Lucas di Grassi bounced back from his disqualification from the Mexico City ePrix three weeks ago in perfect fashion by claiming his second Formula E victory of the season around the famous streets of Long Beach.
The only American round on the season two Formula E calendar offered an intriguing race full of drama that saw di Grassi dominate proceedings to reclaim the lead of the championship.
Di Grassi started the race from second place behind DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, with both benefitting from the exclusion of provisional pole-man Antonio Felix da Costa.
A good start saw di Grassi tail Bird for much of the opening stint of the race before passing for the lead on lap 12, before consolidating the lead through the pit stops.
Bird continued to tail the Brazilian after swapping cars, but he dropped back after locking up with cold brakes at Turn 5 to give di Grassi some breathing room.
A late safety car sparked by a crash for Nelson Piquet Jr. put di Grassi under pressure from Stephane Sarrazin in the final three laps, but he kept cool to cross the line first.
Di Grassi’s victory combined with a disastrous race for Sebastien Buemi that saw him finish three laps down in 16th place after clashing with Robin Frijns in the first half of the race.
Both drivers sustained damage and were forced to pit for repairs by the stewards, leaving Buemi to score just two points for the fastest lap and lose the lead of the championship to di Grassi.
Sarrazin followed in second place ahead of Daniel Abt, who scored his first podium finish of the season for his family team.
Mahindra Racing made a long first stint work well in the closing stages as Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna finished fourth and fifth respectively, while Bird recovered to cross the line in sixth place ahead of Dragon Racing drivers Jerome d’Ambrosio and Loic Duval.
Simona de Silvestro finally ended her Formula E points drought by finishing ninth for Andretti, while fellow IndyCar alumni Mike Conway also put his prior knowledge of Long Beach to good use to score his first top 10 finish in Formula E.
A penalty for leaving the pit lane too early caused Nicolas Prost to drop down to 11th at the end of the race, while Oliver Turvey was the sole NEXTEV TCR driver to finish in 12th.
Jean-Eric Vergne had another difficult race en route to 13th, while Salvador Duran was hit with a penalty for using too much energy in the first half of the race to leave him 14th at the flag ahead of Frijns and Buemi.
Having lost pole earlier in the day, da Costa’s afternoon failed to get much better as he retired from the race with seven laps remaining after battling his way back up into the points.
Formula E now heads to Europe for the remainder of the season, with the Paris ePrix scheduled for April 23.
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.