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).