In our latest in the series of driver interviews from Formula E’s pre-season test at Donington Park, earlier this month, Laura Prior caught up with British driver Sam Bird, and chatted to him about suntans, awful puns, his hopes for next year, and the current state of Formula E in the UK.
EVP: So, Sam, we’re back on the road again, and looking forward to season three. Tell us, what have you been up to since London? Have you managed to have a break at all?
“Yeah, I’ve been on two great little holidays! I went to Ibiza and went to Dubai…”
EVP: I noticed. Nice suntan!
“It’s faded already! It was a lot browner! So had two lovely holidays with Hollie [Sam’s girlfriend] and the boys, and just Hollie in Dubai, so had a good rest and totally recharged… get the pun, recharged? I’m totally ready for season three!”
EVP: It’s always difficult to read into car performance at Donington, as it’s fundamentally different from the street tracks we see during the season, but how does the car feel?
“We’ve had a couple of little gremlins. But they’re gremlins that we can fix – not like the car is slow. The car is fundamentally in a good way. We’ll get the car back tonight, and it’ll be better and easier to drive tomorrow.”
EVP: What about your thoughts on the new front wing? Do you feel there’s any aerodynamic value, or other benefits – not losing the front pods on a kerb, for example – or do you think it’s purely an aesthetic decision?
“No, I think it does add front downforce. I think aesthetically is looks great as well! You know, we want these cars to look futuristic and cool. That’s good for the fans, it’s good for the sport, so I think that it’s a double positive from Formula E.”
EVP: Formula E is crucial is pushing the development of electric road vehicles, and popularising them with the public. Do you remember the first time you drove an electric vehicle, and what your thoughts were?
“It was here at Donington – the season one Formula E car! That was the first time I’d ever driven an electric vehicle.”
EVP: I think British fans were disappointed with an unlucky season’s end for you in Battersea, and overall, the car did seem to struggle to keep truly in the title battle with ABT and e.Dams, but despite that, what were the highlights of last season for you? Buenos Aires has to be up there?
“Buenos Aires, obviously, is a highlight, the three pole positions, and winning the pole position award was pretty cool. Leading quite a few laps, challenging and fighting with a car that was 30 kilos heavier than the two I was fighting against, and all of that weight was at the rear, so I mean – it made for flamboyant driving, is the best way I can put it! I felt like I extracted the maximum out of the car and out of myself in order to get it up the grid where it was. So, I’m just hoping this year we can be much more competitive than what we were last year.”
EVP: Looking to this season, the race calendar has changed considerably. Montreal in, a New York City finale, back to Monaco, Marrakesh. Some great destinations! Any you’re particularly looking forward to?
“I mean, it sounds like an amazing calendar to be honest. I’m looking forward to the season opener in Hong Kong – I think Hong Kong is a pretty cool city. Marrakesh, I’ve never been there before, so I’m excited for that. And the normal ones. So, I think every round has its great opportunities to go and see cool cites. I’m excited for all of them!”
EVP: As a British driver, I wanted to ask you about the state of Formula E in the UK. As it stands, we’ve currently lost a TV contract, and the London race has been dropped – at least for now – from the calendar. How disappointed are you that, in a country with such a rich motorsport tradition, Formula E seems to be not in the best shape, and fans are left frustrated?
“Yeah, well that’s not good. The last thing you want is for fans to be frustrated. I mean, the series is growing from strength to strength, on circuit, and technology-wise, and it’s a shame that British fans can miss out on seeing the races – that’s not what we want. We want to have a good fan-base in the UK, as a lot of motorsport fans do come from our shores. So, I really hope that gets resolved. With regards to the race in London, I have my hopes set quite high that we will be revisiting London in the very near future. Speaking to Alejandro [Agag; Formula E CEO] that’s quite high on the priority list, so fingers crossed that will happen in an even more spectacular venue than it was previously. So I’m not too worried about that, but I’m hoping we can resolve a TV contract to make sure that British viewers can see the races.”
EVP: As a team, how confident can you be of closing the gap to Renault this season, as there are only – realistically – so many developmental gains they can make?
“We hope that we can close the gap, but they’re not idiots. They’ve obviously changed their rear end as well now. They’ve changed it for their own reasons, and they’re not going to be slow; they’re going to be extremely quick and difficult to beat again. Same with ABT, same with Faraday Future [Dragon Racing], same with most of the teams. I think the gaps this year will be a lot smaller, maybe from first down to team six or team seven, than they were previously. So, I just hope we’re near or at the top of that list.”
EVP: Have to mention, you have a new team-mate! Have you worked with Pechito before, or come across him in other series? How are you getting on!
“No, I’ve never worked with Pechito before, but he’s a lovely guy. Obviously an exceptional talent. Just about to be a triple world champion – not many people can claim that! It’s pretty spectacular. So, enjoying it so far, getting to know each other. He seems like a cool guy.”
EVP: Finally, what are your goals for this season? What feels achievable for you?