Amlin Aguri’s tumultuous beginnings in Formula E reversed in dramatic fashion as Antonio Felix da Costa took advantage of late problems for e.dams–Renault’s Sébastien Buemi, Venturi GP’s Nick Heidfeld, Audi Sport ABT’s Lucas di Grassi and Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird.
Victory seemed a pipe dream for a team that has struggled to break the top ten, but da Costa’s improved pace this weekend offered hope for a strong result. Yet starting in eighth, da Costa’s surge to victory was unexpected.
It was all the more surprising considering Buemi’s excellent form that had seen him top both practice sessions and take pole ahead of the race.
Despite some wheelspin, the Swiss driver was able to hold onto his lead into the first corner as Heidfeld’s quick launch saw him jump from third to second, displacing Virgin’s Jaime Alguersuari in the process.
It looked to be plain sailing for the leader, who managed the gap at around the second mark in the early stages of the race, even managing to hold off Heidfeld’s early use of Fanboost on lap three.
Heidfeld may have had the extra power, but di Grassi didn’t need it as he quickly closed the gap on Alguersuari after moving past Bird.
After Heidfeld was unable to take the lead at the hairpin on turn six, Di Grassi was able to make his move at the corner as he moved past Alguersuari into podium contention.
With the top three now set and battery life below the halfway mark on lap ten, the order settled over the next few laps. However it wasn’t long before Di Grassi was on the move again as he pushed past Heidfeld for second on the fourteenth lap.
It proved to be the start of a brief decline for the German, as Alguersuari sensed the opportunity to move into the top three, doing so on the following lap.
It wasn’t the drivers who were to play a pivotal role in the changing of the order from then on. The final chicane had proved a challenge from the day’s start, but it claimed its first race victim on the seventeenth lap as Mahindra Racing’s Karun Chandhok picked up damage that ended his race.
Several drivers, including Andretti Formula E Team’s Jean–Éric Vergne, Alguersuari and e.dams’ Nico Prost, had the foresight to pit before the safety car appeared on the same lap, while the rest of the grid including Buemi pitted on the next lap.
There was to be a lot of confusion during the next six laps under the safety car with the team having to explain the procedure to the drivers as the backmarkers moved past the BMW safety car to see Buemi return to the lead.
As soon as the safety car returned to the pits, it became an all out sprint for the victory and again the chicane was to prove pivotal as Buemi’s contact with the wall before the chicane saw severe damage to the front tyre ending his race.
One man’s loss is another’s gain as di Grassi powered past for the lead followed by Heidfeld and di Grassi, while Bird was starting to sense a chance of a podium as he battled with third placed da Costa.
It took two laps for the Briton to pass the Amlin driver, but his celebrations were short lived, as he was punished for leaving the pitlane under the red light.
The penalty ended Bird’s charge to the top and di Grassi would soon follow. The Brazilian became the latest caught out at the chicane and the clearly frustrated driver saw his run of podiums end before the final lap.
Incredibly, it was yet another change up front as Heidfeld took over the mantle ahead of da Costa and Alguersuari with seven laps to go.
Not making quite the impression he did in Uruguay, Vergne had a chance to get his first podium in Formula E as he began a long running battle against Alguersuari, with both drivers bending the rules as they defended and locked up in equal measures.
With two laps to go Heidfeld had the same misfortune as Bird with a drive through penalty, in this case for speeding in the pitlane, the German then pitted with a lap to go.
It meant that Da Costa was leading on the final lap and coasted to victory, while a few corners back a four car wide battle saw Abt miscalculate his move on Prost as he collided with Alguersuari.
Abt’s race was over, while Alguersuari crabbed and crawled to the flag, with Prost able to steal ahead for second, followed across the line by China Racing’s Nelson Piquet Jr.
Alguersuari crossed in fourth, while Mahindra’s Bruno Senna had diced his way through the field to fifth ahead of Vergne and Bird.
Amlin Aguri’s strong showing was topped off by Salvador Duran’s strong drive to eighth ahead of Heidfeld and Dragon Racing’s Oriol Servia.