DIRIYAH, Saudi Arabia – Sam Bird got the better of Robin Frijns to earn his first victory with Jaguar Racing during round two of the Formula E season on Saturday at the Riyadh Street Circuit.
A red flag for a violent crash five minutes from the scheduled end of the race brought things to a premature end, handing Bird the win and forcing Frijins to settle for second.
Antonio Felix da Costa completed the podium in third after teammate Jean-Eric Vergne was hit with a massive 24-second post-race penalty for failing to use his second Attack Mode activation.
Frijns got away cleanly from pole to fend off Sette Camara into turn one. Bird immediately challenged Camara driver to take second on the inside of turn two.
Da Costa banged wheels with Nico Mueller and Sebastien Buemi further back as they battled for eighth.
Bird was biding his time behind Frijns as Camara, Oliver Turvey, Mueller, Tom Blomqvist, Vergne, Da Costa, Buemi and Nick Cassidy completed the top 10.
On lap five Vergne pounced on an error by Blomqvist to take sixth and the Brit fell to eighth a lap later. Meanwhile, Buemi and Cassidy diced for ninth, with the Swiss taking the spot with a regulation pass into turn 18.
The lead pair drew out two seconds on Camara in third, with Turvey running fourth with Mueller kept at an arm’s length. Meanwhile, the two DS TECHEETAHs hunted in packs as the Frenchman jumped for Attack Mode with his teammate following.
Mueller was first to fall to Vergne on lap 10 and the double Formula E champion was on a charge. Turvey succumbed shortly afterwards as the DS driver climbed into fourth – now comfortably the fastest man on track.
Frijns was next to dive for his first mandatory Attack Mode activation and importantly, he was able to hold off Camara to keep close to new race leader Bird, who used that initial 35kW boost to go off-line to cross the Attack Mode loop.
The Dutchman reeled in Bird to pass the Brit into turn 18 as the Jaguar went for Attack Mode. It didn’t work out for the experienced Formula E racer, with Bird also temporarily losing third Camara, allowing Frijns to pull out a two-second gap on lap 14.
At the half-way mark, Vergne’s charge continued with another pass for third, this time on Camara, just as Jake Denniswas crunched by Pascal Wehrlein’s Porsche, which drew a caution.
Bird had found his way beyond Frijns for the race lead just prior to cautino, with the latter heading for Attack Mode number two but once again, the Virgin racer was able to bite back – despite Frijns saying he was over-consuming energy over team radio.
Bird tried to return the favor, and with the leader having to go on the defensive, the two DS TECHEETAHs were brought into play with Da Costa now leading Vergne in third and fourth, respectively, with 17 minutes plus a lap to run.
On Lap 22, Bird did make that move at turn 18 stick, while the two DS’ came to blows at turn 21. Vergne came out on top in third but the pair of black and gold cars were now 2.2 seconds back from the leaders after their disagreement.
Two laps later, Bird led Frijns by .8 seconds and held onto that advantage through his second Attack Mode activation. Contact between Guenther and Evans ultimately caused the end of the race via a red flag leaving Bird to take the checkers ahead of Frijns, Vergne, Da Costa and Cassidy.
Twenty-four second penalties for Vergne and Rast followed the chequered flag, however, as neither used their second Attack Mode activation.
“I was a bit emotional in the car,” Bird said after the race. “It was a big move and a big step for me moving away from what was my family in Envision Virgin Racing to join Jaguar Racing, but they’ve welcomed me with open arms and I’m pleased to deliver this win. The whole point of the opening two rounds was to come here and score decent points and if you’d said I’d come away with 25 points, I’d have taken that. Robin was so respectful and a pleasure to race against which is exactly what you’d expect of his calibre. It was really, really good.”