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Bird grasps victory in São Paulo with stunning last-lap pass

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

Sam Bird came from behind to snatch victory on the final lap from former teammate Mitch Evans, with a heart-stopping overtake, taking his first victory in three years — and NEOM McLaren's first in Formula E, in an epic finish at São Paulo.

Bird's victory had been one in the making, following the improved efficiency of the Nissan powertrain in the McLaren machine, while the team had been looking to improve on what had been an inconsistent debut outing in season nine.

Pascal Wehrlein started the São Paulo E Prix from pole position, ahead of the two Penske drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Eric Vergne, with the Porsche driver having snatched pole by the barest of margins, two milliseconds, from Vandoorne.

Wehrlein shot into an early lead, as a fierce battle kicked off between Jaguar's Mitch Evans, the two Penske drivers Vergne and Vandoorne, McLaren's Sam Bird, and Wehrlein's teammate Antonio Felix Da Costa. The much-renowned peloton style racing, a feature of last year's São Paulo E Prix, was once again on display, with Wehrlein too involved in an almighty battle for the lead.

Meanwhile, Maserati's Max Gunther pulled into the pits on lap two, to serve his time penalty, the team having been unable to serve the 40-place grid drop incurred for changing the gearbox and the inverter on the German driver's car. He dropped right to the rear of the field, and hinged his hopes on a safety car appearance to bring himself back into contention.

And he would get just that, with a safety car being called out on lap seven, putting a temporary stop to the fierce battle among the leading pack. Debris on the outside of turn one — in the shape of a front wing, of Andretti racer Norman Nato, the result of a lap one incident involving the Frenchman.

The safety car peeled into the pits on lap nine, with Bird in the lead, and the merry-go-round battle for the lead would resume once again, further amplified by the leaders taking their attack modes. Bird, Dennis, Da Costa, Evans, and Wehrlein all took turns leading the race.

Meanwhile, towards the middle of the pack, ABT Cupra's Nico Muller incurred damage to his front wing on lap 11, pulling into the pits for repairs, and dropping to the rear of the field. He too would look forward to another safety car appearance, to bring his name back into contention for points.

He wouldn't have to wait long though, as a pivotal moment shook up the race — possibly even the championship battle.

Championship leader Nick Cassidy just nudged the rear of Mahindra's Edoardo Mortara into turn five, slightly damaging his front wing.

Coming around the quick left-hand kink of turn nine on lap 16, his damaged front wing detached, and was dislodged beneath his front wheels, causing the Jaguar to lose control, and careen into the wall on the right-hand side, ripping off bits of bodywork, and the left-rear wheel too.

Cassidy escaped unharmed, but his car was destroyed, and he would be watching the remainder of the race from the Jaguar garage. The safety car would make yet another appearance in São Paulo, to clear the debris from the stricken Jaguar. Once again, it was Sam Bird in the lead, having utilised both his attack modes.

The two Mahindra drivers too had an off into turn one at the same time, with both Nyck de Vries and Mortara dropping well down the grid, having been on the fringes of the top ten at one point.

The ensuing events had turned the grid order around: Jake Dennis and Oliver Rowland had quietly moved themselves into the top ten, while Max Gunther, who was last on lap two, found himself in the points now.

The two safety car periods would amount to an additional three laps being raced post the 31-lap mark for the race, taking the total lap count to 34.

Bird took the field back to green flag running, and resisted multiple attempts from the charging Jaguar and the Porsche behind to overtake, for multiple laps.

Nico Muller's day went from bad to even worse, as he pulled over in the run-off at turn one. While leader Sam Bird radioed to his team for a safety car, the stranded ABT Cupra driver managed to get going, almost a lap down on the entire field. He would soon pull into the pits, and call it a day, capping off a tough race.

With six tours of the São Paulo E Prix to go, time was running out for Evans to make a move on Bird. Suffering from a battery derating issue due to the São Paulo heat, his Jaguar lacked top speed, and he had to be daring on the brakes to get past. Daring he would be, darting ahead of Bird into turn four.

By then, it had become a clear battle for victory between the top two, with Dennis in third dropping away, and into the clutches of the chasing Nissan of Rowland. The top two headed into the last lap separated by mere inches.

Bird lined up his former teammate onto the last lap, using all his experience to stay closer to the Jaguar ahead, before getting on the power earlier off turn nine, and darting alongside the leading Jaguar. He would move off the racing line, and get ever close to his rival, before putting in a beautiful move around the outside of turn 11, holding position over the line to claim his first victory since the 2021 New York City E Prix.

Elsewhere, a three-way battle for third culminated in an epic three-wide moment across the finish line, with Rowland executing a switchback overtake on Dennis and Wehrlein to snatch third, and a second consecutive podium for Nissan. Third to fifth were separated by a mere two tenths of a second, in one of Formula E's most epic finishes.

This was also the first victory for NEOM McLaren ever since the Woking outfit took over the reins from the erstwhile Mercedes EQ team, and emphasised the continuous learning and progress the team have been making over the past season, in their quest to become consistent podium finishers and race winners in the series.

Behind the top five, Da Costa earned his first points of the season, in sixth, while the two Penske drivers would be disappointed to finish seventh and eighth, having started in the top three.

Max Gunther's stellar recovery drive fetched him ninth, having pitted to serve a penalty on lap two, while Envision Racing's Sebastian Buemi would round out the points, having suffered from overheating tyres. He would take home the point for the fastest lap, with Nyck de Vries having set the fastest lap of the entire race, but not finishing in the top ten.

That's it from São Paulo, then! Do catch the next Formula E race on March 30th, as Formula E heads into the Land of the Rising Sun, for its debut outing in the country.


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