Sebastien Buemi began Formula E’s second season in dominant fashion as he stormed to a comfortable win at the season-opening Beijing ePrix, ahead of Lucas di Grassi and Nick Heidfeld.
Following a commanding qualifying performance – in which defending Teams’ champions Renault e.Dams became the first outfit to complete a front row lock out, a full second clear of nearest challenger Nick Heidfeld – Buemi converted his stunning pole position into victory, while French team-mate Prost struggled on his way to retirement.
Last season’s runner up pulled clear at the start on his way to his fourth Formula E career win by a comfortable margin of 11 seconds, while a fast-starting Heidfeld was able to sweep around the outside of Prost into Turn 1.
Having held third place for much of the 26 lap event, Prost suffered a rear wing collapse in the closing stages, which ultimately forced the Renault e.Dams driver into the pits on the penultimate lap for a non-finish, following a mistake-ridden race.
The Frenchman’s downfall played into the hands of ABT’s di Grassi, who consolidated second while Heidfeld fought off a late challenge from Dragon Racing pairing Loic Duval and Jerome d’Ambrosio to claim Mahindra’s first podium finish.
Dragon’s Venturi powertrain produced a strong performance as Duval headed team-mate d’Ambrosio in fourth and fifth respectively, while Briton’s Oliver Turvey impressed to a sixth place finish.
Team China Racing team-mate and reigning champion Nelson Piquet Jr endured a frustrating start to his title defence. After a difficult qualifying and starting last of the 18 runners, the Brazilian ended up a classified 15th in his ailing NEXTEV TCR 001.
In the new era of powertrain development, racing remained ever frantic, as close wheel-to-wheel battles emerged throughout the field. As Prost ran wide and dropped to fourth, Duval dived past DS Virgin Racing’s Jean-Eric Vergne, before the latter returned the favour with a bold pass for sixth.
The newly-revised for 2015-2016 full course yellow format got its first run out when Simona De Silvestre buried her Andretti into the Turn 2 barriers on Lap 3, restricting the field to a 50mph speed limit and neutralising an eventful opening few laps.
With the track clear the green flag signalled a resume to racing at the end of lap 5, as Sam Bird moved up to seventh with a pass on Duval at the final corner. But moments later, the Brit went straight off following a lock up and dropped as low as 11th. Both Virgin cars struggled with energy levels in the latter stages, as Vergne plummeted down to 12th at the flag.
At the front, Buemi was unchallenged and had opened up a 10 second gap by Lap 10, as the fight over second and third intensified with di Grassi applying the pressure to Heidfeld, with Prost lurking behind.
When the pit stop window opened on Lap 13, race leader Buemi was followed in by the rest of the top four during a hectic period, as most of the field struggled with energy conservation. Prost jumped Heidfeld, who endured a slow stop and dropped two places to fourth, before the German claimed third back with a sweeping pass into Turn 3.
The second full course of the afternoon was deployed as Antonio Felix da Costa and Jacques Villeneuve came to blows at Turn 2 two laps later, with da Costa tagging the 1997 F1 world champion, sending both into the barriers. With heavy damage to his Aguri Spark SRT_01E chassis, da Costa was forced to retire, while Villeneuve recovered to finish 14th.
At the re-start Prost immediately caught Heidfeld unawares, snatching third place back once more with a bold, opportunistic pass. But with just six laps left to run, Prost’s rear wing gave way, boosting Heidfeld into the top three before Prost retired.
In the late squabble over the final step on the podium, d’Ambrosio nearly wiped his team-mate out, while Duval himself was forced to bail out of a last lap manoeuvre on Heidfeld for third as the Frenchman cut the chicane.
Behind the tight pack, Bird took seventh ahead of impressive debutant Nathanael Berthon in his Aguri. Daniel Abt finished ninth, but was handed a 10-second penalty after the race for an unsafe release.
With Stephane Sarrazin promoted up to ninth, Robin Frijns moved into the top-10 to record a point for Andretti in his first Formula E outing.
Formula E Beijing ePrix race result: