Audi Sport’s Lucas Di Grassi came out on top in a nail-biting Berlin E-Prix to stake his claim for the FIA Formula E World Championship.
Following a front-row lockout by Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa, Di Grassi made the most of a DS Techeetah collapse to secure only his second win of the season.
Finishing behind the Brazilian was ROKiT Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara, who pushed Di Grassi right to the very end, and Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans.
With no more than 18 drivers mathematically able to win the Championship heading into the weekend, the race at the Tempelhof circuit in Berlin quickly became one of the most memorable races of the campaign so far, with three different one-two pairs leading the race.
Despite a nightmare afternoon, Mercedes EQ’s Nyck de Vries leads the Championship ahead of Mortara and BMW i Andretti’s Jake Dennis, leaving it all to play for in the final round of the season.
From start to finish
It was a frantic start to proceedings as both the DS Techeetah’s looked to defend their positions from the chasing pack, but the first major incident involved Jaguar’s Sam Bird who was spun early on by Porsche’s Andre Lotterer.
Bird looked to have recovered from the incident but as he approached the starting line, his car began to slow before coming to a dead stop. The camera inside in Bird’s car showed the Brit desperately trying to restart it but it was to no avail and the safety car was soon out on the track.
Thankfully, the recovery mission was a quick one and the safety car pulled in to get the action back underway, with Nissan’s Oliver Rowland looking to make more progress, having gained three places in the early stages of the race.
The Brit was all over the back of his compatriot Dennis, with a tense battle growing as the BMW driver defended frantically. Rowland had made his move a couple of times to get by, but Dennis was quick to shut the door on each occasion and managed to keep his place just outside the top three.
Another driver eager to make up places was Audi’s René Rast. Having started in 12th, Rast triggered his Attack Mode and flew past Sebastian Buemi and Max Gunther before also overtaking Oliver Rowland, setting the fastest lap in the process.
Rast was full steam ahead as he barged his way up into fourth position, just behind his teammate Lucas Di Grassi who was looking to make his move on Jean-Eric Vergne, who had slipped out of the lead in place of Da Costa.
With instructions to close the gap on the leader, Di Grassi applied the pressure and was asking serious questions of Da Costa who was doing his best to keep the Brazilian from taking the lead.
With Vergne continuing to slow, Rast moved into second and the two Audi’s executed a perfect tag-team manoeuvre to simultaneously overtake Da Costa. The misery was compounded for DS Techeetah as Da Costa also fell behind Edoardo Mortara. It was heartbreak for the team who had done so well to qualify in the top two positions, but their chances of securing a podium were all but over as they continued to fall down the grid.
Championship leader Nyck De Vries was also having a nightmare afternoon after a puncture forced him to pit, putting him right at the back of the grid and well out of point-scoring positions.
The drama continued as Mortara made his way past the two Audi’s to lead the race for the first time and Norman Nato followed suit, pushing his way into second to secure the third front-row lockout of the race.
Rast also seemed to be slowing after his early burst of pace, dropping behind Mitch Evans and Jake Dennis who assumed positions four and five.
As is usually the case with Formula E races, the extra power generated from the Attack Mode is crucial and that was the case once again as Di Grassi used his additional pace to retake second after selling Nato a dummy and overtaking on the outside.
Di Grassi then turned his attention onto the other ROKiT as he hunted down Mortara. Despite some last-gasp defending from Mortara, Di Grassi’s persistence paid off as he retook the lead with a perfectly executed overtake on Turn 5
The order of the top half of the grid continued to chop and change, as Jaguar’s Mitch Evans moved past Nato but in the same move, lost control slightly heading in the bend and giving enough room back to the ROKiT driver to regain his position in third.
Although his time in third was short-lived, Evans still had a few moments of his Attack Mode left and, at Turn 7, shot up the inside and kept control to ensure he stayed ahead of Nato this time.
Nato was determined not to let another place slip, even with Dennis trying to push his way past. The BMW driver was looking to make his move on every corner seemingly, but Nato was assertive in shutting the door each and every time, just as he did to Sam Bird in London last time out. Dennis was audibly frustrated in not being able to get past the Frenchman as he looked to claim another podium finish.
As the race approached the final lap, Mortara threw caution to the wind and pushed Di Grassi right to the limit, but the Brazilian was doing his best to hold on.
As the final corner approached, Mortara dived down the outside of Di Grassi, going right up to the barrier in a desperate effort to squeeze by. The Audi had just enough pace and energy to keep his nose out in front and crossed the line in first place by just a few hundredths of a second.
The victory sealed a dramatic win for Di Grassi and for Audi, in the team’s final race weekend in Formula E.
Behind Di Grassi and Mortara was Mitch Evans, who had managed to hold on to third place, claiming his fifth podium of the season, more than any other driver.
The second-place finish for Mortara lifts him up to second in the Driver’s Championship behind Nyck De Vries, with BMW’s Jake Dennis moving into third and giving him a great chance of winning the Championship in his rookie season. The rest of the top half of the Championship consists of Evans, Frijns, Di Grassi, Da Costa, Bird, Vergne, Lynn, Cassidy, Rast.