Formula E had come to London hoping it would deliver a spectacular finish to a season that has visited 10 cities over nine months. The last meeting was a double-header over two days and Battersea Park delivered in style.
After an absolute thriller of a final round, Nelson Piquet Jr did enough to claim the inaugural FE championship title after a race that had swung between him and his title rival, Sébastien Buemi. In fact, it was not decided until the last corner. And then there was the added delight for the home fans as Britain’s Sam Bird won the race itself.
It is the first title Piquet has won since taking the British Formula 3 Championship in 2004 and an achievement to relish since his nadir when, under what he claimed were team orders, he deliberately crashed his Renault at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to give an advantage to his team-mate Fernando Alonso, who went on to win the race.
And it was no easy task on the 1.81-mile circuit in Battersea Park. He had started well down the grid but made up places from the start and when Buemi spun on lap 16 that meant fifth place was the best he could manage – Piquet’s seventh was enough to claim the title by a single point.
It was the climax to an extremely close season. Buemi has the most wins with three but Piquet was just that little bit more consistent in top-five finishes. “It was not only a tough year but such a tough weekend,” he said. “We pushed really hard, we had a perfect strategy. I knew we had nothing to lose, I knew I had to push and drive the best I could, and luck was on our side a little bit.”
Buemi started much further up the grid than his rivals. FE qualifying is divided into four groups and Buemi, in the second of them, encountered only light rain, while Piquet and Lucas di Grassi, following later as the third contender for the title, had to cope with a much wetter track. Buemi made it to sixth place, with Di Grassi in 11th and Piquet in 16th.
On a circuit where overtaking is tricky at best and with the championship finely poised – with Piquet on 138 points, to Buemi’s 133 and Di Grassi’s 125 – it was as intriguing a grid as one could wish for.
“Getting into this position today was hectic,” said Piquet. “I needed to keep calm the whole race. The team wouldn’t tell me anything, that was part of our briefing. Don’t ask questions, just go for it.”
Equally Buemi not only had track position but also the momentum having won the first round of the event on Saturday, in a controlled, clean run that saw him go from pole to the chequered flag. It had cut the championship lead Piquet enjoyed from 23 points to five, and shifted him from third to second in the title race, setting up the dramatic final round on Sunday. Surely a strong finish was all the Swiss driver needed?
Initially he had that, making up a place on the first lap but although Piquet made four himself, the numbers remained against him. With Stéphane Sarrazin still leading the race from pole, Piquet had not done enough when the pit stops were taken on lap 15, although he had held back on his energy usage to stay out one lap longer.
While he was in, Buemi, on cold tyres, overcooked it into turn three and lost a place, and the race was transformed, not least in that the sons and relatives of F1 champions were suddenly everywhere that counted. Piquet exited the pits and suddenly had to dice with Nicolas Prost but after a brief safety-car period, Piquet’s Nextev TCR team-mate Oliver Turvey let him past and the Brazilian promptly mugged Salvador Durán to take eighth. With seven laps to go it left Buemi up the road in sixth clearly aware that he would have to pass Aryton Senna’s nephew, Bruno, to take the title.
He did his best and the two points on offer for the fastest lap made furious calculations the order of the day – had Buemi put in a lap good enough it would have changed the result – but passing Senna was key and although he crawled all over the back of him, right down to taking a dive through the chicane at turn 14 on the final lap, he could not pass.
Bird, who started in fourth and had driven a fine race, had done the same to Sarrazin for the final laps but equally could not squeeze through. The latter took the flag but Bird’s pressure had caused him to overuse his electrical energy allocation and he was hit with a drive-through converted to a 49-second penalty that promoted the British driver to the top step.
Buemi’s fifth was, one would have expected before the race, to have been enough to give him the title, but it was not enough to prevent the great Nelson’s son proving he too has a winning touch. Although he did not realise it until he had got out of his car. “I only know I won the championship when the commentator told me,” he said.
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