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Dramatic Moments of 2018-19: Controversy in Hong Kong

Bird, Lotterer clashed on the penultimate lap in Hong Kong, triggering significant controversy…

Photo: Formula E

The sheer drama of the Hong Kong weekend hung heavy like the low cloud which seemed to dominate the spectacular city landscape for the first weekend of last March.

The damp and grey gave way to a whirring vision of purple battling furiously with an equally bellicose black and gold missile.

Sam Bird vs. Andre Lotterer had seemed an unlikely battle but it was a conflict which had already shown a sparky nature in Paris almost 12 months earlier.

On that occasion Lotterer had taken the checkered flag without his rear wing after vainly defending a podium position with diminishing energy from Bird, who took the position without the front left corner of his car.

This was never going to be an ‘after you Claude’ tea and cakes with happy parishioners affair.

Bird wrested the lead from Oliver Rowland after a red flag period and seemed to be in control, but a mistake allowed Lotterer through in to the lead.

A frustrated Bird latched back on to the rear wing of the DS Techeetah and the pair negotiated two safety car periods until the final fraught laps arrived.

Bird made a move on the penultimate tour going in to Turn 2 but Lotterer covered and there was contact.

Within a few corners it was evident Lotterer was in trouble and his hopes of a long-awaited Formula E win deflated along with his right rear Michelin due to Bird’s touch.

The Envision Virgin driver was thereby clear to take his second win of the season and he did so ahead of Edoardo Mortara’s Venturi.

Lotterer was classified 14th and last after crabbing around the final lap, a thick red haze emitting from his visor.

Bird’s body language in parc ferme told its own story. There was no wild celebration and his attempts to look gleeful and jubilant were not even attempted because this was plainly not the way Sam Bird likes to win races.

In classic Formula E fashion we then waited and loitered outside the stewards’ room near race control as first Envision Virgin’s Leon Price and then DS Techeetah’s David Clark were summoned.

Bird was given a five-second penalty which dropped him to sixth position. This riled DS Techetah which then protested that the penalty was too lenient as their man had got a much more severe penalty – no points at all.

Lotterer fumed and was heavily critical of Bird, perhaps too much in the heat of the moment. Yes, it was Bird’s fault but it was by no means a deliberate or conscious tactic.

Take a straw poll in the paddock if Sam Bird is a dirty or malicious driver and it will come back with only a negative answer.

Bird is as hard a racer as they come but he has standards and it was easy to see that he was hurt with the way some interpreted the incident in the often kangaroo court way of modern social media.

Bird himself felt uneasy with the initial winners’ spoils and accepted the penalty with good grace.

It was another high energy, thrilling contest and if the outcome was most unsatisfactory it was still being debated for months to come as one of the most dramatic battles of the 2018-19 season.

Photo: Formula E

What the Drivers Said…

Speaking to e-racing365 in an exclusive column a few days after the race Bird said: “When he closed the door, I had few options because the track off the racing line was damp, and the contact was such that he got a puncture, it was a big shame. I really wish Andre could have finished the race.

“I think everyone could see after the race that it troubled me because I don’t like winning like that, it’s not the name of the game.”

Lotterer was seething after the race and few could blame him after seeing a likely first win evaporate almost within sight of the checkered flag.

At the back of the DS Techeetah pit he was pacing around trying to make sense of what had happened. He was just getting to the ‘more disappointed than angry’ stage as e-racing365 got to him.

“It was all quite normal with a bit of contact here and there, but then he lunged me and destroyed my suspension and tire,” Lotterer told e-racing365

“Yes, I defended but that is my right. Then my race is ruined but I hope the stewards prove a point for the future. I felt what happened pretty hard and I don’t think it was fair.”

Lotterer suggested that, had Bird avoided a penalty for the incident, then it would have set a dangerous precedent.

“If he doesn’t get a penalty it opens up a whole new world of crazy stuff because it is saying we can just run into each other,” he added.

“It is a big problem we have in the series now because it is too easy to do stuff like that. I feel it is 100 percent unfair.”

Photo: Formula E

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

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