Vergne holds on to victory in scrappy Sanya ePrix


Jean-Eric Vergne successfully claimed victory for Techeetah in the inaugural FWD Sanya ePrix in China, the sixth race of the 2018/9 ABB FIA Formula E championship.

Vergne's victory initially appeared to be in doubt after he was placed under investigated for a breach of safety car regulations. A penalty for the reigning champion would have resulted in Nissan e.dams' Oliver Rowland being promoted to the top step of the podium.

Instead the Frenchman escaped with just a reprimand, meaning that he kept his first win of the current season, which came in Chinese-owned Techeetah's home race.

Starting the race from pole position for the first time in his Formula E career after a terrific flying lap in superpole, Rowland had come under immediate pressure to fend off Vergne into the first corner. However, a perfect launch for the British driver ensured that the Techeetah had no opportunity to pounce.

The pair soon pulled away from the duelling António Félix da Costa (BMW Andretti) and Daniel Abt (Audi Sport ABT), before a brief yellow flag paused proceedings after Felipe Nasr's Penske Dragon car momentarily stopped on track.

Nasr eventually limped back to pit lane to retire, where he was joined on the sidelines by Envision Virgin Racing's Sam Bird and HWA's Stoffel Vandoorne who had clashed on the opening lap. Vandoorne's team mate Gary Paffett was another early retiree.

Another early casualty was Stoffel Vandoorne, who suffered car damage after rear-ending Bird on the opening lap. His HWA team mate Gary Paffett was another to suffer a premature exit, while Nasr's team mate José María López also had an early finish when he went into the wall in turn 5 on lap 10.

Rowland was initially successful in holding on to the lead despite heavy pressure from Vergne, the Nissan proving adept at springing away out of the tight corners. Both drivers were being warned about their energy consumption. Further back, Virgin's Robin Frijns demonstrated that overtaking was possible on this tight street circuit with a nice move on Lucas di Grassi through turn 10 for seventh place, the Audi driver repeatedly trying and failing to activate Attack Mode in response.


Vergne finally seized his moment and took the lead on lap 19, leaving a waning Rowland struggling to hold onto second from da Costa, Abt and Andre Lotterer in the second Techeetcah. Frijns picked up another place after Alexander Sims made race-ending contact with the wall while duelling with Lotterer, triggering a safety car. Also in the wars was Jaguar's Nelson Piquet, who had been making solid progress from the back row after a dismal qualifying.

Sim's retirement eventually forced an abbreviated red flag while the BMW Andretti was recovered. Racing resumed with ten minutes left on the clock and the majority of the top ten took the restart with Attack Mode activated: an exception was Frijns who lost that hard-fought place back to di Grassi as a result, while Lotterer also made swift progress with a bruising pass on Abt at the chicane for fourth place.

The stoppage seemed to have reinvigorated Rowlands who was snapping at Vergne, the Frenchman also labouring under threat of a penalty for not complying with safety car procedures. His team mate Lotterer was also under scrutiny from the race stewards for causing a couple of minor collisions.

Rowland was still trying to find his way around Vergne when the race ended under yellow, after Sébastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) hit the back of Frijns and sent the Dutch driver into the back of di Grassi at turn 8 on the penultimate lap.

At the line it was Vergne, Rowland and da Costa in the podium spots followed by Lotterer, Abt and Buemi, with Mahindra pair Jerome d'Ambrosio and Pascal Wehrlein, Mitch Evans (Jaguar) and Edoardo Mortara (Venturi) rounding out the top ten. Nine of the 22 cars failed to take the chequered flag.

Victory for Vergne this week shoots him up to third place in the driver standings, now equal on points with Bird. Da Costa leads the championship, with d'Ambrosio in second place heading into the Rome ePrix in three weeks time.

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