AD DIRIYAH, Riyadh: Antonio Felix da Costa praised his BMW garage but said there is still a lot of work for him and the team to do in this year’s Formula E season after winning the inaugural Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday.
Da Costa was on pole from the beginning of the race and led away from the line, despite lining up at the front of the grid pointing toward the outside wall at a dusty and overcast Ad Diriyah circuit.
The Portuguese driver held on for victory ahead of Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Mahindra car.
Da Costa told Arab News that the new “cooler and futuristic” Gen 2 car gives drivers more power, stability and grip, and that there was “a lot to take in” during the race.
“It is a new car, a new track, a new way of racing, (with) ‘Attack Mode’, and I got the ‘Fan Boost’ for the first time, so there were a lot of things to do and as a team and we executed so well, so I think that is why we won today because we were not the quickest car but we just had a perfect race.
“It is amazing, it’s been really tough and long months of work, but I am really happy with that,” da Costa added.
“We definitely have some work to do as the two Techeetah cars were really fast, and even with (Vergne’s) drive through penalty, he was right there at the end.
“But it’s a good start and we’ll keep working on that and try to keep it going,” he added.
When asked about BMW being involved in Formula E as a factory team for the first time, da Costa said: “It hasn’t been easy the last two years, but as I said it has been a lot work between Indianapolis with Andretti and Munich with BMW, it is great to see and I am so happy for everyone back in Munich.”
Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi had the best start on the grid after he blasted by Jose Maria Lopez around the outside of the first corner from third place.
The front four pulled away from the rest of the pack, before Vergne — who started the race in fifth — passed Lopez on lap one of what would become a 33-lap race, with his teammate Andre Lotterer also getting past the Geox Dragon driver.
As da Costa consolidated his lead, Vergne was closing in on Buemi, eventually passing him in a great move around the outside on lap nine. The Frenchman then set about reeling in da Costa, with the Portuguese offering fierce resistance.
Vergne was then forced to serve drive-through penalties – just after he had used his first “attack mode” – for going exceeding the permitted power while using his “re-gen,” which put paid to him getting a victory.
Reigning champion Vergne, while impressed with the venue, was philosophical after the race.
“I was really hungry for a victory today, but the qualifying in the morning did not go as planned.
“Unfortunately, it was a step down from where I wanted to be, I wanted to win this one.
“I had a fantastic car, it was incredibly fast, but a big congratulations to the BMW guys and Antonio, it was a well-deserved victory.
“What I will take as a positive from this weekend is that we have a strong team and a very strong car and I am very motivated.
“Going forward, we just need to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that cost us the win today, but it’s a very encouraging first race and I’m looking forward to Marrakech now.”
On his drive through penalty, he said: “Yes, I had quite a few overtakes on the outside, on the inside, but it was a fun race, I honestly had a lot of fun.
“I’m content with P2 today, and hoping to keep this package (on the car) and hopefully get some victories.” Meanwhile, third-placed d’Ambrosio was delighted with his finish to the race.
“I am super happy, it was a great first race with Mahindra and a great start to the championship, I am lucky to be part of such a great team with some great people.
“I have come from two difficult years, so it’s great to start this new relationship with the team in this way. We worked very hard in the past few months to be ready, I think we were very fast but at the end of the race I didn’t have the confidence in the braking.
“But it makes a great to start to the season, with the podium and banking the points, and we’ll see what happens now.”
When asked about the new “attack mode” in Formula E, he said: “It is great, I actually wasn’t supposed to use it at that point of the race (when I did), but I had a good feeling and I saw Techeetah use it and start to build a gap, so I went for it and when the safety car came in I used it again.”