The 31-year-old closed the gap to Jean-Eric Vergne at the top of the Drivers’ Championships to 18 points with his victory in the Eternal City as he took advantage of a nightmare moment for Felix Rosenqvist whose car failed as the race entered its final stages.
The Swede had taken pole position and never looked in danger of relinquishing during the race until lap 23 when technical problems ended his race and allowed Bird to jump up to take his second winner’s trophy of the season.
In front of countryman Felipe Massa who was in attendance reigning champ Lucas di Grassi continued his recent renaissance to take his second second-place in a row and Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer took third for his second podium of the season.
But Bird was the man to really benefit with his second win of the season although he was keeping his feet planted firmly in the ground – insisting he would not be looking at the points until the final race weekend in New York.
“I honestly didn’t think we’d be here in the position we are in at the year’s beginning,” said Bird. “I thought we’d struggle but we’ve maximised DS Virgin Racing and I’m doing alright as well.
“I’ve just got to do the best job I can and then we’ll see when we get to New York where we were strong last year. When we get to New York we’ll look at points but right now we are still just going to take it race by race.
“I don’t know what happened to Felix, I think he hit a curb and I was able to catch him which was great but there were cars behind me that were very quick also.
“It was a case of doing a time trial and not making a mistake. I was just having to position my car in the right places and the right time and give myself the best scenario and it worked out well.”
Mitch Evans had said previously that he would be confident of a maiden Formula E victory if he qualified in the top three. And a great qualifying saw the young buck start in third behind Bird in second and Rosenqvist on pole.
FIA stewards were given some early work as Antonio Felix Da Costa t-boned into Jose Maria Lopez’s car as the Dragon driver was making his way out to qualify. The Argentinean was left visibly incensed by Da Costa’s mistake.
And this carnage continued into the race as Alex Lynn shunted Vergne on lap one – both losing pieces of their cars the process as as Sienna Miller and the Prince of Monaco were treated to a classic.
Rosenqvist was looking a very cool customer as he opened up a significant gap ahead of Bird after 10 laps while Da Costa was driving angry to move from 20th to 11th in that same time period.
Lotterer, who was having a ‘hot’ day during a hot and cold first season, was pushing Evans hard from fourth place after surprising many when he put up the fastest qualifying time earlier in the day.
Just prior to the pit stop four drivers were involved in a crash after Nick Heidfeld and Oliver Turvey, taking on a corner parallel to each other, had to slow which caused Luca Filippi to then go into the back of the stationary Turvey.
Filippi then nearly hit his teammate again in the pit lane during the car changeover but rather hit the brakes instead just in time.
As the race entered its final stages Rosenqvist looked to have had it tied up until his mechanical issues which seemed to galvanise the chasing pack with di Grassi, Evans, Lotterer Daniel Abt and Sebastien Buemi battling for a place on the podium.
Championship leader Vergne had never finished below fifth this season and looked in no mood to break that habit as he fought a back and forth battle with Abt. The German won the battle and ended up fourth but JEV kept up his record to finish fifth.
Evans was desperate to make it a day of firsts in Rome as he pushed Bird to the limit with some attempted overtakes in the final few laps but he got sucked into a battle with di Grassi who nipped second spot with three laps to go.
And things got worse for the Jaguar driver as he ran out of energy and dropped to ninth place on the final lap – crawling across the line.
But the day belonged to Bird who lifted himself into the second place in the Drivers’ Championship and closed in on Vergne.