Formula E in Saudi Arabia: Sam Bird wins 1st free practice in Diriyya, rear-end collision for Rene Rast
Sam Bird (Jaguar) has won the 1st Free Practice of Formula E in Saudi Arabia. The Briton beat his former teammate Jean-Eric Vergne (DS) by a hair's breadth. Mitch Evans and Stoffel Vandoorne in positions 3 and 4 underlined the ambitions of Jaguar and DS at the Diriyya E-Prix. McLaren driver Rene Rast was involved in an early rear-end collision with Vandoorne..
The 1st free practice session began with a fluctuation in tension: when the traffic lights at the end of the pit lane turned green at 4 p.m. German time, the lights briefly went out. Fortunately only for a moment, after all the opening session was already taking place after sunset. Beforehand, there had been a remarkable amount of light rain in Diriyya - isolated drops could still be seen on the cameras. After a good four minutes, race control tested full-course yellow as usual.
Rene Rast and McLaren did not get off to a good start: the German clashed with Stoffel Vandoorne's DS Penske while trying to overtake: the reigning champion wanted to pull onto the inside lane to let Rast past, but a rear-end collision occurred. In the process, Rast damaged the nose of his e-racing car and had to return to the pits to change the front wing. The early best time in the first few minutes was held by his teammate Jake Hughes.
After the first third of the session, Sebastien Buemi set a new best mark, but was undercut a little later by Hughes, Vandoorne and Jake Dennis. Times were in the low 1:11s at this stage. By comparison, the track record at Diriyya is held by Nyck de Vries with a time of 1:06.835. A brief moment of shock was provided by Edo Mortara, who braked and steered into a run-off zone.
DS Penske & Nio 333 stake claim
At the halfway point of the session, Jean-Eric Vergne set a new fastest lap. Nio 333 driver Sergio Sette Camara sorted himself into 2nd position just behind. Then Vandoorne was fastest again. After the disappointing start to the season in Mexico, DS Penske vehemently announced its claims for the Diriyya E-Prix. Also in the top 10 at the time were Jaguar drivers Sam Bird and Mitch Evans, as well as Nico Müller (ABT) and Pascal Wehrlein (Porsche).
ABT debutant Kelvin van der Linde, a replacement for the injured Robin Frijns, was the only driver who had not yet completed a competitive lap. This was only to change after a good 20 minutes. Shortly before, Dan Ticktum in the second Nio 333 had taken the lead. Nissan youngster Sacha Fenestraz also impressed with a good lap. Even faster, however, were Hughes and Buemi, who climbed up the standings.
There were more improvements in the final minutes: First, once again champion Vandoorne took the lead. Then his teammate Vergne was almost three-tenths of a second faster. Bird, however, was able to take another tenth off the Frenchman - the new benchmark. Teammate Evans moved up to fourth - the two DS thus in the Jaguar sandwich for the time being.
Then time ran out. Evans still improved to position 3, with Nick Cassidy fifth ahead of Ticktum. Thursday's only session, however, went to Bird. That leaves Jaguar and DS Penske as the favorites going into the first day of racing, as the two longstanding manufacturers settled the top four positions between them.
It's worth noting that the FP1 best time was still around four seconds slower than Nyck de Vries' Gen2 track record. But: in a direct sector comparison to the 1st Free Practice 2022, the Gen3 car was 0.247 seconds faster. The 2nd Free Practice starts on Friday at 11:30 am - to follow in the Livestream and Liveticker on e-Formel.de..