Sam Bird charged to victory in the Formula E season-opener in Hong Kong on Saturday for DS Virgin Racing despite an early red flag and an in-race drive-through penalty after missing his garage when swapping cars.

Bird was able to overcome Techeetah's Jean-Eric Vergne in an early battle before pulling clear ahead of the pit stop, only for the mistake to leave him needing a second trip to the pit lane.

Hong Kong E-Prix - Race Result

The Briton had pulled enough of a gap to keep his lead, though, before pulling clear once again to secure a convincing victory in the 2017/18 curtain-raiser.

Vergne made a good start from pole position to retain his advantage over Bird in second, with the trio being followed by Oliver Turvey after the NIO driver made a bold move around the outside of the Turn 1 hairpin, moving up from seventh on the grid.

The cars continued to jostle for position heading through the narrow chicane, with Andre Lotterer's attempt to pass Nelson Piquet Jr. around the outside proving costly as the Techeetah driver was bumped into the wall. Lotterer was unable to back out, causing a roadblock with a handful of cars stuck behind that forced race control to throw a red flag.

The cars returned to the pit lane for 30 minutes before resuming the race behind the safety car in the order they ran at the red flag, before Vergne led the field away to the green flag with 39 laps still to run.

Vergne was able to soak up early pressure from Bird on the restart with Turvey sitting just behind in P3 as perennial rivals Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi made contact after fighting over P6. While able to retain the position, the defending champion was being made to work very hard to keep the place.

Di Grassi's hopes of points were all but ended on Lap 15 when he came into the pits with a problem on his right-rear tyre, forcing him into an early stop that dropped him down the order. The Audi dropped hopped into his second car, but faced a challenge to save enough energy to make it to the end of the race.

Further drama hit the front-runners when third-placed Turvey began to slow on-track, with his NIO crawling back to the pit lane before swapping cars, while Bird was able to vault into the lead after tailing Vergne for a number of laps with a fine overtake down the inside at Turn 6 after selling his rival a dummy.

Vergne reacted by pitting at the end of the lap he was passed on, while Bird continued out on-track in order to have more energy for his second stint of the race.

The Briton nearly scuppered his own win hopes by missing his garage entry when coming in to stop, clattering into team equipment, but was able to use the minimum pit stop time to emerge back ahead of Vergne, albeit under investigation with the stewards.

Once the pit cycle had completed, Bird found himself leading by five seconds from Vergne, who was now facing pressure from Heidfeld just behind after a slow stop caused Abt to fall back to eighth. Maro Engel had risen through the field to fourth after perfecting his pit stop, while Buemi found himself outside of the points after a Battery Management System caused him to stop on-track.

The fight for second between Vergne and Heidfeld looked set to become the fight for the lead after the stewards handed Bird a drive-through penalty for not completing his car swap inside the garage as per the sporting regulations. Bird dived into the pit lane at the end of Lap 30, but was remarkably able to emerge still leading thanks to the buffer he had built.

A mistake from Vergne allowed Bird to pull clear at the head of the field once again and re-establish his pre-pit stop advantage over the chasing cars, with Heidfeld still scrambling all over the rear of the Techeetah car ahead.

Bird completed the final few laps with zero issues to cross the line and win the season-opener in Hong Kong, ultimately crossing the line 11.5 seconds clear of Vergne, whose robust defence allowed him to hang on to second until the chequered flag, leaving Heidfeld in third.

Maro Engel crossed the line fourth, only to receive a drive-through penalty for excessive energy usage, dropping him to 14th and allowing Piquet to take P4 after climbing back up the order following his early prang.

Daniel Abt recovered to fifth for Audi ahead of Antonio Felix da Costa and Felix Rosenqvist, the latter falling short on energy in the closing stages to drop back to seventh at the flag. Edoardo Mortara was eighth on debut for Venturi, with Alex Lynn and Nicolas Prost completing the points.

More to follow...



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