An emotional Nelson Piquet Jr. won his first race of the season, with his victory pushing him up to second in the standings with only a 1 point gap to Lucas di Grassi in front.
The 2.1 km Long Beach ePrix circuit had only 7 turns, it featured long straights and sharp turns meaning that braking was key to the drivers speed. Making sure they carried enough momentum through to the next corner was pivotal to the drivers lap times and this was shown in qualifying, with the fastest times being set towards the end of the session when the track was rubbered in.
The FanBoost had been awarded to Nelson Piquet Jr., Sam Bird and Jean-Eric Vergne
The man at the front of the grid for the 39 lap race was Daniel Abt, after Sebastian Buemi‘s lap was stripped from him for exceeding the power usage in qualifying. Antonio Felix da Costa‘s best lap was also disallowed but still started 7th. Abt would be joined on the front row by Nico Prost, with Piquet Jr. and di Grassi behind.
It was an excellent start from Piquet who launched up the inside of Abt going into the first chicane. Wheelspin from the two front runners saw them swamped going into the first corner, as many of the cars found themselves cutting the chicane. However; no penalties were awarded for the various incidents, including Vergne hitting Abt, and Sam Bird breaking his car, but continuing, after hitting the wall.
Piquet started to build a large gap over the rest of the field as the cars jostled behind. After Abt had hit the turn 2 wall in practice, it was Scott Speed who jumped the chicane and hit the wall on lap 4. This meant the home favourite was out and the safety car came on to track while the Andretti Formula E car was removed.
The race restarted on lap 8, where Vergne used his FanBoost to power past Prost for 3rd. This meant Prost also lost out to di Grassi and had to defend his position from his team mate as he had lost momentum. However; he didn’t have to defend long as Charles Pic hit the side of Jarno Trulli‘s car into turn 7.
Pic had been trying to overtake Loic Duval and had not seen Trulli in front of him. The damage to Jarno’s car proved to be terminal while Pic continued. The Frenchman would later have to serve a drive through for the incident. However; the stricken car meant the return of the safety car.
After another safety car period, Piquet lead the field from Abt, Vergne, di Grassi, Prost and Sebastian Buemi. Despite being the championship leader, Prost was defenceless as he lost positions on the restart to Buemi, then da Costa. Now in free air, Buemi set the fastest lap and chased after the leaders.
On lap 16, Piquet had once again extended his lead as 2nd to 5th was split by 1.5 seconds, Abt was struggled with pace. 5 laps later, Prost continued his slump by losing out to Jerome d’Ambrosio. He then hit the Dragon Racing car from behind in order to retake the place, later receiving a penalty for this incident.
Abt was the first car into the pits on lap 22, he hoped to undercut the rest of the pack as he had been off the pace in his Audi Sport ABT car. Most drivers came in 1 lap later. The biggest loser was da Costa who lost 8 seconds in the pits dropping him down to 11th when the cars had made their stops.
Meanwhile Buemi and di Grassi were side by side in the pits with di Grassi coming out in front. However, both of them would lose out to Abt who had already pitted. Bruno Senna had stayed out for a further lap and used the pace to overtake Prost in the pits moving him up to 6th.
So, after the pit stops, Piquet still lead from Vergne, Abt, di Grassi, Buemi and Senna. After coming out to set the fastest lap in the second car, Bird retired after many laps of running at the back. Meanwhile Pic served his drive through.
On lap 26 di Grassi started to pressure Abt once again as the German lost time to Vergne in front. Abt’s slow pace would allow Buemi to catch up in order to fight for the positon.
By lap 33 the field had calmed down and the gaps between 1st, 2nd and 3rd had spread out. While in the lead, Piquet was told to turn the power down after extending to a comfortable distance over Vergne and the pack. Prost served his drive through penalty for hitting d’Ambrosio dropping him to 14th, while Abt served a drive through for exceeding his power usage, dropping him out of the points to 15th.
On lap 37 there was another spin as Nick Heidfeld blocked d’Ambrosio into T4, resulting in Nick spinning into the tyres. He did get it restarted, but had lost the opportunity to fight for points. This continues Heidfeld’s string of poor race finishes. For a driver who has, at least partially, lead 3 races this season, only 5 points proves that he may have to rethink his driving before the next round in Monaco.
Piquet backed off in the final few laps and took a comfortable race victory with a 1.7 second gap to Vergne who had suffered from engine overheating in the final few laps. With di Grassi rounding out the top 3, he retakes the championship lead from Prost who’s only points came from a his fastest lap towards the end of the race.
Piquet Jr. had put pressure on himself in order to win after aiming to emulate his father. As a result it will be a happy day for the Piquet family, as Junior takes victory at Long Beach 35 years after his father won his first Formula 1 race on these streets. Piquet Jr. had celebrated this by wearing his fathers helmet for a one off race with his China Racing team.
Piquet told Formula E: “The start was one of those times where everything goes right, the car didn’t wheelspin much and it seemed like both cars in front didn’t have a very good reaction. So I got almost alongside Daniel [Abt] and broke as late as I could into the first corner.
“I was really confident on the brakes here and I found a way to control them which can be a big issue with these cars. As soon as I got the lead it was just a matter of managing from the front and keeping calm without making mistakes.
“The last race in Miami we lost a great result from a mistake in the pit stop so I think it was crucial to hold on to the lead here. I just made sure I managed the gap to Jean-Eric [Vergne] behind me and just brought it home. This one meant a lot to me!”
Long Beach ePrix Race Result
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