Sebastien Buemi kicked off the second FIA Formula E season in the best possible fashion by winning the Beijing ePrix on Saturday.
After heading up a Renault e.dams front-row lock-out in the series’ first Super Pole session earlier in the day, Buemi retained his lead at the start before controlling proceedings throughout the race en route to his fourth Formula E victory.
Teammate Nicolas Prost lost second place off the line to Nick Heidfeld, and was unable to put the pace advantage of the Renault e.dams car to good use thanks to the tight confines of the Beijing street circuit, leaving him to toil with Lucas di Grassi behind the Mahindra car ahead.
An early full course yellow – another new concept in Formula E – was thrown after Simona de Silvestro crashed out on lap three, giving the drivers a chance to save energy and push for a longer first stint.
Buemi used this to great effect, pulling out a lead of more than ten seconds over the field before making his mandatory pit stop at the end of lap 13. Most of the teams followed suit, with only Loic Duval, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Oliver Turvey, Nathanael Berthon and defending champion Nelson Piquet Jr. opting to stay out for an extra lap.
When a second FCY was called after Antonio Felix da Costa’s car was left stranded at turn two following a tangle with Jacques Villeneuve, the late-stoppers were able to vault up the order and into the top ten, handing the likes of Turvey, Berthon and Piquet an unlikely reprieve.
However, this high lasted just moments for Piquet as an issue caused him to stop out on track. Although he was able to get the NEXTEV TCR car going again, the Brazilian dropped all the way to last. He would eventually finish two laps down, marking a rough start to his title defence.
At the front, di Grassi and Prost had both managed to get the jump on Heidfeld for second place through the pit stops, and soon fired into the distance to begin their own battle.
Pushing hard, Prost overstepped the mark and clipped the wall, causing damage to his rear wing. Despite attempting to continue and, in his defence, keeping with di Grassi, the stewards soon forced Prost to pit, bringing his race to an end with three laps to go.
As Buemi and di Grassi eased home in P1 and P2 respectively, for the second Beijing ePrix in a row, Heidfeld was left with a tight battle on the last lap as Duval and d’Ambrosio tried to pass. Heidfeld managed to hold on, finishing just three-tenths of a second ahead to score Mahindra’s first podium in Formula E.
Duval and d’Ambrosio were forced to settle for fourth and fifth, but their combined result gives Dragon an early lead in the teams’ championship.
Oliver Turvey salvaged sixth place from a rough weekend for NEXTEV TCR, finishing ahead of Sam Bird and debutant Nathanael Berthon. Daniel Abt and Stephane Sarrazin rounded out the points in Beijing.
Formula E returns in two weeks’ time with the Putrajaya ePrix in Malaysia.
The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.
The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.
Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).
As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.
Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.
Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.
A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016
The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.
Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.
Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.
The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.
And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.
In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.
Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.
In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.
Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari
The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.
Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.
Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.
All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.
Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas
Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.
However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.
However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.
However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.
The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.