ROME – Jean-Eric Vergne of DS TECHEETAH picked his moments perfectly to drive from fifth to victory in the opening race of the Rome E-Prix doubleheader around the streets of the EUR District.
A safety car start was deemed necessary in the mixed conditions – drizzle in the air and sections of the track slimy with a good covering of water.
With five minutes gone, the pack was released to race and Porsche’s Andre Lotterer immediately tried to make a move stick on leader Stoffel Vandoorne as Sam Bird made his way into ninth into turn four.
The Porsche and the Mercedes-EQ came together as Vandoorne closed the door, and Nissan e.dams’ Oliver Rowland was able to profit as the lead pair tumbled down the order – Vandoorne to 13th, Lotterer recovering to seventh.
The circuit remained slick in places, with patches of Tarmac holding puddles and forcing drivers off-line to find grip, while 10 seconds split the top 15 runners – no room for error.
The race leader was handed a drive-through penalty for using too much power – with the car perhaps spiking over 200kW thanks to one of the circuit’s many bumps and undulations. Unfortunate for the Brit, but di Grassi accepted the gift and first position with open arms.
With half an hour plus one lap on the clock, di Grassi had Vergne’s DS TECHEETAH bolted to his diffuser. Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns had steered his way into third, with Robin de Vries, Porsche’s Pascal Wehrlein and teammate Lotterer rounding out the top six.
The only runner to have taken their first Attack Mode activation inside the top 10 was Vandoorne, sitting ninth with nine laps gone. The move off-line through the activation zone is particularly punitive at the Marconi Obelisk Hairpin in Rome and no driver wanted to be the first to blink with four seconds between the top-10 runners.
The white and black Porsches were locked in combat with the two green and black Jaguars for fifth place, with Bird heading Mitch Evans and right on the back of the Stuttgart squad’s driver pairing. Bird made yet more progress with a move beyond Lotterer’s damaged Porsche for sixth a lap later – four spots gained for the Brit.
Vergne was the first to blink and take that initial dose of Attack Mode. He found a little pocket of space ahead of Bird in fifth and snatched fourth almost immediately from Wehrlein to keep up his forward momentum after sweeping through that tricky Attack Mode activation zone.
Jumping first was brave, and the right thing to do as it happened. Vergne fell into space, made up ground and hunted down the race leader – and duly made it by di Grassi when the Audi leapt through the Attack Mode zone.
Inside the last twenty minutes plus a lap, Frijns was now hounding race leader Vergne with Attack Mode in-hand. The Frenchman’s DS TECHEETAH would need to be wide with everyone else in the top 10 still in ATTACK MODE with that 35kW boost.
Into the last quarter hour, and Vergne was once again the first of the lead pack to jump for his second compulsory Attack Mode activation.
Once it had all shaken out, the DS man had again made it work – dispatching de Vries who’d briefly taken the race lead. A coming-together between de Vries and di Grassi as the Audi scrambled to follow through meant the DS could scuttle clear at the head of the pack.
Bird’s progress continued, selling the dummy on former teammate Frijns and hounding and dispatching Vandoorne for fourth spot with 10 minutes plus one lap left on the clock. Bird the last of the late brakers, as ever and that wouldn’t temper Vandoorne’s handy recovery too much. The Jaguar man made it by de Vries for third, too, with another late dive out of nowhere on lap 19.
On lap 20, di Grassi sent a move on leader Vergne at turn four to pinch first. He wasn’t able to get away, though, and on lap 21 he slowed with a terminal technical issue on the way up the hill. The chasing pack had to take evasive action with the two Mercedes’ coming together – Vandoorne spat out from fourth in a spin and into the barriers at pace.
The race effectively ended there, behind the safety car with Vergne heading home Bird, who’d climbed from 10th spot, fellow Jaguar driver Evans, who’d clambered up from 13th, Frijns and Sébastien Buemi.
“Today was the first race weekend with the new powertrain and it felt really good,” said Vergne. “The team did a great job to fix the car in time for the race after FP1. My engineer was very good in giving me directions on energy management and Attack Mode. I had very good management during the race and it was a question of making of the most of the energy reduction. When Lucas tried to overtake me I didn’t stop him because I knew we had more energy and there was a long way to go. I knew that I could’ve taken him.”