Antonio Felix da Costa wins the Formula E Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia
Portuguese racer wins inaugural race ahead of defending champion Jean-Eric Vergne and Felipe Massa
Antonio Felix da Costa took victory in a dramatic dash to the finish in the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday, in the first round of the all-electric racing series' fifth season and the debut of the series in the kingdom.
But it was far from straightforward for Portuguese pole-sitter Da Costa 27, racing for BMW i Andretti Motorsport at the 2.5km track close to Riyadh.
The key moment of the afternoon arrived after Geox Dragon Racing's Jose Maria Lopez, running in second, missed the off-racing-line activation zone for attack mode on 31 minutes of the 45-minute plus one lap race.
Less than three minutes later, Lopez, pushing hard to regain the place he lost to Mahindra Racing's Jerome d'Ambrosio as a result of his error, was out after a mechanical failure, and his parked Dragon led to a safety car deployment with 10 minutes remaining.
The slowed field was bunched up until three-and-a-half minutes left, leaving a sprint to the finish.
Da Costa's closest rival was defending champion Jean-Eric Vergne, of the DS Techeetah team, who had previously scythed up from fifth on the grid to lead after 18 minutes
Vergne had taken second with a bold overtaking move approaching turn 18 on the outside of Nissan e.dams' Sebastien Buemi after 10 minutes of racing. And he repeated the manoeuvre on Da Costa eight minutes later.
But Vergne picked up a drive-through penalty after 28 minutes for a technical infringement, allowing Da Costa to regain the lead, and although he climbed back to second by the time the safety car arrived, he was unable to regain the lead in the closing seconds.
D'Ambrosio completed the podium in third, although his Mahindra teammate Felix Rosenqvist's last race for the team before leaving for IndyCar ended in retirement.
Former Formula One star Felipe Massa, starting from 19th on the grid driving for Venturi on his Formula E debut, pushed his way up to 10th in the opening laps, but eventually finished 14th.
It was an underwhelming start to the campaign for last season's constructors top dogs Audi, with Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi in eighth and ninth places respectively.
New team HWA Racelab endured a humbling introduction to Formula E, meanwhile, with recent F1 departee Stoffel Vandoorne languishing in 17th and his teammate Gary Paffett failing to finish.
It was the first Formula E race with the new Gen2 cars, which boast extra power from the previous season, and a host of other rule changes adding to the excitement, including switching to a fresh timed format for the showpiece event.
Last season saw drivers switch cars midway through each race to reach full race distance, but improved batteries now mean Formula E operates without a car change.
Another innovation to enter the sport is “attack mode”, which allows drivers small windows of 25kW power boosts, indicated to the crowds when activated by the new halo on the Gen2 cars glowing blue.
The Ad Diriyah E-Prix was attended by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as celebrities including England football all-time top scorer Wayne Rooney, while concerts from the likes of Black Eyes Peas and Enrique Iglesias attracted large crowds.
To coincide with the historic weekend, historic Saudi Arabian landmark At-Turaif was reopened to the public for the first time since gaining Unesco World Heritage Site status in 2010.
Updated: December 16, 2018 12:50 PM