Diriyah Formula E: Bird fastest in practice as season gets underway

Alex Kalinauckas
Bird fastest as FE season gets underway
Bird fastest as FE season gets underway

Envision Virgin Racing's Sam Bird set the fast time across the practice sessions for the 2019-20 Formula E season-opening Diriyah E-Prix, as drivers struggled with the new low-grip surface.

As Autosport reported on Thursday, the sand sitting on top of the new asphalt at the Riyadh track created very low-grip conditions - which were exaggerated by the low temperatures at the start of the day on Friday.

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In FP1, which was topped by Bird's Virgin team-mate Robin Frijns on a 1m16.137s, NIO 333 driver Ma Qing Hua crashed on his out-lap - bringing out the session's first red flag.

Bird fastest as FE season gets underway
Bird fastest as FE season gets underway

Brendon Hartley (Dragon) later caused the session's second practice red flag when he lost the rear of his car at the looping left of Turn 4 after running over a crumbling asphalt patch and clouting the wall with the left-rear of his car and breaking its suspension.

Ahead of FP2, the wall on the inside of Turn 4 was moved further onto the track to cover up a manhole cover - which had been added to improve drainage at the track following the wet weather that affected the inaugural event last year - where the asphalt was breaking apart.

That change meant the 30-minute second session started with the first two laps - around four minutes in duration - run under full-course yellow conditions.

When the drivers were allowed to return to normal speeds, they were severely struggling for grip all the way around the lap - with the sandy surface off-line particularly perilous.

New DS Techeetah recruit Antonio Felix da Costa, Bird, Oliver Rowland (Nissan e.dams) and Mercedes driver Stoffel Vandoorne all enjoyed time at the head of the standings during the early running, during which laps were slower than Frijns's best from FP1.

But just after halfway through FP2, Bird set a time of 1m16.033s to usurp his team-mate's lap from the day's initial 45-minute running, before Frijns hit back with the first sub 1m16s effort - a 1m15.824s.

That remained the benchmark until the closing moments of FP2, where a flurry of fast times were set.

Rowland and his Nissan team-mate Sebastien Buemi both took hold of top spot before Venturi Racing's Edoardo Mortara moved ahead and looked to have that position locked down when the chequered flag fell.

But Bird was among the drivers still on a flying lap and he shot back to the top spot with a 1m14.353s - the only sub 1m15s lap of the session.

That put Bird 0.949 seconds clear of the pack, before da Costa arrived to trim his advantage to 0.794s with a 1m15.147s.

Mortara held onto third ahead of Buemi and Rowland, with Daniel Abt (Audi) and Mahindra Racing's Jerome D'Ambrosio taking sixth and seventh ahead of Frijns.

Porsche driver Andre Lotterer and Pascal Wehrlein (Mahindra) rounded out the top 10.

Reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne finished 11th in FP2, but had a bizarre end to the session when he clipped the back of Alexander Sims's BMW-Andretti-run car at Turn 18 - the race's first corner - on his final flying lap.

Sims ended the session in 14th ahead of Jaguar's Mitch Evans, who also lost out due to an incident at Turn 18.

Evans looked set to jump up the order when he encountered Nyck de Vries and Buemi battling for track position at the left-hander and had to back out of his lap.

Mercedes pair Vandoorne and de Vries sandwiched the second Porsche-run car of Neel Jani, with that trio 19th, 20th and 21st.

Bird fastest as FE season gets underway
Bird fastest as FE season gets underway

James Calado ended up 22nd for Jaguar but he also looked set to improve before being hampered by an issue in traffic.

As Calado approach the right-hand kink of Turn 20 he encountered Abt running slowly on the racing line and had to take the corner wider than usual, going onto the slippery off-line route and striking the wall on the exit, picking up a puncture.

Calado returned to the track at the end of session, with Ma making a brief FP2 appearance late-on to take P23.

Hartley did get out early in FP2 after repairs were made to his car, but he came in again without setting a representative time after reporting braking issues.

FP1 times

Pos

Driver

Team

Car

Time

Gap

Laps

1

Robin Frijns

Virgin

Audi

1m16.137s

-

21

2

Nico Muller

Dragon

Penske

1m17.401s

1.264s

20

3

Sam Bird

Virgin

Audi

1m17.561s

1.424s

21

4

Stoffel Vandoorne

Mercedes

Mercedes

1m17.693s

1.556s

19

5

Sebastien Buemi

e.dams

Nissan

1m17.847s

1.710s

20

6

Antonio Felix da Costa

DS Techeetah

DS

1m17.996s

1.859s

22

7

Mitch Evans

Jaguar

Jaguar

1m18.347s

2.210s

22

8

Daniel Abt

Audi

Audi

1m18.406s

2.269s

19

9

Nyck de Vries

Mercedes

Mercedes

1m18.426s

2.289s

20

10

Lucas di Grassi

Audi

Audi

1m18.441s

2.304s

18

11

Jerome d'Ambrosio

Mahindra

Mahindra

1m18.581s

2.444s

22

12

Felipe Massa

Venturi

Mercedes

1m18.618s

2.481s

21

13

Edoardo Mortara

Venturi

Mercedes

1m18.749s

2.612s

18

14

Alexander Sims

BMW

BMW

1m18.839s

2.702s

21

15

Andre Lotterer

Porsche

Porsche

1m18.873s

2.736s

18

16

Oliver Turvey

NIO

NIO

1m19.185s

3.048s

20

17

Jean-Eric Vergne

DS Techeetah

DS

1m19.310s

3.173s

18

18

Neel Jani

Porsche

Porsche

1m19.327s

3.190s

20

19

Oliver Rowland

e.dams

Nissan

1m20.045s

3.908s

16

20

Max Guenther

BMW

BMW

1m20.303s

4.166s

20

21

James Calado

Jaguar

Jaguar

1m20.701s

4.564s

21

22

Brendon Hartley

Dragon

Penske

1m21.536s

5.399s

15

23

Ma Qing Hua

NIO

NIO

-

-

1

24

Pascal Wehrlein

Mahindra

Mahindra

-

-

8

FP2 times

Pos

Driver

Team

Car

Time

Gap

Laps

1

Sam Bird

Virgin

Audi

1m14.353s

-

14

2

Antonio Felix da Costa

DS Techeetah

DS

1m15.147s

0.794s

17

3

Edoardo Mortara

Venturi

Mercedes

1m15.302s

0.949s

16

4

Sebastien Buemi

e.dams

Nissan

1m15.329s

0.976s

18

5

Oliver Rowland

e.dams

Nissan

1m15.430s

1.077s

19

6

Daniel Abt

Audi

Audi

1m15.446s

1.093s

15

7

Jerome d'Ambrosio

Mahindra

Mahindra

1m15.578s

1.225s

16

8

Robin Frijns

Virgin

Audi

1m15.824s

1.471s

14

9

Andre Lotterer

Porsche

Porsche

1m15.961s

1.608s

17

10

Pascal Wehrlein

Mahindra

Mahindra

1m15.962s

1.609s

19

11

Jean-Eric Vergne

DS Techeetah

DS

1m16.019s

1.666s

15

12

Felipe Massa

Venturi

Mercedes

1m16.166s

1.813s

17

13

Lucas di Grassi

Audi

Audi

1m16.582s

2.229s

17

14

Alexander Sims

BMW

BMW

1m16.609s

2.256s

13

15

Mitch Evans

Jaguar

Jaguar

1m16.765s

2.412s

15

16

Max Guenther

BMW

BMW

1m16.871s

2.518s

17

17

Nico Muller

Dragon

Penske

1m16.919s

2.566s

11

18

Oliver Turvey

NIO

NIO

1m17.119s

2.766s

14

19

Stoffel Vandoorne

Mercedes

Mercedes

1m17.340s

2.987s

16

20

Neel Jani

Porsche

Porsche

1m17.474s

3.121s

19

21

Nyck de Vries

Mercedes

Mercedes

1m17.998s

3.645s

17

22

James Calado

Jaguar

Jaguar

1m19.843s

5.490s

15

23

Ma Qing Hua

NIO

NIO

1m24.830s

10.477s

5

24

Brendon Hartley

Dragon

Penske

-

-

2

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