Diriyah E-Prix: Bird wins, podiums for Porsche and Mercedes

Envision Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird won the 2019-20 Formula E season-opening Diriyah E-Prix ahead of Porsche’s Andre Lotterer and Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoorne as FE’s new teams took debut podiums.

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Bird used an aggressive attack mode strategy to climb from fifth on the grid to score a ninth career FE win five years to the day since he scored his first category win at the 2014 Putrajaya E-Prix.

At the start, polesitter Alexander Sims easily held the lead off the line ahead of Mercedes pair Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries, as Bird harried Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara for fourth in the early stages.

Bird took his first attack mode activation on lap nine of what would become a 34 lap race, briefly dropping to P6 behind Jerome d’Ambrosio (Mahindra Racing) before getting back by on the following tour.

The British driver used his time in the 235kW higher power mode to shoot past Mortara on the run to the Turn 18 – the race’s first corner – on lap 11.

After his initial attack mode activation ended, Bird was able to stay with the Mercedes pair ahead as they in turn chased Sims.

On lap 20, Bird took his second attack mode activation – staying ahead of Lotterer, who had risen to fourth from seventh on the grid and was also in his second attack mode activation.

After catching back up to the top three, Bird used his power advantage over de Vries to take third on lap 22 at Turn 18, the right-hand corner at the end of the main straight that easily featured the most action.

But it was on the following lap that the defining moment of the race occurred as Bird caught up to the back of Vandoorne, who then launched his own move on long-time leader Sims at Turn 18 that resulted in a slight touch, which sent them both deep.

Vandoorne was able to get ahead and take the lead, while Bird nipped past Sims to take P2.

Two tours later Sims took his second attack mode and dropped behind Lotterer, who had moved past de Vries when the newly crowned Formula 2 champion moved to take his final activation.

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Vandoorne held first place until lap 27, when Bird again made a move stick at Turn 18 – muscling by to take a lead he would not lose – despite late disruption from a crash involving Danile Abt and Antonio Felix da Costa.

On lap 30, Vandoorne took his final attack, dropping behind Lotterer immediately, but the race was then suspended as it became clear Abt’s car was smashed into wall at the exit of Turn 5 after his apparent clash with da Costa, which will be investigated after the race.

The race restarted on lap 32 after a four-minute suspension, which resulted in a 4kW energy reduction, and Bird jumped clear – staying ahead of Lotterer to win by 1.3s.

Oliver Rowland battled his way up to fourth late-on to come home ahead of Bird’s teammate Robin Frijns, who benefitted from a late clash between de Vries and Sims, which dropped the latter to eighth.

De Vries took sixth on his FE debut ahead of Mortara, who dropped back from the early leaders as he struggled to activate his first attack mode.

D’Ambrosio finished ninth behind Sims, with Mitch Evans rounding out the top 10 ahead of Pascal Wehrlein.

Lucas di Grassi finished 13th from 19th on the grid after a tough race for Audi, with da Costa finishing 14th.

Reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne retired at the end of lap 22 with an apparent steering arm issue.

The other retirements were Sebestien Buemi, who retired in the pits after briefly stopping on track on lap three, and Nico Muller, who failed to take the start for Dragon Racing.

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