Sam Bird made a flying start to the new Formula E season in Hong Kong on Saturday by taking his sixth victory in the series despite being hit with a drive-through penalty following a crash in the pit lane.
Bird started the race second for DS Virgin Racing behind pole-sitter Jean-Eric Vergne and retained position for much of the opening half of the race, albeit interrupted for 30 minutes following a red flag when the track was blocked by a crash.
Bird stayed close to Vergne before making his move for the lead shortly before the car changes, and was quickly able to pull out a lead.
However, the Briton put his win hopes in doubt after locking up when trying to turn into his pit garage, causing his car to go straight on and into some nearby pit equipment, narrowly avoiding some bystanders.
Bird completed his car swap and emerged from the pits still leading, but was hit with a drive-through penalty for having made the change outside of the garage.
After quickly gapping the struggling Vergne, Bird took his penalty and came back out still in front of his former teammate, with Mahindra’s Nick Heidfeld sitting just behind in third.
Bird put his foot down to re-establish his earlier advantage, eventually crossing the line more than 11 seconds clear to claim the first win of the 2017/18 season.
“That was a really crazy race. I’m finding it hard to process what happened really,” Bird said.
“It’s not often you win having a drive-through penalty in Formula E. Firstly I’ve got to thank the team. We thought it was going to be really difficult coming into this year.
“The likes of Audi have made a big step, Renault still obviously being strong which makes Techeetah strong, Mahindra were fantastic last year, other teams have caught up…
“So we thought it was going to be tough to dominate round one, but I’ll take that.”
Vergne held on to second place ahead of Heidfeld despite struggling with a lack of radio and telemetry, while Nelson Piquet Jr. matched Jaguar’s best result in Formula E on debut for the team in P4.
Daniel Abt led Audi’s charge in fifth after teammate and defending series champion Lucas di Grassi sustained early damage, causing him to drop back and fail to recover.
Antonio Felix da Costa finished sixth for Andretti ahead of leading debutant Edoardo Mortara in seventh, while Alex Lynn, Nicolas Prost and Luca Filippi rounded out the points-paying positions.
The new Formula E season continues with the second leg of the Hong Kong double-header on Sunday.