Badger has sent Sarah Merritt to check out the Formula E in Paris this weekend, and she managed to catch up with Sam Bird to hear the DS Virgin Racing driver’s thoughts on the season so far, the venue and track, as well as his opinion on some recent motorsport headlines.
Sam, when we spoke last at the Formula E Donington Test, I asked you about your thoughts for the season ahead. We meet again now in Paris, and its Round 7 of this second season – How would you sum up the season so far?
“I think it’s been quite positive, to be honest. I think we’ve nearly maximised the points with the systems that we’ve got on the car. It was a shame about Punta, when we were fighting for a podium, to come away with nothing after a mechanical failure. It was a shame to make a mistake at Long Beach and lose second place. We’ve probably lost roughly 35 points overall, everybody has ”ifs and buts” – 35 points would actually put us in the lead of the championship – but Seb (Buemi) and Lucas (di Grassi) both have ”ifs and buts” as well, so we can’t say that. We’ve been consistently within reach of the front, sometimes it’s not possible, but scoring point all the time is the key.”
There’s so many Brits out here today, lots of fans here that I’ve seen you chatting to. I bet this feels like a home race to you?
“Yes, well, it is our home race! It’s DS’s home race. Later on today, we’ll be going to DS World near the Champs-Élysées, and there can’t be anymore a “home from home” than that! It’s very important for us as a team, both sides of the garage, to get some points this weekend. We will do absolutely everything we can in order to make that happen, but it will be tough – this circuit doesn’t necessarily lend itself to our strengths, but we still have to do everything we can to try and get those points.”
You’re fresh from a successful weekend of WEC at Silverstone. How hard is it jumping back into this car after driving in other disciplines, does it take a while to readjust?
“Maybe at the beginning it did, maybe last year, but now, no. I have my Formula E hat and my World Endurance hat”
And you’re not wearing a hat…!
“Well, helmet. I have my Formula E helmet and my World Endurance helmet, they are two different makes, two different types of car, a slightly different skill, so I don’t see that as an issue anymore.”
Do you think that having done so well last weekend means that you come to this weekend on a high?
“Ah, I’ve put that to bed now. That happened 5 days ago, which was fantastic, and I’m now fully read for this. It’s nice to come here on the back of a win, but tomorrow will be a different day.”
Talking of how Formula E rates against other categories of motorsport, what were your thoughts on Lucas di Grassi’s comments regarding Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel having a “hard time” if they came to the series?
“I agree to some extent, you’ve seen some amazing drivers come into this and you can’t just jump in and be good. It’s a different sort of skill, and of course, some people would disagree and say that they’re the best in the world, and they are the best in the world in Formula 1, but that’s just Formula 1. Thy wouldn’t know these circuits, they wouldn’t initially fully get to grips with the lifting and the coasting and “re-gening”, they might argue that they do that already in F1, but it’s a different car with different machinery, different speeds. As they are the best in the world, and of course they would get used to it quite quickly, but maybe it would take more that the first weekend. That’s what I think Lucas was trying to say – you can’t just hop in and expect to be P1 and P2. Especially when the grid is such a good grid anyway!”
You’re just back from a track walk here. What are your thoughts on the circuit and location? I know you are used to the street circuits, but is there anything unique about this one?
“It’s an amazing location. There’s a lot of change of tarmac, a lot of white lines that are very slippery, quite a lot of undulation, and a lot of crowning. It’s going to be a difficult race, and I think a qualifying lap is going to be very tough. One lap round here? (Sucks air in through teeth) It’s going to be tricky!”
There’s been lots of talk of late about drivers having a responsibility to be active on social media. What are your thoughts, given that you’ve always interacted and been good at fan engagement? A personal choice?
“I’m a chap that just so happens to sit in a fast office…”
“It is a personal choice, I think. If a driver wants to remain private, that that’s his choice. You can’t force people to do social media if they don’t want to. Personally, I don’t mind it, I think it’s good that I can interact with fans, and answer questions and have a bit of banter with them, have a bit of fun, because at the end of the day without the fans, there wouldn’t be the sport. I personally find it good to interact – I’m a fan at the same time! I like motor racing, I like sport in general. But I don’t see myself above anyone else, I’m a chap that just so happens to sit in a fast office, and get to have fun doing it, and I’m pleased that it gives pleasure to other people to watch. That doesn’t mean I’m any different to any other human being, I’m just another person, and of course I think I should interact with other people. I’m glad that people watch, but I really hope that people don’t put me on a pedestal – I’m just like you, or every mechanic here, or the people walking by, they’re no different to me.”
A typically humble answer from Sam there, although great fun and we rounded off our chat with a Paris EPrix Selfie! As always, he was a pleasure to talk to, and we wish him and the DS Virgin Racing all the best during this Formula E weekend in Paris. Let’s see if we can catch up again at the end of the season to recap on how the rest of it unfurls for the team.