Britain’s Sam Bird won the opening round of the ABB Formula E Championship in Diriyah on Friday, beating off the challenge of Porsche’s Andre Lotterer and Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoorne to take the chequered flag for Envision Virgin Racing.
Bird, who had to fight for his victory during a race in which dusty conditions tested the grip of the cars and the bravery of the drivers, came from fifth on the grid to take the win.
The victory continued the British driver’s record of winning an E-Prix in every single season of the Formula E championship since its inception in 2014. The win was also Bird’s ninth in Formula E, the third most of any driver.
Bird put his win down to his pre-season transformation, saying on the podium: “The team did an amazing job in the off-season — it is an amazing car.
“Last year was difficult and I went through a bit of a transformation. I did a lot of thinking and mental stuff — I’m fitter than ever before, and had massive weight loss. The team has learned a lot as well,” he added.
The 32-year-old driver showed that the independent Envision Virgin team are not in the championship to make up the numbers and has a car with serious speed coming into the new season.
Much of the pre-race talk was about the entrance of Porsche and Mercedes into the series — which now make up part of a German quartet of teams with BMW and Audi — and whether defending back-to-back champion Jean-Eric Vergne could get his bid to become a three-time winner off to a good start.
But Vergne started well down the grid after a poor qualifying session and retired from the race, while it was the British Envision team that took the glory ahead of their German rivals.
Porsche and Mercedes will have been happy with their first day’s work in Formula E, however, with Lotterer and Vandoorne’s podium finishes.
The two rookie teams said before the weekend that they would need time to adjust and make an impact in the championship, but Mercedes in particular had a dream start having seen two of their drivers qualify in second and third on the grid in the pre-race session.
The drivers get a second chance at glory when round two of the championship and second day of the Diriyah E-Prix gets under way today.
Saudi Arabia is hosting the first two rounds of the championship this weekend at the UNESCO World Heritage Site circuit, as part of the month-long Diriyah Season.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman opened the event during a flypast by race sponsors Saudi Arabian Airlines and the Royal Saudi Air Force.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, General Sports Authority chairman, said: “Once again Formula E makes history in the Kingdom with its biggest race ever, more cars, more drivers and more action. And once again the Diriyah Circuit has proven it is one of the finest Formula E tracks in the world.
“Saudi Arabia has taken this event to our hearts and it is now a calendar event for the Kingdom, one which everyone looks forward to. My congratulations to Sam Bird and my thanks to all the drivers for giving us such a thrilling day of action.
“Now they have to prepare to do it all again,” he added.
Earlier in the day Saudi Arabia’s Reema Juffali made history becoming the first woman to compete in the Kingdom, driving in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the Formula E championship.
After a respectable qualifying lap, the young racer from Jeddah finished her first-ever electric street race having climbed up to eighth place before focusing on crossing the finish line.
Waving at a cheering crowd as she completed her first race in the Kingdom, a smiling Juffali may have finished at the back of the pack but that did not dampen her joy at fulfilling a dream.
“Many (people) are surprised by all the changes happening in Saudi.
“Seeing me in a car, racing, for a lot of people it is a surprise, but I am happy to surprise people,” she said.
Prince Abdulaziz touted her achievement as a “watershed” moment for the Kingdom.
“Reema will have thousands cheering her on as a professional racing driver,” he said.