Hong Kong ePrix: Bird overcomes penalty to win chaotic opener

Sam Bird survived a drive through penalty to claim a stunning victory in a frenzied opening race of the new Formula E season.

Hong Kong ePrix: Bird overcomes penalty to win chaotic opener
Jean-Eric Vergne, Techeetah
 Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
 Nicolas Prost, Renault e.Dams
Nelson Piquet Jr., Jaguar Racing
Alex Lynn, DS Virgin Racing
Alex Lynn, DS Virgin Racing, leads Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler
 Maro Engel, Venturi Formula E, Luca Filippi, NIO Formula E Team
 Neel Jani, Dragon Racing
Daniel Abt, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, leads Mitch Evans, Jaguar Racing

Bird wrested the lead from poleman Jean-Eric Vergne in the first half of the race, then picked up the penalty after overshooting his pitbox in the car swaps.

He still emerged in front after serving the penalty, and scampered clear of a warring Vergne and Nick Heidfeld to take the win.

Vergne retained his lead ahead of Bird at the start, as Oliver Turvey launched himself from seventh to third by flying down the outside as most the field went defensive.

That move got him ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt – and he nipped ahead of Heidfeld, cutting across Abt’s nose, to take third, though would later drop out of contention with a technical problem.

The race was suspended when Andre Lotterer ended up in the wall on the exit of the Turns 3/4 chicane after finding Nelson Piquet Jr’s Jaguar bouncing over the kerbs on his inside.

That blocked the track and triggered the series’ first red flag in 34 races.

The race was suspended for more than 30 minutes and when racing resumed Bird bid his time until selling a beautiful dummy at Turn 6, throwing it down the inside to move into the lead on lap 20 of the 43-lap encounter.

Vergne pit immediately as Bird stayed out until a lap later, but when Bird stopped he overshot his mark in the dusty pitlane and nerfed into the side of the DS Virgin Racing garage.

He hopped out with the car abandoned on the edge of the garage and rejoined with a five-second lead, which he gradually extended into double figures as Heidfeld started to pressure Vergne.

Bird was then slapped with a drive through penalty because his car swap started outside the garage, but the short pitlane and the way it cuts out the final corner meant he rejoined still in the lead, although with barely a car length’s advantage into Turn 1.

He gradually eased clear to a comfortably 11.5s winning margin though, helped by Vergne and Heidfeld engaging in a fierce scrap.

Vergne’s defensive driving drawing huge criticism from a frustrated Heidfeld post-race – particularly because he drew alongside the Techeetah driver at the Turn 2 right hander, but Vergne locked up, ran very wide and Heidfeld was blocked from cutting back underneath.

It was not the only battle with a tinge of controversy – long-time title rivals Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi collided fighting over sixth early on.

Buemi dummied di Grassi and somehow squeezed inside into the Turn 1 hairpin, but Buemi was given very little room and did not back out.

Contact was made and Audi said that clash was the reason di Grassi had to pit a few laps later with right-rear suspension damage.

Buemi edged into top five after the pitstops, with two laps more energy to use, but a technical issue halted his Renault e.dams Z.E.17 exiting Turn 1 – he got going again, but finished 13th.

Venturi’s Maro Engel won a highly entertaining fight for fourth but was hit with a time penalty for exceeding power limit that dropped him to 14th.

That meant Nelson Piquet Jr claimed fourth on his Jaguar debut as a reward for a stunning penultimate-lap pass on Rosenqvist late on the brakes into Turn 1.

Audi’s Abt inherited fifth, but should have been in the podium fight if not for a very long car swap.

Antonio Felix da Costa finished sixth after a strong but understated race for Andretti, with Rosenqvist dropping to seventh ahead of Venturi’s FE rookie Edoardo Mortara, Bird’s DS Virgin teammate Alex Lynn and Renault’s Nico Prost.

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