Sebastien Buemi driving for the Renault e.dams race team was crowned Formula E champion over the weekend in a manner that has motorsports fans scratching their heads.
Formula E electric car racing differs from traditional motorsports beyond the vroom, vroom sound being replaced by the high wine of electric motors.
Practice, qualifying and the race take place on the same day, and races only take place on city streets in major global cities.
Drivers compete in two race cars and go from one to another about half way through the race.
This is necessary because the energy in the lithium-ion batteries is only good for half the distance required to cross the finish line.
Then there’s “Fan Boost.” It lets fans vote on social media for their favorite drivers to gain 20 percent more horsepower for five seconds during the race.
In other words, the popularity of a driver can affect the outcome of a race.
Then there’s the variety of arcane rules that only Formula E understands, with perhaps the most puzzling being the “Fastest Lap” to determine the driver’s champion in the event driver points are tied.
Here’s what happened.
Before qualifying for the final race of the season in London, Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport’s driver Lucas di Grassi was leading Buemi by three points. Then Buemi grabbed the starting pole position worth three points, and the two were tied.
At this point if neither driver scored points, di Grassi would claim the title because he had scored one more third place finish than Buemi.
Starting from third place, di Grassi started aggressively and quickly got past second starter Nico Prost.
Buemi braked hard and early going into turn three on the first lap and di Grassi plowed into the back end of the Renault e.dams racer.
The incident tore the rear wing off Buemi’s entry, while there was significant front-end damage to di Grassi’s car.
Both drivers limped back to the pits so that they could switch to their second car and take a run at the Fast Lap, which was worth two points and the championship.
After waiting for a clear piece of track to open to get a clean lap, each driver gave it their best shot with Buemi prevailing.
With all the focus on the championship folderol, it was easy to overlook that Nico Prost won the race and secured third overall in the drivers’ points.
Formula E’s third season begins next October in Hong Kong and ends in New York City at the end of July 2017.
That gives them plenty of time to rework how a championship is won in case there is a points tie.