Bird cut leader Jean-Eric Vergne’s lead from 40 to 23 points by finishing second behind reigning champion Lucas di Grassi, winning his first E-Prix of the season, after the race was turned on its head due to a mass of drive through penalties as the race entered its final stages.
With ten laps left five of the top eight racers, including Championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne, were all found guilty of speeding during a yellow flag earlier in the race which saw Bird jump from sixth to second while Vergne dropped to 12th – finishing 10th.
And after an amazing first motor race in Switzerland since the 1954 Le Mans disaster-related ban Bird felt Vergne’s bad day at the office had given the DS Virgin Racing team a chance to pile on the pressure in New York City.
He said: “We’ve got ourselves in this fantastic position and thankfully now with a second place today and a little bit of luck, I have to say, we can fight in New York.
“We know what happened in New York last year [Bird won both E-Prix]. The gap is 23 points so anything is possible.
“We spoke about momentum again in Rome. I think it’s easy to get carried away if JEV has a bad race and all of a sudden, I’ve got momentum – it’s just one race. I need to beat him in the first race in New York then I need to put the pressure on him in race two. If I can do that, there’s a chance.
“Maybe sometimes you have to ride your luck. We know we’re not the best in some areas but we maximise it so bring on New York – we’re chasing him.”
Setting the tone for a tough day, Vergne was the first car out for qualifying and undertook what he called a ‘nightmare lap’ which was a whole second slower than fastest Mitch Evans and he qualified in 17th while Bird started third. Evans’ pole was Jaguar’s first ever in single-seater motorsport.
Despite starting in sixth place Di Grassi absolutely flew out of the traps and was soon pushing Bird in third place while Vergne was doing the same at the back of the grid – raising himself to tenth place inside ten laps.
The Frenchman’s aggressive driving saw Felix Rosenqvist end up in a wall but Bird was struggling, falling further and further back as Vergne drove over car debris left on the track – miraculously avoiding a puncture – and a full-track yellow flag was called which changed the race.
A terrible pit stop forced Vergne back into ninth after his car wouldn’t start losing him 12 seconds, and the team radio picking up plenty of profanity, in comparison to di Grassi who flew out and opened up a massive gap – one he would never relinquish.
It was announced with ten laps left that of the top eight racers; Evans, Lotterer, Jose Maria Lopez, Sebastien Buemi and Vergne were all under investigation by the FIA for speeding during the yellow flag and all were found guilty.
This took Vergne from sixth down to 12th while lifting Bird, who had been dropping farther and farther back on the grid, up into second.
Di Grassi and Bird both held their positions for the final stages while D’Ambrosio got on the podium for the first time this season for himself and Dragon Racing.
Oliver Turvey, in the final stages, helped his countryman Bird by holding off Vergne, who had to end the race in 10th place, and thus leaves matters open as we head to New York – a race Bird won twice last season.