Formula E: Sam Bird tops opening practice in Diriyah

After retiring from the Mexico City E-Prix early on, Sam Bird bounced back in fine fashion at the start of this weekend’s Diriyah E-Prix, by topping Free Practice One.

Jaguar TCS Racing and DS Penske both made a strong start at the host of rounds two and three of the 2022/23 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, with Jean-Éric Vergne claiming second, Mitch Evans third and Stoffel Vandoorne fourth.

Having suffered a disappointing Hankook Mexico City E-Prix earlier this month – where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in his own words – Bird will be thrilled with this improved performance. Having previously stressed how much getting the software correct was a fundamental part of GEN3, Bird told his Jaguar team after FP1 in the Diriyah desert that “it’s clear the setup changes have worked!”

Sam Bird in the cockpit of his Jaguar

The ultra-experienced Brit is no stranger to success in Saudi Arabia. He’s won this race twice, with only former champion Nyck de Vries matching this record. His time in FP1 was a stunning 1m10.402s, meaning that nobody has gone quicker around this Diriyah Street Circuit in a GEN3 car, yet, just as nobody went faster than the Londoner in the GEN2 around here.

Less than a second split the top 18 runners, with DS PENSKE’s Jean-Eric Vergne slotting himself into second and his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne placing himself in fourth – an encouraging return to the team’s testing pace after a tough outing in Mexico. Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans crossed the line third to make it a one-three result for the team result.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Getting the laps in under the floodlights, there was early drama as the DS PENSKE of Stoffel Vandoorne and NEOM McLaren’s Rene Rast had a tangle. The McLaren driver was attempting to pass the reigning champion, but ended up making contact with Vandoorne’s car. The crunch was enough to cause significant damage to Rast’s papaya challenger, breaking his front wing as a result.

After some seriously impressive pace in Mexico, NIO 333 continued to demonstrate some great speed here in Diriyah. Dan Ticktum went fastest at one point in the session, eventually finishing FP1 in sixth with a 1m10.777s. Ticktum’s teammate, Sergio Sette Camara, also set some blistering lap times, including the fastest middle sector of the 30-minute session.

Making his Formula E debut, ABT CUPRA’s Kelvin van der Linde spent the valuable time getting used to his new all-electric machine. The 26-year-old South African racer is behind the wheel in place of Robin Frijns, who has begun his recovery after injuring his hand. “Get well soon, Robin” is proudly displayed on the halo of the ABT CUPRA this weekend.

Free Practice 2 follows at 13:30 local on Friday with Qualifying from 15:40. The 2023 CORE Diriyah City E-Prix, Round 2 of Season 9, gets underway from 20:00 local.

Practice 1 Results

1 10 Sam Bird GBR Jaguar TCS Racing 1:10.402
2 25 Jean-Éric Vergne FRA DS Penske 1:10.486
3 9 Mitch Evans NZL Jaguar TCS Racing 1:10.742
4 1 Stoffel Vandoorne BEL DS Penske 1:10.767
5 37 Nick Cassidy NZL Envision Racing 1:10.770
6 33 Dan Ticktum GBR NIO 333 Racing 1:10.777
7 5 Jake Hughes GBR NEOM McLaren Formula E Team 1:10.790
8 16 Sébastian Buemi CHE Envision Racing 1:10.811
9 11 Lucas di Grassi BRZ Mahindra Racing 1:10.881
10 27 Jake Dennis GBR Avalanche Andretti Formula E 1:10.907
11 48 Edoardo Mortara CHE Maserati MSG Racing 1:10.969
12 23 Sacha Fenestraz FRA Nissan Formula E Team 1:11.061
13 3 Sérgio Sette Câmara BRZ NIO 333 Racing 1:11.119
14 8 Oliver Rowland GBR Mahindra Racing 1:11.121
15 58 René Rast GER NEOM McLaren Formula E Team 1:11.142
16 94 Pascal Wehrlein GER TAG Heuer Formula E Team 1:11.229
17 17 Norman Nato FRA Nissan Formula E Team 1:11.284
18 51 Nico Mueller CHE ABT CUPRA Formula E Team 1:11.364
19 7 Maximilian Günther GER Maserati MSG Racing 1:11.564
20 13 António Félix da Costa POR TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team 1:11.569
21 36 André Lotterer GER Avalanche Andretti Formula E 1:11.727
22 4 Kelvin van der Linde ZAF ABT CUPRA Formula E Team 1:12.211