It’s new, electric, quiet, and for once in the world of motoring, it doesn’t come in the form of a dreary Japanese hatchback made from leaves. Formula E is just around the corner, with a whole roster of teams old and new, drivers young and old, and fans both eager and skeptical in equal measures.
During the last pre-season test session held at the series headquarters at Donington Park, Badger caught up with 2013 GP2 runner-up and former Mercedes test driver Sam Bird, to discuss all things FE ahead of the series’ inaugural race this weekend in Beijing, China, and his maiden season for Virgin Racing.
Sam, you’ve just stepped out of the car for the final time before China. From your own perspective, how has testing gone for you, and the team?
I think it’s all gone very well. It was a nice smooth test day, just what you want in the final session, with many laps under my belt, no issues on the car, and no offs. We’ve been pretty quick, and we feel competitive.
We’ve spoke to a number of drivers about what these cars are like to drive, and the general consensus has been that you can’t compare them to anything else. Would you agree with that?
Pretty much. You’re sliding through corners trying your best to keep the minimum speeds up and you have to do things on the steering wheel that you would never normally do on another car. Having said that, the change of direction is pretty good, and you still feel like you’re in a single-seater when you drive it; it’s just the way you drive it that is slightly different.
What’s the biggest challenge in driving the car?
The main challenge we’re facing is the battery and managing it. Anyone can do a one-off lap and try and be fast, and that’s all about getting the set-up right, but when it comes down to the race it’s going to be all about strategy. You’re basically taking you’re qualifying car into the race and have to make do with that set-up, but the race itself is going to be all about strategy.
What appealed to you about Formula E in the first place? Why are you here?
The fact that it’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s pioneering. To be part of something new is very exciting for me, and I think that this series is going to go a long way.
The word of 2014 has been ‘noise’, whether it’s to do with F1 or FE. How is it from the cockpit?
You can hear so many different things that you wouldn’t normally hear in a conventional single seater. Having said that, I’m used to it now, and it just feels normal.
Franck Montangy commented on the noise of the air hitting the helmet as being ‘disturbing’. Would you agree with that comment?
You can really tell when the winds up and when the winds down, where as you can only judge that by handling in a normal car. You think to yourself, “Oh, I’ve got a bit more wind this lap because it’s noisier around my head”. It’s all very bizarre.
You’ve driven many race cars now. How does this rank amongst them for excitement?
It’s its own form of excitement. Obviously F1 is very special and GP2 is very cool, and so is DTM and other things, but this has it’s own place for me. What is exciting is that it’s brand new, for sure there’s a lot of adrenaline and a lot of excitement, which is difficult to categorise in a list, but I’m having great fun and I can’t wait for the first race.”
Speaking of the Beijing, who are you expecting to be leading from the start? And where do you expect yourselves at Virgin to be?
I think we’ll be up the front somewhere. Where? I just don’t know. This track (Donington) is so different to a street track that the pecking order might be completely turned on its head. We just do not know.”
And finally, let’s take a step back from Formula E a minute. Where do you want to be in 2015?
I’d love to win this championship first. With other projects we’ll have to wait and see. There are some things we’re looking into but I can’t comment right now.
Where would you like to be?
(smiling) For sure, with Virgin again, hunting for wins and championships with them, but with other projects I’m afraid I can’t talk about them at the moment!
You can watch Sam & Virgin Racing take part in the inaugural Formula E race this Saturday in Beijing, China, with coverage starting at 8:00am (GMT) on ITV4