Sam Bird overtook Stoffel Vandoorne and went on to claim victory in Friday’s ABB FIA Formula E Championship season-opener at the Diriyah street circuit in Saudi Arabia.
The Envision Virgin Racing driver dived underneath his Mercedes rival into the Turn 18 right-hander with just over 10 minutes of the 45-minute race left to seize the lead.
Bird, who started from fifth on the grid, went on to stay out front until the field was neutralized by a late Safety Car to recover Daniel Abt’s rotated Audi e-tron FE06.
Despite the interruption occurring with six minutes to go, a quick clear-up resulted in the race being restarted for a two-lap sprint to the line.
Bird duly managed to hold off TAG Heuer Porsche driver Andre Lotterer to take the win, which was his ninth in Formula E competition, by 1.319 seconds.
The two new teams for the 2019-20 season, Porsche and Mercedes, each managed to get a driver on the podium as Vandoorne came through to finish third ahead of Nissan’s Oliver Rowland.
The early stages of Friday’s race were controlled by Alexander Sims, who put BMW i Andretti Motorsport on pole at Diriyah for the second year in a row.
After a trouble-free start, the British driver led from Vandoorne, Nyck de Vries, Bird, Edoardo Mortara and Lotterer.
Sims maintained his advantage through the opening half-hour, during which time all cars took the first of two Attack Mode boosts to gain an extra 35 kW power burst.
However, the order shifted in the latter portion of the race as Sims came under increasing pressure from those behind him.
Bird became the primary mover in the pack and progressed to third with just over 15 minutes remaining by going around the outside of de Vries into Turn 18.
A minute later, the lead of the race changed when Vandoorne, who himself was under pressure from Bird, out-braked Sims into the same corner.
Bird also got past the BMW driver in the switch-around before latching onto Vandoorne’s tail and overtaking the Belgian who at this point was the only front-runner not to have used up his second Attack Mode boost.
Lotterer inevitably moved up to second for Porsche when Vandoorne eventually moved off-line to collect the extra power, which the Mercedes driver ultimately couldn’t use to full effect because of the Safety Car.
Sims faded in the closing stages to finish eighth while Formula E rookie de Vries ended up in sixth behind Bird’s teammate Robin Frijns.
Mortara finished seventh for ROKiT Venturi Racing, ahead of Sims, Jerome d’Ambrosio and Mitch Evans who rounded out the points.
Reigning two-time champion Jean-Eric Vergne had a difficult afternoon and came away with zero points after pitting his DS Techeetah machine with a mechanical failure.
The Frenchman’s teammate Antonio Felix da Costa, who won last year’s race in Saudi Arabia for BMW, finished 14th after qualifying on the penultimate row of the grid.
Sebastien Buemi added to the list of retirements after the Nissan e.dams driver parked his car in the early stages.
Friday’s record field was reduced to 23 cars after Nico Mueller’s GEOX Dragon machine failed to make the start in the wake of an incident during qualifying earlier in the day.
The Diriyah E-Prix event returns tomorrow with a Free Practice session at 8:45 a.m. local time followed by qualifying and another 45-minute race.
RESULTS: Race 1