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São Paulo heats up with dramatic win for Sam Bird

FORMULA E returned from a month-long break and travelled to Brazil for the fifth round of the world championship.

Sam Bird celebrates towards the podium of the 2024 São Paulo E-Prix. Picture: Supplied

São Paulo, a city with a rich motorsport heritage, was electrified as it geared up for the adrenaline-pumping race that brought feisty competition and flying front wings. 

NEOM McLaren’s Sam Bird stormed to win the race, a tough battle against Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans that carried after the second safety car right until the end of the race 34-lap race. 

Evans and Bird engage in a final lap battle.

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On the final lap Bird beat out Evans’ defensive manoeuvres from the inside in the final stages to take the chequered flag amid a roaring crowd. 

This gave Bird his 12th win in Formula E, his first since 2022, and his first for McLaren since signing with them for the season. This is NEOM McLaren’s first-ever Formula E race win since joining the world championship in 2023.

“I had a target at the beginning of the year to get a couple of podiums. I didn’t expect to win but we’ve got a win in race four. It was a great race between me and Mitch, my old teammate. It was really fair,” Bird said post-race.

“No, I said on the radio, I think he’s struggling, and I was told to cool  the car, and then I saw the lift points, and I thought, well, look, it’s now or never.”

“He defended the inside and gave me just enough room on the outside to have some kind of move. I don’t know how close it was to the wall, but it was fair racing, and [we] got it done,” he said.

Sam Bird’s dramatic overtake Mitch Evans on the last lap of the São Paulo E-Prix. Picture: Supplied

Jaguar’s Mitch Evans admitted that his race was bittersweet after he was beaten by Bird. He challenged for the win from fifth, but was pleased with his team’s handling of the car in the high heat which helped him clinch second place.

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“It’s a hard one to accept. I feel like we did all the right steps, but unfortunately, on the last lap, I had a battery D rate through temperature, so I had not much top speed. It was getting worse throughout the last, so I’m using the time I had to basically go flat to the finish, but yeah, just really disappointing,” Evans said. 

“I feel like we took all the right steps, and these races are really hard to manage, but on the other hand, I’m really happy for Sam. He’s had a tough few seasons, and to see him get a win again, especially in his new colours,. 

“He had a good overlap, but I also had no power, so he would have gotten me to the line anyway. I was just a bit of a sitting duck, so when he came in really aggressively, he was powered very quickly,” Evans told Formula E presenter CB Saunders post race.

Rowland Steals Podium Finish in Chaotic Race

Nissan’s Oliver Rowland snuck up from 13th place to grab the final podium position after completing an old-school double overtake on Andretti’s Jake Dennis and Porsche’s Wehrlein from fifth place, adding to the chaotic nature of the race. 

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“It was crazy, the race. I mean, there was so much to manage in terms of temperatures and the racing, which was a super difficult way to place yourself, but we did a good job on strategy,” Rowland said.

“We stayed quite patient. I managed to do well in the beginning to get up to seventh, and honestly, when I was there, I was quite happy to score some points, but the car was really good. I could carry good speed in the corners, and we had a good strategy and all the temperatures under control, and I think you saw that at the end.”

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Rowland and Bird’s podium finishes gave Nissan their first double podium and Bird’s first win of the season as powertrain manufacturers. Season 9 defending champion Dennis came in fifth, rounding out a struggling weekend after losing out in the knockout rounds of qualifying duels and starting in 11th place. 

Wehrlein Leads Until Safety Car Shifts Momentum

Wehrlein successfully led the grid at the start of the race until the first safety car, taking attack mode and dropping to third. He joined the battle for the top spot among the top six, whose positions changed rapidly but ultimately had Bird, Wehrlein, and Evans trading places at the top for the majority of the race.

The first safety car was for Andretti’s Norman Nato rear ending ABT Cupra’s Lucas Di Grassi on lap eight, which broke his front wing and had to be removed by track stewards. Nato was given a five second penalty and ended up in 18th place.

The second safety car came out with the unfortunate end to Nick Cassidy’s race on lap 18. Cassidy’s front wing broke and went under the right side wheel, locking it and sending his car to the wall before he managed to go off track.

Swiss driver Nico Mueller of ABT caused the last yellow flag of the race with a retirement after he came to a stop on lap 26. Mueller qualified for the quarterfinals in qualifying but dropped out due to technical issues with the car, securing eighth on the grid at the start. 

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Qualifying tightness sets the stage for a close race.

During qualifying, Wehrlein found the one lap speed to claim pole position for the E-Prix, beating out DS Penske’s Stoffel Vandoorne by two thousandths of a second. The tight gaps set the scene for a tight race when the lights went green at the start, and the race had two safety cars deployed. 

Maserati MSG’s Maximilian Gunther struggled at the start of the race after a 20-place grid penalty was imposed for changing his gearbox and then a five second drive-through penalty at the start of the race, which pushed him to the back of the grid. 

Gunther fought through the grid to claim ninth place, while his teammate Jehan Daruvala came in 18th. 

Despite retiring from the race, Jaguar’s Cassidy still retains the lead at the top of the drivers’ championship, four points ahead of Wehrlein and 18 points ahead of teammate Evans, who is in third. 

The ABB Formula E drivers on a float for the drivers parade ahead of the 2024 São Paulo E-Prix. Picture: Supplied/Formula E

Bird’s win adds him to the 2024 season’s circle of winners, which has four different winners from the season start in Mexico City: Pascal Wehrlein (Mexico); Jake Dennis (Diriyah); and Nick Cassidy (Diriyah).

The Formula E season will travel next to Tokyo, Japan, for the fifth round, from March 28 to March 30.

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By Mpho Rantao

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