Formula E Putrajaya ePrix: #SamBoost

formula-e-2014-putrajaya-bird-victoryFor the second time, the FIA’s new green motorsport took to the streets in an attempt to show that motorsport doesn’t have to be all loud noises and high-octane to be a spectacle.

After a so-so first outing that was only highlighted by a massive accident in the final turn, Formula E returned with a trip to the streets of Putrajaya, Malaysia, that saw battles throughout the field. Well, except at the front where Sam Bird absolutely dominated the day’s running to win his first ePrix.

The race started with Oriol Servia on the pole but the American open-wheel star wasn’t the fastest man in qualifying. That honour went to Nicolas Prost but while he got the three points for being fastest in qualifying, he didn’t get the benefit of starting on pole thanks to his ten-place grid penalty stemming from trying to kill Nick Heidfeld in the final turn of the Beijing ePrix.

formula-e-2014-putrajaya-startAnd Servia used that starting spot to his advantage when the red lights went out to start the race. He led through the first four laps, three-and-a-quarter of which were run behind the safety car due to a few first lap (though not first corner) incidents. On Lap 5, Servia fell victim to an undercut overtake by Sam Bird.

The Virgin Racing driver quickly stormed off to a three-plus seconds lead but it disappeared quickly with another safety car on Lap 9 after Franck Montagny bashed Nick Heidfeld into the barrier. So for the second race in a row, Heidfeld retired early thanks to a crash.

Bird once again took off when the safety car period ended and it was never much of a challenge for the win once he took the lead on Lap 5. However, Daniel Abt gave it a try. After a problem at the start, his team did his car swap on Lap 12 at the end of the safety car period with the intention of running him until the end. It didn’t work and he finished in 10th but another safety car would have made his strategy work.

formula-e-2014-putrajaya-podiumSo in the end, it was Sam Bird who scored his first Formula E win and his first win in major motorsports series since last year’s GP2 Singapore sprint race. Lucas di Grassi started in 18th but had a second-perfect pit stop to vault himself up the order. Being quick didn’t hurt matters either. Sebastian Buemi actually climbed as many spots as di Grassi having gone from 19th on the grid to 3rd at the finish.

Nicolas Prost recovered from his starting penalty to 4th. Jerome d’Ambrosio was another driver who started at the back in 20th and finished in 5th. Karun Chandhock crossed the line in 6th. Oriol Servia couldn’t convert his pole position into a top finish with only a 7th place. Felix da Costa stepped into the Amlin Aguri car for his full-time role after having Takuma Sato come in as a replacement in Beijing. He finished 8th. Jaime Alguersuari finished in 9th but also scored two more points for scoring the race’s fastest lap. And Abt rounded out the points paying positions.

In a good bit of news, ahead of this weekend’s race in Patrajaya, the formation lap was done away with. The start procedure saw cars line up three rows behind their spot on the starting grid after leaving the pits. The “formation lap” saw cars pull up the three rows to their actual starting position.

This was in response to the agonizingly slow formation lap at the start of the Beijing ePrix. The cars were required to run that slow lap in order to preserve energy for the race and to run below the 28 kW per hour power usage limit on the cars which included power usage on the formation lap.

And while there was some concern that not having a chance to feel out the tyres or brakes on a formation lap would lead to trouble at the first turn, everyone kept fairly clean through it with only a couple of cars forced to take some evasive action through the run off for the chicane. Of course, the drivers didn’t get any heat into the tyres or brakes in Beijing so the change would have been a wash anyway.

Considering that it was all of 30 seconds of “formation lap” instead of five or ten minutes as it was in Beijing, it was an unmitigated success for the fans watching at home and at the track.

formula-e-2014-putrajaya-trulliImaginary internet points to Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti for mentioning one of my favourite motorsports jokes, the Trulli Train. While Jarno had a properly good run during the race with a shot at P2 before a drive-through penalty for an unspecified energy violation and having to retire the car before the finish, he was still slow enough to keep a large portion of the field bunched up behind him. On the plus side, keeping everyone nose to tail allowed for a lot of battling in the pack.

You can take the Jarno out of Formula One but that just puts the Jarno into Formula E.

The next round of the 2014-15 Formula E Championship is in three weeks’ time. That’s a fortunate turn-around for Formula E after we had to wait ten weeks from the series opening Beijing ePrix in September for the second round in Malaysia.

So while most of the ePrixs this season are taking place in major centres, the first ePrix outside of Asia will be in a small resort town in Uruguay. The third round of the championship will take place in the small coastal town of Punta del Este which boasts a year-round population of just over 9,200 people.

After two races, there are three drivers who you have to consider at the head of the 2014-15 Formula E class. The two race winners, Lucas di Grassi and Sam Bird, are also the only two drivers with two podiums from the two races this year. Di Grassi’s this weekend was probably a bit more impressive because of the 16-place climb from the grid. The other man to watch for is Nicolas Prost who has scored two poles from two races and it’s only a matter of time before he can put a whole weekend and race together for a win.


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