marks six different winners from Formula E’s first six races, and no-one’s been able to put together a consistent high-scoring run yet. The Brazilian has his own chance to build momentum going into the last five races, but with the series visiting another historic destination next time in Monaco, unpredictability is probably the most predictable thing about Formula E right now.
Race Result (39 laps)
1 Nelson Piquet Jr China Racing 25 points
2 Jean-Eric Vergne Andretti Autosport 18
3 Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT 15
4 Sébastien Buemi e-Dams 12
5 Bruno Senna Mahindra 10
Pole Position: Daniel Abt Audi Sport ABT (3 points)
Fastest Lap: Nicolas Prost e-Dams (2 points)
Drivers’ Standings after 6 races
1 Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT 75 points
2 Nelson Piquet Jr China Racing 74
3 Nicolas Prost e-Dams 69
4 Sébastien Buemi e-Dams 55
5 Sam Bird Virgin Racing 52
Teams’ Standings after 6 races
1 e-Dams 124
2 Audi Sport ABT 97
3 Virgin Racing 82
4 Andretti Autosport 80
5 China Racing 74
Next Race: Monaco, May 9th
What did you think of the race? Did you have a favourite moment? Where would you rank this circuit in relation to the others so far? Comment below!
Watch highlights of the race in RaceDepartment’s video gallery here.