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Abt tops eventful opening practice in Mexico City

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez’s beating heart can be found in its beautiful stadium section. The infamous DJ retreat, so often a key part of the venue’s attraction, was blasting a poignant song for all the on-rushing drivers – My Way. And Daniel Abt’s way was to the top of the FP1 timesheets.

The Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler driver was the one to prevail in a topsy-turvy battle, mastering the chicanes and keeping his machine between the white lines. He was the one to keep his head all session, and as we found out in Mexico City’s initial 45-minute session, that’s easier said than done.

The session began with the sky above, waking up to the concoction of whirring motors and party music. If the sky was yet to get to full energy, however, the drivers were feeling no such drain – they were ready and raring to go, and if not there were plenty of tricky chicanes to make the bags under their eyes melt away.

Robin Frijns, in the arguably pack-leading Envision Virgin Racing machine, was the one finding it most difficult to keep his chariot within bounds, locking up and whirling around at the first corner on more than one occasion. Andre Lotterer would join in on the action, bringing out a yellow flag in the first sector when he locked up at the same turn.

The initial table-topper was Sam Bird, the championship’s current leader. He set a time of 1:10:141, leading the chase from his teammate Frijns, the Nissan e-dams duo of Oliver Rowland and Sebastien Buemi behind, and the nearest title challenger Jerome D’Ambrosio.

HWA Racelab and Venturi initially looked set to be in for a struggle, while the Envision Virgin, DS Techeetah and Mahindra cars all seemed prime to take up where they’d left off in the season’s previous races – as the big guns. This was only further affirmed by Jean-Eric Vergne climbing up to second.

But then, a gatecrasher walked in among the celebrations, Mitch Evans landing the first sub 1:01s time atop the timesheets in his Jaguar Racing car. His teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. was struggling to keep his machine on track, taking to the Turn 1 escape road after failing to come to a stop in time.

There’d yet be more people joining him in such a predicament, but now the final chicane was catching out drivers unaware; Gary Paffett can attest to that. A shaky entry coupled with a sudden burst of power sent the HWA Racelab driver into the barrier, damaging his suspension and leading to an early bath as his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne set the timesheets alight.

But it was not to last: a final frenzy of timed runs shuffled up the order to a significant degree (in the end 19 cars were separated by just one second), suggesting tonight’s E-Prix could be anyone’s game. Edoardo Mortara went top until the dying moments, a true shock to the senses given Venturi’s lack of pace in the first three races. But it was to be Abt who would conquer FP1, and reignite some magic back into Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s title challenge.