A big weekend in New York City was wrapped up with a commanding drive and win by Jaguar Racing’s Sam Bird, completing an epic journey from zero to hero; and to the top of the Drivers’ World Championship after two races on the streets of Brooklyn.
Many, including possibly himself, had dialed down his title hopes but his Round 11 victory has thrown him and the team right back into the mix. Bird’s weekend couldn't have started off any worse.
A crash in Free Practice 1 on his first push lap left his car in pieces and required a major repair job from the team. He missed Free Practice 2 and only made the qualifying Parc Ferme cut off – the time at which the car must be finished and built ready for the session – by just six seconds. Even with the monumental effort from the team, the car’s setup wasn't there and qualifying did not go well.
At such a crucial point of the season, the Brit was determined to make good of the weekend, starting with a phenomenal battle in Round 10 from 20th spot on the grid to ninth, the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap and points.
His tenacity didn't stop there, and sensing he potentially had the quickest car on the grid in Red Hook – especially with time to work on setup for Sunday’s race – Bird saw an opportunity to put things right in the best possible way. Duly, he stormed to pole position and dominated Round 11 on the way to victory, rejuvenating his and Jaguar’s championship hopes heading to their home race in London.
“It's about bouncebackability,” said Bird. “It’s about never giving up. always pushing with the team, always believing in yourself, believing in the equipment underneath you and just executing a good plan and we did that just absolutely perfectly today – I’m so proud of everybody.”
It could have been even better for Jaguar, too. A front row lock-out for race two with Mitch Evans lining up just 0.090 seconds behind Bird.
Just a few laps from the end of Round 11 and the team looked to be on for a storming double podium but intense pressure from a train of cars behind the Kiwi forced Evans into making a mistake that caused damage which saw him fall from second to 13th. Fine margins and flashbacks to Monaco with the three-way battle between the Jaguar, Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns and the DS TECHEETAH of eventual winner there, reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa – which also ended in heartbreak for Evans at the last.
After holding station despite a poor weekend in Puebla, reigning Teams’ champions DS TECHEETAH has reinforced its goal of reclaiming the title after sealing two podiums in New York City.
Jean-Eric Vergne finished second in Round 10 while looking mighty quick and defending champion da Costa wound up third in Round 11. The Portuguese now sits second in the championship level on points with Robin Frijns and DS hold second in the Teams’ table just two points off the lead.
After Round 10, things looked handy for Vergne. The Frenchman has fond memories of New York City – a place where he’s been crowned champion twice. It wasn't to be this time around, though, as technical trouble saw him unable to leave the grid, leaving Vergne watching the rest race off into the distance at lights out.
WATCH: Highlights of the ABB New York City E-Prix Round 10
JEV was philosophical post-race. “We need to keep in mind you know the bigger goal here which is to win the championship and it works today, with second. I'm going to take those points and they will count at the end of the of the season.
In Round 11, da Costa’s showed his class once again in climbing up four places to secure a podium position, offsetting the loss of Vergne in the same way that it was done for da Costa the day before.
“Yesterday we had a tough day,” said the champion post-race two. “It's things like this when we stand back up after tough days that really defines us and I still have the need to prove myself in coming back from a tough day, and I'm really happy that we put down the hours of work last night before going home.”
Three podiums in the last five races for Envision Virgin Racing; two from rookie Nick Cassidy, who is well and truly making his mark in Formula E. Even without a win this season, the points-scoring of podiums from both drivers leaves them top of the Teams’ table and the highest driver pairing in the Drivers' standings sitting third, and fifth.
Even though he lost the win and a podium from pole position in the first of the New York City races, Cassidy can hold his head high after the great performance in Round 11.
“I had dinner with Antonio earlier in the week and he said, look, this is how you drive a Formula E car and I took it on board!” joked Cassidy. “I think that the speed has been there more or less all year, and I needed to put the days together. I'm learning and have still got a lot to learn, but I think I'm getting better at it.”
It was always a matter of time based on what we'd seen earlier in the season, so it's no surprise that once it clicked, Cassidy would soon become the highest-scoring rookie, mixing it up in the top five with Formula E veterans.
The pace of the Envision Virgin Racing car is so impressive. The amassed podiums are testament to that but also in the ability to make up position after position during the races in a championship and grid as tight as this one; something Robin Frijns proved again in both of the New York City races with a run from 11th to fifth in Round 10 and 21st to eighth in Round 11.
Maximilian Guenther showed a return to race-winning form in Round 10 thanks to an opportunistic overtake, some exceptional patience and energy management prowess to move from fourth to first.
“I was managing the race quite well,” said the German. “I had more energy than the two guys in front of me but it was not so easy today to overtake – nor was fighting with Nick (Cassidy) for the win. They both went wide in the in the happen and then I got this gap and I went for it and this meant P1 for us.”
The win couldn't have come at a better time, either at a home race for BMW i Andretti Motorsport team, and with the team boss Michael Andretti watching from the garage. It’s not hugely instrumental in the championship narrative, but great timing for Guenther going into the driver contract silly season where his future in Formula E is currently unknown.
New York City was another reminder of how crazily unpredictable this championship can be. The driver who is leading by 10 points going into the weekend, Edoardo Mortara (ROKiT Venturi Racing) leaves nine points behind the leader. One of the favourites after the first few rounds, Mercedes-EQ, has only managed to score eight points in its last six races.
DON'T MISS A MINUTE: Sync your calendar and get ready for the Heineken London E-Prix
The story is constantly evolving heading to London on July 24 & 25. Thirteen points separate the top 6 in the Drivers’ World Championship, led by Bird, da Costa and Robin Frijns while just five points split the top three teams; Envision Virgin Racing, DS TECHEETAH and Jaguar Racing.