HONG KONG (Reuters) – Sam Bird won Formula E’s season-opening race in Hong Kong on Saturday despite the Briton being forced to serve a drive-through penalty after crashing his all-electric DS-Virgin Racing car in the pit lane.
The 30-year-old claimed a sixth career win by 11.575 seconds from pole winner Jean-Eric Vergne following the incident when switching to his second car.
Bird was penalized for not stopping in the garage, but retained his lead after his drive-through as season four of the series began in dramatic fashion around the harbourside streets.
“That was very stressful,” said the driver, who had to see stewards afterwards and will have a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s second race.
”I‘m finding it hard to process what happened as it’s not very often you win after a drive-through penalty in FE. I’m amazed to have won really.
“I thought I’d come out P7 (seventh) or P8 and I got on the radio asking what position I was in. They said ‘You’re in P1, keep going’…I never expected we’d dominate round one, but I’ll take that.”
Bird took the lead just before his pit-stop on the 43-lap race, cutting past Vergne’s Techeetah car at a chicane on the 1.86km circuit.
But he overshot his stop and rammed into the side of the Virgin garage, forcing a couple of team personnel to jump out of the way.
The short pit lane helped him emerge just ahead of Vergne and Germany’s Nick Heidfeld, who were scrapping for second place.
“I hit quite a lot going into the garage,” Bird added. “The pit-lane is really filthy dirty and I tried to attack my pit-box as they have given us an almost impossible amount of time to do the pit-stop. But the car just went straight.”
Frenchman Vergne, a former Toro Rosso Formula One driver who claimed his maiden win in season three’s finale in Montreal, struggled with a lack of information about his energy levels but held onto second place.
“This race was my most difficult,” he said. “Finishing second is more like a win for us. For the long term thinking of the championship sometimes you have to finish second, third or fourth and just take the points.”
The series’ had its first red flag in 35 races after a four-car log-jam on the opening lap and the race was suspended for more than 30 minutes before resuming under the safety car.
Editing by Alan Baldwin and Ed Osmond