Lucas di Grassi wins in Montreal and takes championship lead as tensions flare

After starting from pole, Lucas di Grassi secured his second win of the season in Montreal, allowing him to take the lead in the championship with one race to go.

Formula E headed to Canada this weekend for the first race of the Montreal ePrix and the penultimate round of the 2016-17 Season. In qualifying, Lucas di Grassi claimed pole position, closing in on Sebastien Buemi in the Drivers’ Championship. Buemi did qualify in second place, however, a ten-place grid penalty dropped him down to 12th on the starting grid.

Lucas di Grassi wins in Montreal and takes championship lead as tensions flare

When the lights went out, Di Grassi had a good getaway from pole, holding off Stephane Sarrazin and Felix Rosenqvist while Mitch Evans had a strong start for Jaguar to move into fourth place. Further down the field, Buemi had a poor start from 12th and dropped down to 16th, being overly cautious on the opening lap of the race. In the first lap, Buemi also made contact with Robin Frijns which meant that the Swiss driver picked up suspension damage, forcing him to turn slightly to the right on the straights of the Montreal circuit.

Despite having damage, this did not stop Buemi from battling his way through the field, passing Maro Engel and Frijns on lap 3, and Antonio Felix da Costa on lap 4, moving into 13th place.

By lap 4, Lucas di Grassi was the fastest man out on track and extended his lead from Sarrazin to 2.3 seconds while Nick Heidfeld moved into the points paying positions with a move on Tom Dillmann. Daniel Abt then followed Hiedfeld through before overtaking the Mahindra Racing driver on lap 10.

Jean Eric Vergne then found a lease of life out on track, clearing Mitch Evans to move into fourth place, later setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 8 and again on lap 10.

After a couple of laps settling into the circuit and saving battery life, Buemi again went on a charge, passing Dillmann for 12th place, Heidfeld for 11th, and Loic Duval to move into the points.

The yellow flags then waved when a late lunge from Heidfeld on Duval ended in disaster, with the Frenchman aggressively blocking the German racer resulting in inevitable contact. The contact left Heidfeld with terminal damage on his Mahindra, forcing him to retire. This resulted in there being a full course yellow on lap 15.

As this full course yellow was just before the opening of the pit stop window, Di Grassi pitted from the lead along with the rest of the field apart from Adam Carroll, Jerome D’Ambrosio, and Engel. Di Grassi rejoined in the lead while Carroll moved into second, followed by Jean Eric Vergne who jumped Sarrazin in the pit phase.

Tensions then began to flare in the pit lane when Daniel Abt slowed, backing up Buemi in an attempt to push the Swiss driver down the field. Buemi had other ideas however, and made his anger known by nudging Abt down the pit lane. After a rant on team radio, Buemi jumped into his second car and rejoined ahead of Abt. In an act of revenge however, Abt then decided to ram into the back of Buemi, causing the pressure to build behind the championship leader’s visor.

The green flag waved on lap 17 and the race was resumed. Buemi and Abt moved into eighth and ninth on the restart by passing D’Ambrosio. The Belgian fought back and retook ninth from Abt but then dropped back down to tenth when Abt enforced his authority and superior speed out on track.

Moves on Oliver Turvey and Mitch Evans saw Buemi and Abt move into sixth and seventh place on lap 23 before the safety car was deployed on lap 25 when Jose Maria Lopez suffered from a hard snap of oversteer, punting him off into the wall and out of the race.

With the safety car out on track, Di Grassi’s lead over Vergne was cut down to nothing as the field formed up for the restart. The green flag waved on lap 27 and the race in Montreal was restarted once again. Team orders were then used at Renault e.dams, with Nico Prost letting Buemi through for fifth place, performing a wing man role to prevent his team mate from being attacked by Abt again. This didn’t last long however, and Abt quickly cleared Prost one lap later to move into fifth.

At the front of the field, the result was far from over, with Vergne less than a second behind Di Grassi and Rosenqvist closing in on Sarrazin. An oversteer moment saw Rosenqvist slap the wall on lap 31, knocking his steering out of alignment, allowing Buemi to move into fourth.

With the laps winding down, Buemi had the podium positions in sight and made his move on Sarrazin, racing side by side with the Frenchman through the chicanes of the Montreal circuit on the final lap.

At the front of the field, Di Grassi secured the win Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport, holding off Vergne by only three tenths. Sarrazin also held off Buemi and secured his second podium of the season.

Buemi headed up the rest of the field in fourth followed by Daniel Abt, Sam Bird, Nico Prost, Mitch Evans, Robin Frijns, and Felix Rosenqvist.

Post race in the pit lane, tensions were running high and Sebastien Buemi was a man who was on the war path, having harsh words with Antonio Felix da Costa before confronting Robin Frijns over their contact on lap 1, which ended in Frijns threatening to hit Buemi in the second race of the weekend. He then exchanged words with Abt about their incident in the pit lane. Through this, it was clear that Buemi was feeling the pressure of the race weekend and his rivalry with Di Grassi for the season title. Ultimately, the Swiss driver cracked under the pressure when it really mattered and for the first time this season, looked uncomfortable in the situation that he faces.

Heading to the final race of the 2016-17 Season tomorrow, Sebastien Buemi has lost the championship lead that he has held since the season started in Hong Kong last year. Di Grassi now has a six point advantage over Buemi after previously being ten points down before this weekend. It is a straight fight between Di Grassi and Buemi for the title with only one race to go. The outcome of the second race of the Montreal ePrix weekend will determine the final result, but as of now, it is all still to play for.

Results from the Montreal ePrix Race 1:

  1. Lucas di Grassi, Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport, 25 points
  2. Jean Eric Vergne, Techeetah, 18 points
  3. Stephane Sarrazin, Techeetah, 15 points
  4. Sebastien Buemi, Renault e.dams, 12 points
  5. Daniel Abt, Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport, 10 points
  6. Sam Bird, DS Virgin Racing, 8 points
  7. Nico Prost, Renault e.dams, 6 points
  8. Mitch Evans, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, 4 points
  9. Robin Frijns, Andretti Formula E, 2 points
  10. Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing, 1 point
  11. Tom Dillmann, Venturi Formula E, 0 points
  12. Jerome D’Ambrosio, Faraday Future Dragon Racing, 0 points
  13. Maro Engel, Venturi Formula E, 0 points
  14. Nelson Piquet Jr, Nextev Nio, 0 points
  15. Antonio Felix da Costa, Andretti Formula E, 0 points
  16. Oliver Turvey, Nextev Nio, 0 points
  17. Adam Carroll, Panasonic Jaguar Racing, 0 points
  18. Loic Duval, Faraday Future Dragon Racing, Ret
  19. Jose Maria Lopez, DS Virgin Racing, Ret
  20. Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing, Ret

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