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Sam Bird now leads the ABB Formula E championship by one point after winning the Santiago E-Prix.
Sébastien Buemi began the race on pole and was chased in close succession by Pascal Wehrlein and Sam Bird. Wehrlein, the F1 alum, had had limited track time so far this season due to technical errors, and was proving his worth to Mahindra Racing as he kept pace with Buemi.
Sam Bird activated attack mode early in the race, and used the 25 kWh boost to pass Wehrlein into turn one, who used the opportunity to dive through the attack mode activation point himself.
The hot Santiago sun quickly took its toll on both drivers and the track alike: as drivers began to have temperature concerns, the asphalt began to break up in the first chicane, creating two grooves on the racing line.
After a full-course yellow caused by Maximilian Günther stopping on track, Bird was keen to built up his lead, and pushed too hard into the chicane, leaving the grooves and under steering into the wall.
Buemi’s damage was terminal and he gave up his hope of a lights-to-flag victory, as Bird and Wehrlein overtook.
Wehrlein applied massive pressure to the Envision Virgin Racing driver, but soon became undone in the heat, falling off the racing line multiple times and giving back precious seconds to Bird.
The tension rose in the last three laps of the race, as the batting lead pair both suffered from their own problems. Bird barely had enough energy to complete the race, while Wehrlein’s battery temperature was critical and he had to move away from Bird to cool his car.
Bird’s victory makes him the only driver to win in every ABB Formula E season, and gives him a one-point championship lead over last week’s winner Jérôme D’Ambrosio.
Bird and D’Ambrosio, with 43 and 42 points respectively, are miles ahead of the rest of the championship pack, with almost a race-winning 25 point gap back to Antonio Felix Da Costa, Robin Frijns, and Jean-Eric Vergne all tied in third on 28 points.
The real story of the race is Wehrlein’s competitiveness in the series where other F1 drivers have faltered. Sure, most of the field have some F1 experience – but the three recent imports: Massa, Vandoorne, and Wehrlein, have all struggled to find their feet amongst technical issues and retirements in the opening two rounds of the season.
With his second place finish, and thrilling battle with Bird, Wehrlein has proved his talent and adaptability. He also proved his worth to the Mahindra Racing team, who have kept their second-place standing in the team’s championship despite movements around them.
The high attrition rate from the Santiago E-Prix and the volatility that it has given to the team’s championship shows that any team that wants to be competitive needs to have both reliable cars and drivers who are competitive when it counts.
It would seem intuitive, but for Mahindra Racing to hold second place with two retirements, while Audi and Panasonic Jaguar to be in fifth and six respectively, each with no retirements – it would seem that nothing is quite that simple in Formula E.