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Sam Bird
Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT

2016 Buenos Aires ePrix: Bird Triumphant in Denying Buemi Fightback

DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird emerged victorious in a late-race showdown with Renault e.Dams’ Sebastien Buemi to deny the championship leader a ‘last-to-first’ win in the Argentinian capital.

Overview

Race Winner: Sam Bird (DS Virgin Racing)

Pole Position: Sam Bird (DS Virgin Racing) – 1:09.420

Fastest Lap: Jerome D’Ambrosio (Dragon Racing) – 1:10.285 (L29)

Main drama: The end-of-race duel between the recovering Buemi and pole position winner Bird.

Overtake of the race: Buemi passing three cars whilst on the absolute limit of adhesion (15th place, T4, L1)

Lap Leaders: Bird (L1-18) & (L20-35), Piquet (L19)

Report

The Formula E championship returned to Argentina and to the scene of arguably season one’s most unpredictable race, the result of which remains to be scarcely believable. With dominant forces starting to emerge amongst the teams, a similar shock result in season two has become increasingly unlikely, and the opening three rounds of the season have become focused on the question; can anybody stop Renault e.Dams and Sebastien Buemi?

The only man who has been able to profit from Renault e.Dams’ ‘snatching defeat from the hands of victory’ approach is the relentlessly consistent Lucas di Grassi, who has visited the Formula E rostrum in over 70% of the races so far (if you include the race in which he was disqualified, the Berlin ePrix).

There were a couple of driver transfers during the break between Punta del Este and Buenos Aires. Nathanael Berthon chose to leave Team Aguri and concentrate on his endurance racing ventures, so Salvador Duran was welcomed back to race alongside Antonio Felix da Costa. Elsewhere, Jacques Villeneuve and Venturi agreed to a ‘mutual termination’ of contract, with the Monegasque outfit bringing in Mike Conway, who had previously tested (and briefly signed) for the Dragon Racing team.

Qualifying:

The story of qualifying was Buemi throwing away what seemed like a guaranteed pole position for Renault e.Dams. In a similar, but more spectacular fashion to Punta del Este, a mistake on his flying lap resulted in Buemi throwing away his qualifying session. The difference being, instead of making a mistake in the ‘Super Pole’ shoot-out and only having to start fifth like the previous event, the error was made whilst competing in the grouped qualifying, therefore, Buemi would have to start the race from the back of the grid.

Oliver Turvey is one of several drivers to attack the bollards at the chicane. Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E
Oliver Turvey is one of several drivers to attack the bollards at the chicane.
Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

Lucas di Grassi, qualifying in the next group, was expected to double the pain dealt to Renault e.Dams, but the Brazilian had to settle for a below-par seventh.

A slightly unexpected selection of drivers progressed to the shoot-out; fastest group qualifier Stephane Sarrazin, Antonio Felix da Costa, Nicolas Prost, Sam Bird and debutant Mike Conway. As the only driver who could improve on their previous lap time, Sam Bird took pole position ahead of Prost, da Costa, Sarrazin and Conway.

Grid:
  1. Sam Bird DS Virgin Racing 1:09.474 / 1:09.420
  2. Nicolas Prost Renault e.Dams 1:09.473 / 1:09.751
  3. Antonio Felix da Costa Team Aguri 1:09.381 / 1:09.761
  4. Stéphane Sarrazin Venturi 1:09.236 / 1:10.298
  5. Mike Conway Venturi 1:09.602 / 1:12.391
  6. Robin Frijns Amlin Andretti 1:09.616
  7. Lucas di Grassi Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport 1:09.677
  8. Daniel Abt Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport 1:09.814
  9. Nelson Piquet NextEV TCR 1:09.931
  10. Jerome D’Ambrosio Dragon Racing 1:10.067
  11. Oliver Turvey NextEV TCR 1:10.126
  12. Loïc Duval Dragon Racing 1:10.130
  13. Nick Heidfeld Mahindra Racing 1:10.321
  14. Simona De Silvestro Amlin Andretti 1:10.446
  15. Jean-Eric Vergne DS Virgin Racing 1:10.581
  16. Bruno Senna Mahindra Racing 1:11.306
  17. Salvador Duran Team Aguri 1:13.256
  18. Sebastien Buemi Renault e.Dams 1:19.421
Race:
Bird covers the inside line at the start of the race. Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E
Bird covers the inside line at the start of the race.
Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

The getaway worked perfectly for Sam Bird as he was able to edge his car completely in front of Nicolas Prost and defend the inside line of the first corner, with Antonio Felix da Costa, Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway all negotiating the turn in grid order. Sebastien Buemi initially made no gains in the first couple of corners, but took full advantage of a gap that appeared on the inside of turn four by torpedoing past Salvador Duran, Jerome D’Ambrosio and Bruno Senna and somehow controlling the trail-braking car enough to survive the corner. The ballsy overtake earned him 15th place.

A concertina effect into the turn five hairpin allowed Robin Frijns to challenge – and pass – Conway into turn six. At the end of the opening lap, the order was; Bird, Prost, Da Costa, Sarrazin, Frijns, Conway, di Grassi, Piquet, Turvey and Abt, with Buemi already up to fifteenth.

Di Grassi soon started to make progress in the race by passing Mike Conway on lap two into turn four, with his attention immediately turning to the Andretti of Frijns ahead.

All eyes were on Buemi to monitor his rate of progression during the first half of the race; the Swiss pilot was overtaking very effectively and efficiently, and by the end of lap seven, he had overtaken Nick Heidfeld, Simona de Silvestro, Nelson Piquet, Daniel Abt and Jean-Eric Vergne to occupy tenth place and the final point-scoring position. In that time, di Grassi had found a way past Frijns and was on the tail of Sarrazin’s Venturi. The Frenchman’s defence lasted only until lap eight when di Grassi out-braked his competitor into turn seven, taking fourth place.

The top four were soon in close contention, but it was Prost who became under the most pressure. A strong exit from the fast turn twelve put da Costa – in a car with an outdated powertrain – right behind the Renault e.Dams car heading down the start straight and, through ‘lifting and coasting’ ever so slightly later, the Team Aguri driver rolled into second place at the turn one hairpin.

However, any dreams of a repeat of last year’s triumph were over for Team Aguri just a few laps later. Antonio Felix da Costa’s car stopped just after turn one and, despite the efforts to restart the car, he was out on the spot and the stricken car threatened the deployment of a safety car as the pit stops began.

Da Costa retires from the race with software problems. Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT
Da Costa retires from the race with software problems.
Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula E/LAT

The majority of the field pitted on lap eighteen but Prost was struggling to get to his pit box. With Prost driving slower than the pit lane speed limit, di Grassi was held up by the Renault car and lost some time in the pit lane, despite his best efforts to usher his competitor along. The car swap was trouble-free for Bird and he rejoined safely in the lead with di Grassi moving up to second. Sarrazin was promoted to third, whilst Buemi (who was running in fifth before the car swaps) was now fourth ahead of Prost. Conway, Frijns, Duval, Senna and Heidfeld completed the top ten. Prost swiftly demoted himself to seventh place after losing control of the car – and spinning – on cold tyres on the approach to turn four.

The safety car was deployed after the stops in order to clear the Team Aguri car and, after a brief spell of confusion from Stephane Sarrazin over the speed limits behind the safety car, the field bunched up for the restart.

Bird managed to build a lead of several car lengths as the race went green on lap 23, but the focus immediately turned towards Buemi, who was already sizing up Sarrazin and easily brushed the Venturi aside at turn four. The restart had cost Buemi a couple of seconds, but he was now homing in on his main championship rival.

Further back, Conway’s impressive debut took a turn for the worse. Whilst battling with Prost for fifth place, the Briton spun his Venturi on the exit of turn four, causing Frijns and Duval to take evasive action and resulting in a drop to fifteenth place for Conway.

As the race approached the final seven laps, the top three were separated by little over one second, and the first major attacking move was made by Buemi. With the Renault car right behind di Grassi, the Brazilian took a half-defensive line into turn seven, but with enough of a gap to commit, Buemi placed his car even further towards the inside line and punished di Grassi for an incomplete defensive manoeuvre. Bird was given temporary respite, but Buemi had his target set on completing ‘last-to-first’ glory.

The differences between the DS Virgin Racing car and the Renault e.Dams car were becoming increasingly obvious, particularly from the perfectly-placed camera in the fast, sweeping turn eleven right-hander. The nimble, balanced Renault looked to be on rails in comparison with the oversteery, disobedient DS Virgin car. Nevertheless Sam Bird was holding onto the lead valiantly as the final tours approached.

The attack from Buemi came on the penultimate lap when he attempted to replicate the move he had done on di Grassi only a couple of laps ago, but assured defensive driving for Bird ensured the Renault e.Dams car remained in second place. The attack fizzled out in the dying moments of the final lap and Bird was left to take his third win in Formula E.

Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E
Photo: Zak Mauger/LAT/Formula E

Sebastien Buemi’s charge to second place secured an extension to his championship lead from one point to four ahead of Lucas di Grassi, who fell away in the final laps of the race.

Stéphane Sarrazin claimed valuable points for Venturi by equalling his personal best finish of fourth place, just a couple of seconds ahead of Nico Prost. Loïc Duval ended a below average weekend for Dragon Racing in sixth place ahead of Nick Heidfeld (Mahindra Racing), who had charged up from thirteenth to seventh during the race. Robin Frijns dropped two places on the final lap to end the race in eighth place for Andretti, with Oliver Turvey (NextEV TCR) in ninth and Bruno Senna (Mahindra Racing) completing the top ten.

Buenos Aires ePrix Lap Chart

Driver’s Championship:

  1. Sebastien Buemi – Renault e.Dams – 80 pts
  2. Lucas di Grassi – Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport – 76 pts
  3. Sam Bird – DS Virgin Racing – 52 pts
  4. Loic Duval – Dragon Racing – 32 pts
  5. Jerome D’Ambrosio – Dragon Racing – 30 pts
  6. Stephane Sarrazin – Venturi – 28 pts
  7. Nick Heidfeld – Mahindra Racing – 23 pts
  8. Robin Frijns – Andretti – 21 pts
  9. Nicolas Prost – Renault e.Dams – 21 pts
  10. Antonio Felix da Costa – Team Aguri – 16 pts

Teams’ Championship:

  1. Renault e.Dams – 101 pts
  2. Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport – 86 pts
  3. Dragon Racing – 62 pts
  4. DS Virgin Racing – 52 pts
  5. Mahindra Racing – 32 pts

To view all of FormulaSpy’s Formula E race reports, click here.

About Luke Murphy

I've been a motor racing fan since the late 90's, enjoying the underdog stories, the history and the technology of the sport. Graduate of Huddersfield University with a BEng Motorsport Engineering Degree and a keen amateur karter.

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