image

Formula E

Lucas di Grassi’s ride from Hong Kong bridesmaid to Formula E champion

The Brazilian lays the foundation for his maiden title by scything through the field to finish second in the season opener

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 10:33am

The 2016-17 FIA Formula E championship wasn’t decided until the final race of the season but the seeds of victory had been sown right here in Hong Kong.

Brazilian ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport racer Lucas di Grassi arrived in Hong Kong for the season opener feeling he had a point to prove, to himself as much as the motor racing public, after finishing third and second, respectively, across the first two seasons of Formula E.

Di Grassi did not win the Hong Kong event – that honour went to his fierce rival Sebastien Buemi of Renault e.dams – but the way he tore through the field to finish second, after starting the race in 19th on the grid, showed the mindset the Brazilian carried with him all season.

History will now show that a seventh-placed finish in 2016-17’s final race in Montreal was enough for Di Grassi to claim the title but you have to dig a little deeper to discover the true nature of his breakthrough title win.

Watch: Lucas di Grassi wins maiden Formula E title

Six races into the season and the Brazilian found himself 43 points behind runaway leader Buemi – and a leg broken on the eve of the Berlin double-header made matters look even worse. But Di Grassi drove through the pain in Germany, picking up a vital win in the first race.

The Brazilian kept clawing away at his rival’s lead, making use of his good fortune when other commitments forced the Swiss driver to miss the double-header in New York, then scoring a crucial win at the first of the Montreal races that brought the season to a close.

Relive Sebastien Buemi’s brilliant victory in the ‘crazy’ first edition of the Hong Kong E-Prix

Di Grassi felt – finally – that his time had come and so he took no chances in the final Montreal race, controlling seventh place behind first-time Formula E race winner Jean-Eric Vergne in his Techeetah and ensuring the six points needed to seal his first Formula E title.

“I think Lucas did a remarkable job across the whole season to never give up the chase, and the reward was there for him at the end,” said Formula E boss Alejandro Agag. “He has built up a great rivalry with Sebastien but the other drivers and the other teams are closing in.”

Buemi was gracious in defeat, waving away the disappointment of missing those crucial New York races by saying the need to have multiple drives was “simply part of racing”.

I can’t wait to return to Hong Kong, says new Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi

Shining brightest among those who trailed the two leaders was Mahindra’s first-season driver Felix Rosenqvist, third overall after a win in Berlin and a total of five podium finishes.

Then there was DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, who blew his rivals away as the Formula E circuit made its debut in New York, winning both races in the Big Apple and showing that – given a little more consistency – he could be a major player as the series moves forward.

Vergne was the other diver to take a chequered flag over the season, his victory in the very last race just reward for the French driver’s tenacity and the work put in off-track by a Techeetah crew keen to make up ground on Renault e.dams, who have won the team title in each of Formula E’s first three seasons.

Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi wins incident-packed maiden Hong Kong ePrix

“We are getting closer, and I think all the teams would say the same,” said Vergne. “Victory for me – and for Techeetah – in Montreal showed what is possible and that the gap is closing.

“We are all looking for more consistency and to put the pressure on the top guys all season. That will be the goal for all of us when we get back to Hong Kong for season four.”