On a Sunday afternoon in the damp, greyed streets of Hong Kong, Formula E’s 50th E-Prix began with Oliver Rowland topping the FP1 timesheets ahead of Andre Lotterer and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Lotterer’s domination for large spells of the first session was a stark contrast to last season’s baptism of fire he endured at the same event – where before he broke every rule within reach, the only thing breaking now were other drivers’ illusions they might be able to beat Lotterer and the DS Techeetah team this weekend.
The session began as it meant to go on, with Lotterer setting the timesheets alight with a 1:11:919, ahead of Robin Frijns and Sebastien Buemi. Both Jose Maria Lopez and Vergne took to the escape roads early on, fluffing up their braking on entry while growing wiser to the challenges the rainy weather would pose.
As the session wore on, Lotterer improved his time to a 1:10:815, and for long periods looked set to hold onto the advantage. Venturi pilots Felipe Massa and Edoardo Mortara were his closest challengers at one point, while other drivers were becoming more familiar with the track boundaries than the heady heights of the timesheets.
Sam Bird’s inability to control his Envision Virgin Racing car above the sheet ice-esque tarmac lead him to a hefty clout with the outside barrier, but he appeared to just about get away with it. Antonio Felix da Costa also suffered a hairy moment at the chicane, jostling above the kerb and dicing with disaster.
Gary Paffett’s HWA Racelab stopped on track at the end of the session, bringing an end to FP1 under yellow flag conditions, but that didn’t stop the Nissan e-dams of Rowland snatching the headlines away from his German rival.
The weather looks set to pose a serious challenge, but Rowland and Lotterer’s natural taking to the conditions should give real promise to their respective teams, both underperforming relative to their pace in the title fight. But can either one of them establish a stronghold on the 50th E-Prix, or will another driver swoop in?