Vergne wins beachside showdown

Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, Techeetah, took his second win of the 2017/18 Formula E season after holding off Audi driver Lucas di Grassi and DS’ Sam Bird in a fascinating dual in Uruguay.

Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), TECHEETAH, Renault Z.E. 17, celebrates with Lucas Di Grassi (BRA), Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, Audi e-tron FE04, and Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing, DS Virgin DSV-03, on the podium.

Vergne started the Punta del Este ePrix from pole after all four of his super pole competitors were disqualified for hitting the bollard at turn 14 (di Grassi; Oliver Turvey, NIO; Alex Lynn, DS Virgin) or their car being underweight (Mitch Evans, Jaguar).

The championship leader led reigning champion di Grass down to turn one, which was surprisingly passed without any major accidents, as was the whole first lap.

Three laps in and Nick Heidfeld’s Mahindra suffered technical problems similar to those back in Mexico a fortnight ago with his team-mate Felix Rosenqvist. He was grounded to a halt at the exit of turn six, prompting the deployment of the Safety Car.

After a couple of laps behind the SC the race was restarted and Vergne continued to lead in front of di Grassi and Lynn, who were followed by Mexico winner Daniel Abt of Audi with Bird in fifth.

The only previous winner in Punta del Este, Sebastien Buemi made contact with the outside wall in the fast right-handed turn 13 mid-way through the first stint, damaging his left-rear suspension and which forced him to pit and swap his car all too early, dropping him out of contention for points.

All of the top five cars pitted at the end of lap 19, with the two leaders retaining their positions. The biggest change was Alex Lynn dropping behind Abt and Bird following a slow pit stop.

The joy however was short-lived for the Audi driver as he pitted just two laps later with complaints of his seatbelt becoming unexpectedly loose, eventually dropping him down to 14th place.

Upfront the battle for the lead resumed with di Grassi trying an ambitious move on the outside of turn 17, which dropped him down to 1.5 seconds behind the leader.

With just three laps to go, the top three were packed within a second with all three on the same levels of remaining energy. Both di Grassi and Bird tried to overtake Vergne, but the Frenchman put up a solid defense and held out to win the race.

Di Grassi finally has a reason to smile during the season.  After four retirements in the first four races and a single points finish two weeks ago in Mexico, he’s had the joy of reaching the podium at long last.

However, he’s still considered a long-shot to retain his crown at the half-way mark of the season, sitting 88 points behind Vergne in tenth.

The Techeetah driver is on top of the standings with 109 points – 30 ahead of Felix Rosenqvist after the Swede had a second disappointing race in a row (DNF in Mexico, fifth in Punta after starting 12th following a crash in Qualifying). Sam Bird sits in third just three point behind Rosenqvist with Buemi and Nelson Piquet Jr rounding up the top five with 52 and 45 points respectively.

The second half of the season will begin with the inaugural Rome ePrix on 14 April.

Edited by Aidan Small

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