Formula E/Rd. 7: Sam Bird wins first-ever E-Prix in Rome

Sam Bird held his nerve in the closing laps of the CBMM Niobium Rome E-Prix presented by Mercedes EQ and fended off multiple attacks from both Lucas di Grassi and Mitch Evans. Pumping his fist in the air as he crossed the finish-line, his name would enter in the motorsport history books as the first-ever winner on the streets of the Italian capital. The result vaults the Brit to within striking distance in second place in the standings – 18 points behind leader Jean-Eric Vergne.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d be sitting here today. I didn’t think that we’d be in this position at the beginning of the year. I thought that we would struggle a little bit more with what we were bringing to the table but we’ve maximised everything. I sit here very proud to be the winner of the first ever Rome E-Prix. The crowd was amazing and everybody looked like they were having fun,” said Bird.

The 7-time E-Prix winner had defended his position well at the head of the field with Evans and di Grassi looming large in his mirrors. Making a slight mistake, he had opened the door to Evans who swerved into the slipstream of the DS Virgin electric racing car down the hill approaching Turn 9.

The Panasonic Jaguar Racing driver tried to make a move on the outside with smoke pouring from his tyres but to no avail as Bird kept his cool. Di Grassi reeled Bird back in to heighten the tension in the final laps, but it wasn’t enough to deter Bird who picked-up his first win since the season-opener in Hong Kong.

Despite picking-up maximum points for first place, it wasn’t a guaranteed victory from the start as Felix Rosenqvist retired from the front midway through the race and gifted Bird the lead. The super Swede led away from pole position and looked to be in control after the car swaps, but Rosenqvist pulled over to the side of the track with broken left-rear suspension. After a faultless day up to that point, Rosenqvist seemed on course to close the gap on Vergne at the top of the championship, but it was to be Bird who would reduce the deficit.

Rosenqvist now sits 37 points behind Vergne following technical problems in Mexico and salvaging points in damage limitation mode in Uruguay. The Mahindra Racing driver will need to turn it around in Paris, but as Bird has proved – one race can change the outlook of the championship.

Another race and another second place for reigning champion Lucas di Grassi. The Brazilian has been so close on the previous two occasions – going bumper-to-bumper with Vergne in a nail-biting finish in Punta del Este and now hunting down Bird in front of thousands of raucous Roman fans.

With more usable energy after stopping one lap later, Andre Lotterer closed in on the leading trio – making it a four-horse race. The TECHEETAH driver fought hard to steal third place from Evans and almost exchanged blows through the tight section alongside the Obelisco di Marconi. It’s Lotterer’s second podium in Formula E in only his seventh race.

It was heartbreak in the end for Evans as the New Zealander still has to wait to stand on the podium in Formula E – having missed out on the opportunity previously. The heat of battle left Evans without enough energy and he limped home across the line in ninth.

Daniel Abt made his way through to fourth from ninth on the grid and earned the extra point for Visa fastest lap, with championship leader Vergne coming home in fifth. The Frenchman struggled during the opening stint after being hit from behind by Alex Lynn and losing his rear wheel guard. Lynn mounted the back end of Vergne’s car and was lucky not to completely remove his rear wing and force the TECHEETAH driver into making an unplanned pit stop.

Season two champion Sebastien Buemi couldn’t maintain his starting position as di Grassi used FANBOOST to make a move on his rival and former nemesis. The power of the fans left the Renault e.dams driver helpless to defend with Buemi eventually coming home in sixth place.

Customers and guests of the Audi go to experience Formula E’s city circuit as passengers in the e-tron Vision Gran Turismo.

With the first race of the European leg coming to a close, Formula E heads to the French capital for the third edition of the Qatar Airways Paris E-Prix on April 28 which will be round 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

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[Chips Yap]