Berlin ePrix qualifying: Vergne beats Buemi to pole

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Jean-Eric Vergne starts the Berlin ePrix from the front row, alongside Sebastian Buemi, after clenching a superb pole on the streets of the capital. Buemi’s championship rival, Lucas Di Grassi, could only qualify eighth, promising an exciting race as the Brazilian will attempt to recoup points as the season nears its close. Gaining momentum from his Paris podium, Vergne set a 57.81 to take pole, ahead of Buemi (57.82) and Daniel Abt (57.85) – the top three drivers separated by only 0.041 seconds – with Sam Bird and Nelson Piquet in fourth and fifth, after the Mahindra pair of Senna and Heidfeld – who initially made up the top five – were penalised for incorrect tyre pressures.

In the group stages, the first surprise of the day came in the form of a pacey lap from NextEV’s Oliver Turvey to head group 1. Current championship leader Di Grassi was the first to track, and despite clouting the kerb in the first chicane, set a 58.18 lap, but was edged out by the usually unruly NextEV car, with Turvey’s time of 58.11. The final pair of Robin Frijns and Stephane Sarrazin found problems. Frijns showed little confidence in braking, a visit into the wall damaging his front left tyre, and after Sarrazin red flagging practice, the Venturi’s rear end broke away at turn 10, ruining his middle sector, leaving Sarrazin third (58.740) and Frijns fourth (58.742).

Group two saw the DS Virgin pair battle alongside Nico Prost, Daniel Abt, and newcomer Rene Rast, with Prost and Bird initially trading good first sectors. However, Prost took a deep line into the final corner, losing time, but setting the fastest time so far (58.02) and holding the promise of more pace, but for the small mistake. A frenetic minute saw Vergne’s stellar lap (57.603) push Lucas Di Grassi out of super pole, with the fastest time of the weekend so far, followed by a clean lap (57.798) from Daniel Abt to take second, Bird third (57.838), and Rast making up the rear to take overall ninth (58.756).

Jerome D’Ambrosio and reigning champion Nelson Piquet took to the track in the third group, with neither getting clean laps. D’Ambrosio’s lack of 200kw laps in practice showed, with the Dragon struggling to find reference points in the corners, and Piquet found himself four tenths down in the middle sector, after losing control in the hairpin, but ending fourth fastest overall (58.02). Conway and Silvestro slotted into tenth and eleventh positions, before the Mahindra of Nick Heidfeld completed a brilliant lap,shooting to second fastest (57.736) and taking himself into super pole.

The group stages closed with all eyes on Buemi, who hit the ground running, clearly seeking to capitalise on Di Grassi’s unexpected position. A very neat first sector saw the Renault driver post the fastest time of 57.332, taking him confidently into his first super pole since Mexico. It was the opposite tale for Dragon, who were struggling to find grip in the tyres, leaving Loic Duval in eleventh (58.298), and the Aguri of Ma in eighteenth (59.301). Bruno Senna followed his teammate, with a fantastic lap (57.591) to take second position, seeing both Mahindra cars into the super pole.

Daniel Abt was first out to try his hand in the super pole, setting a decent time of 57.852, but one unlikely to challenge the front row. Nick Heidfeld followed, and was a fraction up on Abt’s time, before tapping the wall and damaging his front left suspension, leaving him 1.2 seconds adrift (59.085). Vergne sought to capitalise on these small mistakes, with a fast middle sector, and despite almost collecting Bruno Senna leaving the pits to begin his lap, the DS Virgin set provisional pole with a 57.811. Senna came out with some oversteer, with an untidy lap seeing him half a second down in middle sector. Despite a messy last corner, Senna took initial third (before penalties) with a 58.303. With all eyes on Buemi, the last to set a time, the Renault saw a clean lap, but ending just shy of Vergne’s pole time, (57.827) leaving the championship contender in second place.

With the championship leader Di Grassi in eighth, and his nearest contender looking strong in the front row, the race looks to be an unpredictable and exciting one!