DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird took the checkered flag on the Circuito Cittadino Dell’EUR in the first ABB Formula E Championship race on the streets of Rome, Italy – the CBMM Niobium Rome E-Prix presented by Mercedes EQ.
“It wasn’t easy but congratulations to everyone. To get the first win in Rome is amazing – this was always going to be a historic race,” said an emotional Bird.
Following close behind was reigning champion Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler) with Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer making the podium for the second time in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
The race began with poleman Felix Rosenquist (Mahindra Racing) out in front, Bird in second and Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans in third. Just moments from the start of, DS Virgin Racing’s Alex Lynn made contact with the back of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Techeetah entry, causing damage to both cars.
Four laps in, di Grassi, home race hero Luca Filippi (NIO Formula E Team) and Renault e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi were announced as the Fanboost winners, giving them an extra 100kJ of energy to use in the second half of the race, as voted for by the fans.
At lap six, Rosenqvist was 1.2 seconds clear of Bird in second while further down the pack, Jose Maria Lopez (Dragon) made a move up the inside of Filippi, taking 15th place and sending the home race hero down to 16th.
By lap 10, Antonio Felix da Costa (MS&AD Andretti Formula E) managed to climb nine positions up the grid to 11th place. Impressive work considering he started from the back of the grid.
Toward the middle of the race – lap 14 – it was clear Lotterer and Evans had managed their energy well, with both holding 22 percent left, a substantial amount more than anyone else around them.
First into the pits was da Costa on lap 16, having used his energy to climb up the standings. At the same time Filippi made up ground, slipping past Nelson Piquet Jr after he misjudged the braking zone. Shortly after, a pile-up between NIO’s Oliver Turvey, Mahindra’s Nick Heidfeld, Filippi and Edoardo Mortara (Venturi Formula E) saw the both NIO drivers suffer damage as the Italian run into the back of his teammate.
Coming into the pits and switching cars, Piquet Jr. stopped in the pit lane, with his seatbelts not properly secured.
With all pit stops completed, Rosenqvist reclaimed the lead with Bird now in second and Buemi in third, continuing under a full course yellow, which was brought out after Lynn stopped on track and retired from the race due to technical difficulties.
At the front, two separate battles raged between Rosenqvist in first and Bird in second, followed by Buemi and Evans battling for third and fourth on lap 20.
On lap 23, Rosenqvist crashed out of the race. “I just hit the curb,” said the Swedish driver over the radio, pulling over to the side of the track after Turn 21. Back in the garage, team principal Dilbagh Gill was left with his head in his hands.
Di Grassi, still going for Buemi, made use of his Fanboost on the uphill and took Buemi on the inside while a full-course yellow followed as Rosenqvist’s car was retrieved.
With Bird and Evans now left to battle it out at the top, it was looking like Jaguar’s best result yet was within reach. But it wasn’t over yet. Evans made a bid for the front on Turn 10 but it wasn’t enough to get past. With just two laps to go, Evans and Lottrer continued to jostle for third place, trading places a number of times with Evans desperate to hold off the ambitious Techeetah driver.
Having spent all his energy battling, Evans was left stranded with one percent energy, dropping to ninth as he limped back to the pits, while Bird clinched his seventh victory in the series, followed closely by di Grassi.
“In all honesty, if Rosenqvist hadn’t made that mistake, I think he would have won here,” admitted Bird.