Article features images courtesy of Spacesuit Media & Octane Photographic
Formula E star Sam Bird took some time out from his busy schedule to chat to Badger’s Rob Watts about F1, Formula E, and his strict rules on how to make tea. Hint; never ever put the milk in first!
Rob Watts: You’ve kind of found your home now with DS Virgin in Formula E. This is your third season with the team, can the team now give you a car to challenge for the championship?
Sam Bird: Let’s see how the next couple of races go – we’re getting closer for sure. From where we started in season one, to then evolving in season two, and now progressing a lot in season three. We’re certainly going in the right direction; we’ve not taken any backwards steps. I’m hoping we’ll soon be in a position when we’re the dominant force. We’re not there yet, but we’re edging closer, and hopefully we’ll be in that position soon.
RW: Sebastian Buemi seems to be on a roll at the moment. Is there anything specific you need to do to reign him in, or is it just a case of ‘keep doing what you’re doing’ and be consistent?
SB: I need to work on a couple of things, and the team needs to work on a couple of things. We’ve both found a middle ground where we’ve both improved going to Buenos Aires. I’m expecting to be competitive in Buenos Aires, but then again, everybody might have improved over the winter break as well as there’s been a lot of time for the technicians to look at all the systems and fine tune things a little bit. I’m very happy with the work that we’ve done over the winter. I believe we’ll be stronger; just how strong we’ll find out.
RW: We’ve had a couple of crazy races in Buenos Aires, but you won the race there last time out. Is it possible to pinpoint what it is you need to be fast there or is it just a case of seeing how the race pans out?
SB: Every race is so different in Formula E. Buenos Aires has been great for the series as there have been two great races. I think last year’s race was, personally, in the top ten races that I’ve ever produced, but certainly a good one for Formula E as well. It made some people take notice of Formula E, and I hope that we can put on a good show again. I don’t know the reason why it seems to be a bit crazy there. I think the track layout lends itself to overtaking which is great for fans and for the spectacle.
RW: Another one of the tracks you’ve won at, Battersea Park, is no longer on the calendar. Obviously, you have a huge fan-base here – do you think it’s important that Formula E can get the UK back on the calendar?
SB: Yes, I think it’s important for Formula E, but I think it’d be great for London as well to have a motorsport event. [Battersea] was spectacular and people really enjoyed it in the first two seasons, and it’s a shame it’s not back for a third season. If we can come back here it would be great, no only on a personal note because I’m from London, but for the fans as well. We have so many British motorsport fans who would love to see an event in the heart of London.
RW: Formula One has flirted with London for a while.
SB: It’s not going to happen. Formula One has been trying to get into London for ten to fifteen years, and New York for probably fifteen to twenty years. Formula E has managed both within three years. Right now, everyone’s thinking about being greener, being more efficient, and going electric – and that’s why Formula E is relevant to not only motorsport fans but everybody on the planet.
RW: You had links with Mercedes in F1 for a while, and you tested for them several times. We’ve heard rumours that they’ll join Formula E in the not so distant future – do you think that will happen, and will we see other F1 teams follow suit?
SB: If Mercedes did, it would be huge for Formula E. The more manufacturers that come into the sport, the better. I would love to see Mercedes come in. I made a lot of friends there, they are a fantastic team with some great people, and they obviously know what they are doing. It would make the championship better and stronger.
RW: F1 is going through a bit of a transitional period at the moment. Bernie’s left, we’ve got new owners, and there’s been lots of talk about what changes Liberty Media will make. What can the new owners learn from Formula E, and is there anything can be introduced to Formula One?
SB: If they can make it a bit more accessible to fans, that would be great, because you can’t get close at the moment. Maybe the technology. It’s so far away from anything you see on the roads right now. I wouldn’t say it was irrelevant, but there’s not much you could take from a current Formula One car and introduce to a road car. Whereas the stuff we’re doing in Formula E, I genuinely believe that in the future we can work on stuff that will end up on the roads.
We’ll see – I have every faith in Ross Brawn who’s taken up a big position at Liberty Media. Ross was my long-term boss at Mercedes F1 – he’s a super guy, extremely clever, and he has the sport’s best interests at heart. He’ll make Formula One great again.
RW: Ross was quoted recently as saying that it might be time for F1 to rethink whether it should continue striving to be relevant to the road car industry. Do you think there’s a place for Formula 1 and Formula E to co-exist, or will they eventually become too similar?
SB: It’s so far in the future that I can’t even express an opinion on that. They are such different worlds right now; how they could potentially converge is difficult to fathom. Formula E is growing at quite a rate, but I’m excited to see what Ross does with the pinnacle of motorsport. Where they’ll go, I don’t know. Autonomous vehicles are a great way of showcasing technology, but you need a human element for it to be a sport. You’re not going to see thirty robots on a rugby pitch competing against each other; you need that passion that only comes with a human element.
RW: I’ve seen a YouTube video where you explain quite passionately about your method for making the perfect cup of tea – and you seem quite serious about it?
SB: Don’t put milk in first. Honestly, who puts the milk in first? You get the teabag all soggy – it’s wrong. There’s a method; there’s a procedure, and people who do it wrong – shame on them. I’m trying to be healthy, so I’m on to green tea with mint, or a lemon and ginger tea with a bit of Mānuka honey. It’s really posh, but Mānuka honey is so expensive – it’s like £20 a pot! It’s definitely not an everyday honey.
RW: Has your new teammate, José María López, made you a cup of tea yet?
SB: No, he hasn’t actually.
Questions submitted by users of reddit.com/r/formulae
RW: What do you think of your new teammate, José María López?
SB: He’s a really good guy. He’s funny, he’s friendly, and he’s fast.
RW: I saw on Twitter that he said he’s going to see you more than his wife now he’s doing WEC as well as Formula E?
SB: It’s true! Genuinely, I’m going to see him more than Holly, my partner. It’s a bit concerning that I’ll be stuck with this hairy Argentinian.
RW: You’ve also got a new test driver, Alex Lynn, who I think you’ve known for a long time. What do you think of Alex getting a shot at Formula E?
SB: It’s really good – good for him, and for his career. He’s very quick, and if the cards had fallen a different way, he most likely would have fallen into a seat in F1. As with so many young drivers at the moment, F1 doesn’t give them the opportunity to shine. It’s the most exclusive club in the world; he didn’t get an opportunity there so he’s looking at other career avenues and I think Formula E could be a good opportunity for him.
RW: How does the driver training (as in the theory and mental prep) vary from other series you’ve raced in, and do you do a lot of sim work in Formula E?
SB: It’s just as serious, just as important. We do a lot of sim work before the race, and we’re always speaking with our engineers. I focus just as hard as when I was doing GP2 and F1. I’ve probably improved mentally as a driver; this is the pinnacle of electric racing, and I’m racing against 19 world class drivers, so I need to be on top of my game.
RW: During the races, we often hear you feeding data back to your engineers such as energy readouts. Did you pick that up quite quickly, or was it tricky at first?
SB: I managed to pick it up fairly quickly, which is a good thing obviously otherwise I wouldn’t be very competitive, but it’s difficult to manage the energy and still be quick. There are ways that you do it, hit the energy target but be slow, then there’s the right way of doing it, and you have to ensure you’re always doing it the right way. If you go over the target, it can be very difficult to get back on target.
RW: What were your emotions when your engine blew while in the lead in Daytona recently?
SB: I was gutted; I was crying in the helmet. You work so hard for so long, and I’m wearing the Ferrari suit, so it means a lot. I’m there as a Ferrari professional, employed by Ferrari to go out there and do my job for Scuderia Corsa. I was with a great bunch of people, a lovely team and we’d done so well. We’d struggled our way through the night in difficult conditions, we’d been handed penalties, we’d come back after being a lap down, and when I got in the car and moved up through the ranks and into the lead I thought ‘It’s nearly done’.
All I needed to do was three more laps in the car, and then I was handing over to Alessandro Balzan who had been arguably one of the quickest guys throughout the weekend, and then the engine went bang. It was a catastrophic failure, but yeah, I was gutted.
RW: You mentioned earlier that the Buenos Aires ePrix from 2016 was probably amongst the best races you’ve driven. What would you say was your best?
SB: I would say a World Series by Renault race, myself vs. Jules Bianchi at Monaco. We finished 42 seconds clear of third place – it was 42 qualifying laps in a row. The fact that it was Jules, he was one of my best mates in racing and the best of our little generation of drivers growing up. It was a special memory.
RW: We’ve seen a radical new front wing design introduced to Formula E for this season. Have you needed to adapt to that, and has it affected your visibility when trying to pick out the apex?
SB: There’s no change in visibility. It’s added a little bit more front downforce with not that much drag influence. I think it’s a good thing. I like that the fact that it looks quite futuristic.
RW: Final question from Reddit – what’s your favourite Pizza?
Many thanks to Sam Bird, and to DS Virgin’s Alisdair Byers, for being generous with their time.