One race is all it could take for Sam Bird to make his presence felt in the 2020/21 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.
With six races remaining, it would appear at first glance that Bird’s current rank of 11th in the standings would make him an afterthought to take the crown. However, he only trails current championship leader Eduardo Mortara by 23 points, 72-49, with 25 points awarded to each race winner.
“I mean, one win puts you back on the top of the championship,” Bird told RACER. “OK, I’m not where I want to be currently, but I’m not far away from where I need to be. So, it’s not doom and gloom just yet. You know, if I was 40-50 points off right now, then yeah, it’s far more difficult. But 23 points and only 13 off second (Robin Frijns), that’s acceptable and you can still fight from there.”
Winning is certainly not unusual for the 34-year-old Briton, who has10 wins and 21 podiums in 78 career starts in Formula E heading into this weekend’s doubleheader New York City E-Prix — an event he swept in Season 3 (2016/17).
Although the all-electric series did not rip through the streets of Brooklyn last year due to the pandemic, Bird recalls the numerous challenges the 14-turn, 1.442-mile/2.32km circuit presents.
“Obviously, the first one is going to be the heat,” Bird said. “It could be battery-temperature limited this weekend, so that could be interesting. Sector 1 is based on a surface where a lot of trucks drive over it to load and unload from the water. So, the grip level tends to be slightly different to the rest of the track and that can throw up some difficulties. Then you’ve got the bumpy braking into Turn 9 that’s also quite difficult in the middle sector. Those are a few different aspects that are interesting in New York.”
The one significant factor for Bird this year is the race team. During the off-season, he moved over to pilot the No. 10 entry for Jaguar Racing after six seasons with Virgin Racing. The pairing found success almost instantly with Bird delivering a win in just his second race for Jaguar in the nightcap of the Diriyah E-Prix season-opening doubleheader in Saudi Arabia.
“Obviously, Virgin was all I knew for a long period of time and it was quite nice actually to have a bit of a change-up,” Bird admitted. “I think that’s quite refreshing and important sometimes in a career, because you can get a bit stale. I wanted a new challenge. I’ve certainly got that with a good Jaguar. They’ve been exceptional; partnering with Mitch (Evans) has been really fun and interesting. He’s a good guy, very quick. I think it’s working out very well so far.”
The combination of Bird’s victory and Evans’ trio of podiums has Jaguar sitting third in the team standings, four points behind leader Mercedes-EQ (113-109). If not for a combined five retirements, along with Bird’s disqualification in Valencia Race 1, the championship could have an entirely different outlook to this point.
“I’m very, very impressed with the team,” Bird said. “I think we’ve got a great package. We’re still very much in the hunt for both championships. When it comes to my personal performance and the amount of points I’ve been able to pick up, there’s been times when it’s been exciting and good. There’s been times that have been quite disappointing. We have left a lot of points on the table. That’s a bit disappointing, but we’ve got six races to correct that and put it right, and that’s the plan.”
Bird got off to a troubled start in New York, however: Setting the fastest time through the first and second sector on a flying lap late in the first practice session Saturday morning, he clipped the wall at at Clinton Wharf, a tricky quick left-hander. This could prove problematic if his car suffered damage to the powertrain. Qualifying is set for 12:30 p.m. ET, with the first race scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and airing live on CBSSN.
A devastated @sambirdofficial 😫
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— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) July 10, 2021