Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Lucas Di Grassi topped the timing sheets in ABB Formula E’s first practice in Rome, which closed in dramatic fashion due to a multi-car crash on the start line.
The Brazilian pipped Mercedes EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne to the leading time, and was two-tenths quicker than the Envision Virgin of Robin Frijns.
Formula E’s return to Rome after its 2020 absence coincides with the introduction of a new layout, which features only 20 per cent of the original Circuito Cittadino dell’EUR, meaning teams and drivers were eager to make the most of practice.
The DS Techeetahs of António Félix da Costa and Jean-Éric Vergne got out of the blocks first, debuting the team’s new DS E-Tense FE21 powertrain.
Nissan e.dams’ Oliver Rowland led the session early on, ahead of BMW i Andretti’s Maximillian Günther and Porsche’s André Lotterer, despite Nissan choosing to delay using its new powertrain.
However, Turn 14 seemed to catch out many of the drivers with Vergne and Tom Blomqvist having issues, before Jake Dennis went into the run-off area. The Briton then appeared to have some difficulties reversing the BMW back on to the circuit.
The problems continued for Blomqvist, who brought out the red flag; he had followed his NIO 333 team-mate Oliver Turvey through Turn 14, with the left side of the car sliding prior to swiping the barriers.
With five minutes remaining, Vandoorne set the first representative time with a 1:38.847, before Sébastien Buemi triggered the yellow flag after going off at Turn 7. He then narrowly avoided contact with one of the Jaguars as he rejoined the track.
Di Grassi then went on to top the session with a 1:38.785, 0.062 seconds ahead of Vandoorne and Frijns, as the chequered flag was waved.
But the drama of practice was far from over, with a multi-car crash involving Turvey, Vergne and Dennis on the start line at Turn 7.
Turn 6 is a blind left-hander and footage suggested Turvey was unable to see the line of stopped cars preparing to undertake practice starts and ploughed into the back of the two cars.
The cars involved sustained heavy damage, giving their respective teams an additional headache ahead of qualifying.
Sergio Sette Câmara finished the session in fourth, after briefly stopping on track earlier in the session, just ahead of Norman Nato, Nick Cassidy and Round 2 race winner Sam Bird.
Rowland was eighth with Dennis, Jaguar’s Mitch Evans and Vergne all within one-tenth of each other. Nico Müller finished the session in 12th, one second slower than Di Grassi.
Alex Lynn was 13th, ahead of Günther and da Costa, with championship leader Nyck de Vries 16th, as one of several drivers who were unable to set representative times.
Turvey was 17th, with Lotterer, René Rast and Alexander Sims behind. Edoardo Mortara closed the session in 21st, in front of Wehrlein, Blomqvist and Buemi, who rounded out the timing sheet.