Nelson Piquet Jr. took a shock maiden Formula E pole in a NEXTEV front row lock-out, after a session fraught with red flags, at the inaugural Hong Kong ePrix.
Piquet’s time was enough to take the top spot, after the super pole session was cancelled, due to Robin Frijns’ crash leaving the TecPro barrier in need of lengthy repair. Fellow NEXTEV driver Oliver Turvey joins Piquet on the front row, just a tenth shy of the Brazilian’s pole time. After ending their sessions in the wall at the newly refurbished chicane – a last minute pre-qualifying change to turn three and four that caught many drivers out – Lucas Di Grassi and Robin Frijns start their season three campaign at the back of the grid in P19 and P20, respectively. Current champion Sebastian Buemi qualifies fifth, behind the DS Virgin Racing pair of Lopez and Bird.
The first group session saw Prost, Heidfeld, Carroll, Duval and Sarrazin try to set a time on a surprisingly slippery track. Prost’s 200kW lap was relatively tidy, a near brush with the chicane and a huge slide into the final corner costing him time, but Duval was the initial marker, setting the fastest time, despite a lack of running in practice, due to his crash. The Dragon Racing driver finished a tenth ahead of Prost, with Heidfeld, Carroll and Sarrazin making up the order.
Group two saw the session red-flagged as Lucas Di Grassi was caught out by a narrow piece of track, striking the barrier in the T3/T4 chicane, and breaking his front suspension. As the session was halted, the laps of Bird, Da Costa, Turvey, and Ma were nullified, leaving time for only one flying lap at the restart. As the session went green again, despite a decent lap from the Bird, Turvey leapfrogged his fellow Brit, to jump to the top of the time sheet, four tenths quicker than Duval’s initial marker. The DS Virgin of Bird ended the session in P2, just 0.027 seconds slower than the time of the NEXTEV of Turvey, a strong time despite a scruffy lap. Da Costa and Ma made up the rest of the group.
Felix Rosenqvist was the first to head to track in group three, followed by Frijns, Piquet, Vergne, and new Jaguar driver Mitch Evans. Rosenqvist’s aggressive and punchy style, on the limit and skirting the walls, proved a strong showing from the Mahindra newbie, leaving him in initial third. Piquet, however, saw a quick and clean lap vault him to the top of the time sheet, just as red flags found Robin Frijns in the wall, bottoming out in the same chicane that troubled Lucas Di Grassi. The DS Virgin of Vergne narrowly avoided hitting the rear of Frijns, and without a clean lap, left him in initial P13, and Evans in P14. While the TecPro barrier was repaired, drivers were vocal about the change to the chicane that caused Frijns to crash, revealing that teams were not informed of the removal of the inside kerb, and the change occurred moments before the qualifying session. As the session restarted, cooler tyres and limited running time saw Vergne unable to match earlier pace, ending the session in P6, with Evans in P12.
As the final group took to track, the delay in barrier repair encroached into the time needed to recharge the cars before the race, cancelling the super pole session, and leaving Piquet in provision pole, with group session times deciding the grid order. Sebastien Buemi took to track first, looking to challenge Piquet’s time. His 200kW lap saw him two tenths down initially, and despite a clean lap, the reigning champion only managed to cross the line in fourth place. A superb showing from DS Virgin new signing Jose Maria Lopez, saw him fly into third, leapfrogging his team-mate, Sam Bird. Daniel Abt qualified in P7, with the Dragon of Jerome D’Ambrosio only able to muster P17, and the Venturi of Maro Engel ending the qualifying session in P12.
The full qualifying results are as follows:
The Hong Kong ePrix takes place at 9am BST.