Wow, what a race! The final race of the season was a typically nerve-racking experience as Formula E always delivers. If you like your championships to be close, this was about as close as they can ever hope to get. Headed into the final race of the 2015-16 season two drivers, Lucas di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi were separated by just three points and both were miles ahead of the others.
The two stood alone with a heavy weight on their shoulders as di Grassi has always shown great pace right from the very outset of Formula E, as had Buemi who nearly won the Championship in its inaugural year.
After yesterday’s penultimate race where di Grassi managed 4th and Buemi 5th, it looked as though there wasn’t much to separate the two, at least in terms of driving ability. However, Renault-e.dams has proven to be the car to beat over the season and Nico Prost’s win on Saturday further proved this.
Qualifying on Sunday morning was a close run affair but unlike that of Saturday, was not influenced by wet weather. Instead, this time Buemi was able to qualify where he perhaps should have on Saturday – in pole position. Di Grassi, however, was never far behind and raced the wheels off his ABT Schaffler to qualify in 3rd position, with yesterday’s winner Nico prost separating the two title contenders.
As the lights were about to go green for the last time in the 2015-16 season, the tension was gripping.
Pandamonium! Unbelievably, as the cars approached turn 3 on the very first lap just seconds after the start, Lucas di Grassi went straight into the back of Sébastien Buemi taking them both off the track in a cloud of carbon-fibre. Incredibly, both Buemi and di Grassi were unhurt apart from their pride, with di Grassi claiming over the radio that they braked much earlier than expected. The cars were ontop of each other but miraculously were able to drive all the way back to the pits under yellow flags and safety cars to quickly swap parts of their car as quickly as possible. One thing was clear, that there was nothing clear about what had just happened. Never a more dramatic start to the race had ever happened.
Had the two come to an end, di Grassi would have instantly won the championship, but instead in true dramatic style, Buemi rejoined the race in last place, 18th as Buemi managed to stick in 13th. However, Buemi was instantly ordered back to the pits to check his car.
Prost was now in the lead for the second time in his racing weekend at London, as Nick Heidfeld moved up to second and Daniel Abt to third position.
As the laps began to tick by, race order was restored – slightly – with Sam Bird becoming an early casualty on lap seven reporting that he had lost all power. Amazingly, the Championship looked like it wouldn’t be decided by track position in the final race, but instead by someone setting a fastest lap. If di Grassi managed to set it, he would win, if Buemi managed to, he would. However, if neither set the fastest lap, di Grassi would win the Championship by default as he had attained 3rd place more frequently than Buemi.
With that, Buemi and di Grassi were in a race of their own against the clock before 1st place crosses the line to bring the race to an end. A new type of competition had formed between the two attempting to set off from the pits in a clear patch to give it their all. With their first two cars crashed, the pair had to rely on the energy stored in their second cars to duck and dive in and out of the pits in attempts to set a fastest lap.Marring their attempts were several safety cars that kept arriving seemingly every lap as drivers still in the main race battled for position. The race track was fast becoming more of a bumpercar race than an open-wheel professional formula, but an incredible show for the crowd and TV spectators alike.Lap 19 and Sébastien Buemi goes for his fastest lap while most other cars dive into the pits to switch to their second car for the race. Unfortunately, Buemi picks up back marker Qing Hua Ma who slows him down on the final few corners of his fastest lap attempt.
Timing is an incredible thing though and just as Buemi is about to cross the line, another car comes out of the pits ahead of him and Ma. It’s di Grassi, who’s setting out himself to attempt a new fastest lap. Buemi gets it, but not by much.
The race was back on for di Grassi to retaliate as Buemi began to show slight frustration over the radio towards his team, complaining that he wasn’t being told what to do. The typically cool as a cucumber Swissman was beginning to fret. To throw more intrigue into the story, di Grassi believed he had already set a fastest lap, but this did not seem to hold as – perhaps – he had used FanBoost to obtain it, which does not count towards fastest lap points as it provides an unfair advantage.Lap 23. Buemi sets a new fastest lap of 1:24.6, providing the precious two points that would win him the championship, but with ten laps to go there was still plenty to play for. Di Grassi came back with a fast 1:24.9, just three tenth’s of a second away from winning the Championship.
Meanwhile, Prost has a commanding lead over second place Daniel Abt. Third was Jean-Eric Vergne after a brave overtake of Nick Heidfeld, followed by Antonio Felix da Costa.Five laps to go and Lucas di Grassi uses his FanBoost just before the start/finish line, in order to carry more speed onto the straight for his new lap time. However, he brakes too late for turn 3 and wastes a lot of time for his lap effort. Buemi, on the other hand, continues to light up the timing board as he attempts to set a new faster lap to seal the deal on his Championship effort. However, just as Buemi begins to do this, di Grassi grabs the fastest sector in both 1 and 2 but fluffs the final sector although he narrows the gap again. One 1/100th of a second was all that separated the two drivers in their best lap efforts, but it just wasn’t enough for the Brazilian.
Buemi sets a new fastest lap of an unbeatable 1:24.1 as di Grassi gets out of his car for the last time in the 2016 Championship on lap 32.
Yellow flag comes out for the final couple of laps while Sam Bird overuses his energy just before the finish line, making Heidfeld back in 4th.Nico Prost wins the race in excellent style, followed by Abt, Vergne, Heidfeld and Da Costa.
The final Formula E will likely go down in history as the most exciting finalé of any racing series.It was a breathtakingly difficult race to follow but with such complexity, drama and intrigue came the result that there should have been. Pole sitter Buemi might not have won the race, but he won the FIA Formula E 2015-16 Championship in style. Renault-e.dams won the constructors title too, but this was never in contention.An amazing race that’s truly difficult to convey in writing just how many twists and turns occured in the 45-minute race but it has set a precedent for the forthcoming season that starts later this year in Hong Kong.
Whether Lucas di Grassi will face further penalties following the conclusion of the race remains to be seen at the time of writing, but the FIA Formula E stewards are doubtless looking into every detail and more news will follow.