Formula E: Sam Bird soars to victory in Putrajaya ePrix (VIDEO)

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A nifty early move for the lead and masterful power conservation was the formula for success for Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, who took tonight’s FIA Formula E race in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Bird hounded Dragon Racing’s Oriol Servia for the lead following the end of a safety car period at Lap 4. A short time later, Bird made a strong inside cutback on the IndyCar veteran coming out of Turn 3 to get position and take the lead at the right-hand Turn 4.

Another safety car at Lap 9 for an incident involving Andretti’s Franck Montagny and Venturi’s Nick Heidfeld slowed the race once more, but when the green came back out at Lap 12, Bird stretched his lead over TrulliGP’s Jarno Trulli to more than seven seconds and was able to make his power last until Lap 19, when he pitted to swap cars.

When the cycle was complete, Bird found himself second behind Audi Sport Abt’s Daniel Abt, who had a horrible start and swapped cars himself at Lap 12.

At a considerable disadvantage on power, Abt could only hold onto the point for so long and with five laps to go, Bird seized P1 for good. Abt ultimately faded to 10th having to nurse his car home.

“That was mega,” Bird said following the race. “The guys did an amazing job this weekend. We’ve really turned it around from pre-season, and I’ve got to say thanks to these guys for giving me what was an unstoppable car today.

“The first stint, we did the damage, and the second car, I just got it around really – there was no real need to push. I just conserved the energy and I knew other people were pushing and getting closer, but we had it well under control.”

Following Bird in second was Beijing winner/Audi Sport Abt driver Lucas di Grassi and in third, e.dams-Renault’s Sebastien Buemi. di Grassi and Buemi both had to start from the rear of the field; the former for not setting a time due to a qualifying crash, the latter for being penalized (underweight).

The runner-up finish enables di Grassi to keep hold of the points lead by three points over Bird, 43-40, going into the next race in Uruguay on Dec. 13.

“I did a much better race than Beijing,” said di Grassi, who had the September season opener fall into his lap after a last-lap crash involving Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost. “The car performed really well. I had a lot of fights from the beginning of the race to the very end, and to finish second from last is something unbelievable…Coming out as championship leader is a great feeling.”

Prost won the pole for tonight’s race but had to start from 11th place due to a 10-spot penalty for instigating the aforementioned Beijing crash. But like his teammate Buemi, Prost had a good recovery drive to fourth. Ditto for Jerome d’Ambrosio, who also started from the back because of a penalty – in his case, exceeding the maximum power usage in qualifying – but finished fifth.

Karun Chandhok, Oriol Servia, Antonio Felix da Costa, Jaime Alguersuari (who earned bonus points for fastest lap), and Abt rounded out the Top 10. Despite involvement in several incidents during the race, Indy Lights pilot Matthew Brabham gutted out a 13th-place finish for the Andretti camp.

The hard-luck award of the night goes to Bruno Senna, who had passed Prost late for fourth place but then had a big crash at Turn 9 on the final lap of the race. Senna was shown walking away from the accident, but a solid result went by the boards for him; he ended up 14th.

Also being done wrong was Nelson Piquet Jr., who was knocked out at Lap 22 after Trulli pushed him into the wall near Turn 1. This came shortly after Trulli was penalized for energy infringement, for which he had to serve a drive-through (he finished 17th).

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
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The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.