With excellent drives from rookie Matthew Brabham and Formula E novice Jean-Éric Vergne, Andretti looked on course for a debut victory for Vergne and an impressive first points haul for Brabham. Yet late drama saw the pair retire and left Andretti with a bittersweet day at the Punta del Este ePrix.
Vergne very quickly acclimatised to life in Formula E. With seat fittings completed the night before, he made impressive progress during the free practice sessions on Saturday morning.
After picking group one in the qualifying lottery, Vergne was one of the first out on track in the midday sunshine. He soon set the bench-mark that no other driver from any group was able to beat, a qualifying lap time of 1min 15.408secs, to take his, and the team’s, first pole position in the Championship and three valuable points.
Brabham took up his reserve driver duties once again replacing an absent Franck Montagny in the No. 28 Spark-Renault SRT_01E. Brabham had an extremely encouraging start, but on Saturday morning his luck began to wane.
During the first free practice session, bolts securing one of the ‘sausage’ kerbs ripped in to the underside of Matty’s car, compromising the tub and requiring major repairs by the team. He was then limited in the number of laps he could complete in second practice in his remaining car and an early incident clipping the wall in qualifying group two meant that he would start the Punta del Este ePrix from the back of the grid.
Brabham made a great start and avoided incidents ahead to pick his way through the field to run in eleventh by his pitstop. A solid effort by the team got him back out in his newly repaired car in P9 and he was running in P6, battling within the points positions, when a misjudgement at the turns 14/15 chicane meant his race ended prematurely, only four laps from the checkered flag.
“The team did an amazing job, working really hard on my car all weekend, so I am obviously disappointed with our result today,” he said. “The car was handling great and we had some good moments, racing against these guys was quite fun for me as well and I was learning a lot out there, but I made a mistake, pushing a little bit too hard, and lost the rear on the entry of the corner and got some air and then ended up in the wall. It was a little bit disheartening, and I am disappointed, but up until that point it was going well, so I have to take the positive from that.”
Vergne on the other hand looked to be having the perfect race, after recovering from the setback of being unable to use his fanboost in the first car that saw him lose his position to China Racing’s Nelson Piquet Jr before later retaking the lead on lap 13.
His first ePrix pitstop ran like clockwork, but a safety car deployment meant that he re-joined the track action in a disappointing ninth. Ensuing penalties and incidents by other teams meant that JEV was on the gearbox of race leader Buemi by Lap 22.
The dream end to his debut race and Andretti Formula-E Team’s first win, was not to be and a right-front suspension failure meant that he had to retire from the race on the penultimate lap and agonisingly watched as Buemi took his first win.
“It was a great weekend and I am very happy to be here with the Andretti Formula E Team,” said Vergne. “I didn’t have any expectations, as a racing driver you just want to jump in to whatever you do and you want to win, of course. I did my homework and tried to be as quick as possible; the pole position was great after all the work we had done in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, in the race, these kinds of things happen, and we would have been first or second which would have been an excellent result.”