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12th Jun 2018

Di Grassi and Bird fly to leave Championship wide open in Zurich

A bittersweet end for di Grassi after an enthralling race from start to finish

Morgan Lowrie

In Partnership with Formula E

Zurich was the venue for race ten of the ABB Formula E Championship. The first time in 64 years that Switzerland has hosted a motor race

As the tenth race of the ABB Formula E Championship began on Sunday, leader Jean Eric Vergne was looking to take a huge step towards the season four title. After a dominant performance from Audi, more specifically Daniel Abt, last time in Berlin, the focus was back on Techeetah’s Vergne, with DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird needing a big score to stay in touch at the top.

The drivers lined up for their first street race since Paris’ eighth round knowing they had to contend with tight turns, long stretches of asphalt and tramlines for good measure. On top of all of that, they and their cars had to battle with 35 degree heat.

Having been the first car out, a terrible performance in qualifying meant Vergne was left starting the day in 17th. Bird – his biggest threat – managed a solid performance to start in third, with Jaguar and Mitch Evans securing their first pole of the season and Andre Lotterer starting in second.

There began an unbelievable day of racing, as Lotterer came speeding out of the blocks and last week’s winner Daniel Abt and Panasonic Jaguar Racing speedster Nelson Pique collided, resulting in the German having to pit early to have his rear wing refitted.

Lucas di Grassi drove aggressively from the off, taking himself into fourth place just seconds into lap three. Sam Bird had to remain aware of di Grassi who was tight on his rear, whilst he himself searched for opportunities in lap five.

In the eighth lap, Venturi driver Edoardo Mortara was the first victim of a number of crashes, smashing into a wall as it appeared his rear suspension failed after hitting a curb.

But drama was also unfolding further down the grid. Jean Eric Vergne appeared determined to keep his grip on the title as he fought his way up four places to tenth – making a total of seven overtakings in nine laps, whilst maintaining three percent more energy that his nearest rivals.

Brazil’s di Grassi finally overtook Sam Bird in lap 13 to drop the title challenger out of a podium place, as Buemi, who hails from Switzerland, moved up to fifth place to the appreciation of the home crowd.

It seemed that Vergne might pull off the unthinkable when he moved into ninth in lap sixteen, as Rosenqvist – setting the fastest lap time – battled to fight the Frenchman’s advances, only to end up crashing into the wall. And an outstanding race only got more dramatic when di Grassi – with the bit between his teeth – flew past race leader Evans and into first place.

Bird was beginning to feel the pressure at the halfway point, having been overtaken by Renault driver Buemi, with Vergne having moved into eighth place, two spots behind his title rival.

Vergne found cause to be concerned for the first time in the race when he hit a discarded wing on the track, which came within millimetres of his tyres and ending his race. That close shave was not the end of Vergne’s frustration, though, as he dropped back down to ninth after taking 45 seconds in the pit lane due to car startup issues.

NIO’s Turvey was also doing work at the back, moving up eight places coming out the pit, after starting the day dead last. But although stories were unravelling all over the track, none were more important than Bird’s fight to claw back as many championship points as possible.

By lap 27, Jean Eric Vergne had climbed nine places and was within seven seconds of Bird, with his chance of a championship dependent on the next twelve laps.

In lap 29, Evans, Lotterer, Lopez and Buemi were given penalties for speeding under yellow flag conditions. At first it was thought that Vergne would not be penalised following an investigation and so would have jumped into third place, one behind Bird. However, one lap later, news came in that Vergne would also suffer a penalty for speeding under the yellow flag, putting his entire race in jeopardy.

The decision changed everything. Di Grassi stayed in first and Sam Bird jumped into second. Vergne dropped to twelfth, outside of the points entirely and Prost crashed out as Lotterer showed steely determination to fight on.

With only five laps to go di Grassi was in first, Sam Bird was happy to consolidate his position and Vergne was about to enter an enthralling battle with Turvey to get into the top ten.

This seemed to have a rippling effect, as Buemi used fan boost in lap 36, whilst José Maria López crashed out in the ensuing melee. Vergne battled doggedly with Turvey, who himself had moved up eleven places into ninth after starting the day dead last.

Disaster struck for Techeetah as Lotterer recorded the fastest time in the penultimate lap, crucially taking a point off teammate Jean Eric Vergne and edging Sam Bird a step closer to closing the gap.

As the final lap came to a close, Di Grassi’s victory was ensured, after a sterling performance from the Brazilian. Sam Bird got the all-important second place, cutting the gap between first and second to only 23 points. And there were also celebrations in order for Dragon Racing, as d’Ambrosio secured a podium place.

But all-in-all it was a bittersweet day for di Grassi, as he received confirmation that he could no longer close the gap on Vergne, ending his championship title defence. He didn’t seem overly concerned, although his jubilant mood showed just what the win and performance meant to him. It was all smiles for Audi, however, as wins in Switzerland and Berlin last time out strengthens their chances of a Championship.

The drama is likely to continue as we go to New York for the final two races of the season, and just to add further excitement, fans will be aware that Sam Bird won both races in the Big Apple last season. A barnstorming finish awaits.


Formula E