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Sam Bird flies with clipped wings in qualifying

Sam Bird capped off an exciting qualifying in Marrakesh with the pole in a damaged car, ahead of Antonio Felix da Costa and Sebastien Buemi.

The Marrakesh circuit had already given both Robin Frijns and Mitch Evans cause for celebration, and high expectation, but only Evans featured in the superpole shootout, and a lock-up into Turn 7 cost him dearly.

The first group was marked by an absence of drivers out on track. The lack of action wasn’t to last, however, and before long Antonio Felix da Costa, Jean-Eric Vergne, his DS Techeetah teammate Andre Lotterer, FP2 frontrunner Mitch Evans and Jerome D’Ambrosio were pumping in their laps.

The DS Techeetah duo looked to have landed themselves in hot bother, however, when they came across D’Ambrosio in the Mahindra racing machine. This allowed thee championship leader Da Costa carte blanche on the top spot, with Vergne second, Evans an anti-climactic third, and D’Ambrosio leading the hampered Lotterer.

Group 2 allowed Nelson Piquet, Lucas Di Grassi, Daniel Abt, Sebastien Buemi and Oliver Rowland designs on the Marrakesh track. The on-track action felt a little more plentiful, and two seemingly age-old rivals in Di Grassi and Buemi were able to do battle together.

The Audi duo were shock underperformers, Di Grassi and Abt falling into the total order 9th and 12th, and all the while Buemi placed his Nissan e-dams in a fine second, securing a superpole berth. It was a surprising lack of pace from last season’s Constructors champions.

Group 3 was the most exciting yet: Sam Bird topped the table both in his group and overall, Robin Frijns made good on his practice form by sneaking sixth, a precarious place to have in the superpole fight with one group to go, while Maximilian Gunther and Stoffel Vandoorne had their cars break down on them.

There was even more drama after the time-sheets were settled: a pitlane pile-up led to the Envision Virgin Racing car of Frijns being rear-ended by Tom Dillmann. It was an unorthodox situation to say the least, and caught plenty of the paddock by surprise.

The last of the initial groups featured Felipe Massa, Gary Paffett, Jose Maria Lopez, Pascal Wehrlein, Alexander Sims and Edoardo Mortara, and it was only Sims who booked his spot in the superpole shootout, placing his BMW i Andretti Motorsports machine top. Wehrlein looked set to make it, until Sims served to deny the German.

Bird, Buemi, Sims, Da Costa, Vergne and Evans were the final six to prevail through the group stages, and book their spots in the battle for pole. Evans was the first out, and the nefarious Turn 7 escape road claimed its first victim: the Kiwi couldn’t stop his wagon, and his lap was ruined.

Vergne was next to do his lap, and he made no mistakes. A 1:17:535 laid down a daunting marker, and a messy lap by Da Costa was close but no cigar. Sims’ was similar in its unruliness, but also slower, and he was outdone by Buemi for third. But the best was saved for last: Sam Bird, with a damaged car, outdid Vergne by 0.046. He’ll be on pole, but can he make the most of it?