Formula E in Saudi Arabia: Nissan driver Oliver Rowland wins 1st free practice
Nissan driver Oliver Rowland surprisingly won the 1st free practice session of Formula E in Diriyah. In a series of lap time improvements on the final lap, he managed to drive the fastest lap. The two DS drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne followed in positions 2 and 3. The session had been interrupted after a technical fault with Sebastien Buemis car.
The first session of the race weekend, which always starts on Thursday in Diriyah, began as usual with a full-course yellow practice. Porsche was back in its usual black, white and red livery. After the first five minutes, Mitch Evans led the field ahead of Antonio Felix da Costa. The best time in the first free practice session in 2023 was 1:10.402 minutes (Sam Bird) - the current lap times were still a long way off that. The track record at that time was still held by Jake Hughes (1:08.680).
The track was already noticeably faster in the first ten minutes. After the first third of FP1, there was a Porsche one-two lead: championship leader Pascal Wehrlein ahead of Felix da Costa. Andretti driver Jake Dennis then slipped between the two - good early form for the Porsche cars.
Shortly after the halfway point, the first incident occurred: Sebastien Buemi came to a halt on the track for no apparent reason and was unable to move his car himself. Race director Scot Elkins interrupted the practice session with a red flag. The Swiss driver reported an odour of burning under braking to his Envision team. "I think that's it for me." His car also reported an "unsafe" condition with a red LED.
Times tumble in the final phase
After a break of around twelve minutes, during which Buemi's car was towed away and apparently brought back to the pit lane for further investigation, the race continued. Race director Elkins had extended the session by ten minutes, so there were a good 13 minutes left on the clock. Jean-Eric Vergne was in the lead at this point, but the two Jaguar drivers Evans and Nick Cassidy undercut him with the very first attempts.
As the track got steadily faster, the lead changed hands frequently. Wehrlein led the standings five minutes before the end. There were eight different teams in the Top 9. Then the two DS Penske drivers also made their way into the leading group, directly into first and second place. There were further improvements in the final minute.
The fastest lap of the session was set by Oliver Rowland in the Mahindra (1:15:400 minutes)! Behind him were the two DS cars of Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne. Dennis and Sergio Sette Camara completed the top five, with the ERT driver beating Jagar driver Evans and the two Porsche works drivers. There was even contact between Felix da Costa and Rowland in the "Esses" because neither of them wanted to let the other past.
The 2nd free practice session for the Diriyah E-Prix will take place on Friday at 11am (CET). The first of two night races will start at 6pm (CET).