Sam Bird of Virgin DS took the chequered flag after a dramatic season-opening Formula E Hong Kong ePrix at the Harbourport Street Circuit on Saturday. Bird was slapped a drive-through penalty for failing to change his car inside the garage area, but the British driver came out of the penalty unscathed as he retained his position on top of the pack to win his sixth Formula E race.
Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne finished second and Mahindra Racing’s Nick Heidfeld ended third, settling for his eighth podium finish in Formula E.
Mahindra Racing were left introspecting “what if” at the end of the race as a few things here and there could have seen them register their first-ever win in Formula E. But that was not to be.
There were two hurdles ahead of Mahindra Racing’s top driver Heidfeld on Saturday. The first was to get past Vergne, who started from pole ahead of second-placed Bird and lost his lead following a quick move on the inside by the Virgin DS driver.
But Vergne did not let himself get out-foxed a second time in one race and quickly shut out the corners every time Heidfeld got a peek.
In fact, there was contact between the cars at least twice, and on both occasions Vergne managed to defend his position taking advantage of the narrow streets, leaving Heidfeld frustrated and fuming at the end.
“He changed direction twice and that is not allowed,” a visibly angry Heidfeld told the broadcasters. But the Mahindra Racing driver was a lot more composed when he made his way to the post-race media conference where he said he was looking forward to Sunday’s second round.
Heidfeld was clearly faster than Vergne, but the latter defended his spot by the skin of his teeth. “If someone told me before the start of the race that the brakes were not working properly, there would be limited radio communication etc, I would have told him I would not race,” Vergne said after the race.
Heidfeld’s second hurdle was getting past Bird which looked realistic when the latter was given a penalty for crashing into the team garage during the pit-stop and almost taking out one of his crew members.
But Bird, who had a 20-second lead going into the drive through penalty, did not feel the pinch as he rejoined the race back on top.
“I will take it any day,” Bird said. “Most drivers were complaining about problems communicating with the team on the radio right throughout the race. But somehow I managed to catch the fact that I was ahead when I rejoined. I was hoping something like seventh or eighth. I would take this any day.”
Mahindra Racing started the day on a high after they had both their cars in the top five of the qualifying with Heidfeld starting on third and Felix Rosenqvist on fifth.
Heidfeld took his chance at the start but was cramped for space. A move that could have seen him grabbing the lead ended with the German actually losing two places and dropping to fifth before the race was restarted for a traffic jam at the rear end.
Feature photo by : Alastair Staley/LAT/Formula E