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Bird beats penalty to win Formula E opener in Hong Kong

Sam Bird, Virgin Racing, Formula E
© FIA Formula E media site

Virgin Racing's Sam Bird emerged triumphant in the first Formula E race of the 2017/8 season in Hong Kong on Saturday. His sixth career ePrix victory came despite a penalty for a problematic pit stop midway through the race.

The season had kicked off with the first lap 1 red flag ever seen in Formula E. The stoppage was triggered when Andre Lotterer's Techeetah was barged into the outside barriers at turn 3. His stalled car blocked the track for the cars behind.

His team mate Jean-Eric Vergne had earlier won a close-fought qualifying session. He duly led Bird and NIO's Oliver Turvey when the race resumed behind a safety car after a lengthy delay. The interruption also meant teams no longer had battery sensor data during the first stint.

Turvey was initially able to maintain third, despite coming under heavy pressure from Audi's Daniel Abt and Mahindra's Nick Heidfeld. However a sudden problem with his car subsequently forced Turvey to pit well before mid-race distance.

Also making a premature stop was Lucas di Grassi. He had suffered rear end damage after a clash with his Audi team mate Abt.

Bird managed to catch out Vergne and thread his way past at turn 6 to take the lead on lap 20. The British driver then had a mishap during his pit stop when he understeered pulling into the garage and knocked over one of the pit crew. Even so, he resumed six seconds ahead of Vergne and Heidfeld. Abt was the big loser in the pit sequence, dropping to eighth.

Bird had extended his gap at the front to over nine seconds when word came down that he had been given a drive-thru for the pit lane mishap. Fortunately his margin was now just large enough to allow him to serve the penalty and still come out ahead of Vergne and Heidfeld.

Bird was subsequently able to rebuild a big gap at the front. By the time the chequered flag came out, his winning margin from Vergne and Heidfeld was over 11s.

There had been a gap of some ten seconds back to the battle for fourth between Venturi's Maro Engel and Mahindra's Felix Rosenqvist. Engel was then penalised for exceeding maximum power use, dropping him out of the top ten. Rosenqvist briefly picked up fourth but then lost out to Nelson Piquet going into turn 1 on the penultimate lap.

Abt took advantage of the moment to follow Piquet through for fifth, while a discombobulated Rosenqvist was subsequently ambushed by Andretti's António Félix da Costa on the final lap for sixth place.

Mahindra's Edoardo Mortara made a late pass on Virgin's Alex Lynn to take eighth place. Nico Prost rounded out the top ten for Renault e.Dams ahead of Luca Filippi, Sebastien Buemi and Mitch Evans.

The second round of the Formula E Hong Kong double header takes place on Sunday.

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