The Formula E silly season appears to be in full swing with Jaguar Racing expected to soon confirm the signing of Sam Bird – a major coup for the British team – with Kiwi Nick Cassidy taking his place at Envision Virgin Racing.
After six years and 63 races, Bird looks set to leave his role with Virgin team to partner Mitch Evans at Jaguar for the 2020-21 season, while Cassidy, who tested with Virgin as recently as February, has been lined up to make his Formula E debut next year alongside Robin Frijns.
Bird holds the series’ third-highest win tally and is currently the only driver to have won a race in each of the six seasons since its conception. In spite of this, Bird is understood to have become frustrated at being unable to secure the Formula E Drivers title after several near misses.
His move to Jaguar for 2020-21 sees him team up with fellow former GP2 racer Evans – who Bird raced against and beat in 2013 – while also taking the place of his friend and former Ferrari GT team-mate James Calado.
Despite their status as one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world, Bird’s move remains a risk as Jaguar have been unable to consistently challenge at the front in their four-and-a-half seasons to date, securing just two race victories and four additional podiums during that time.
Part of Jaguar’s issue though has often centred around their inability to find a consistent driver pairing. Evans, who’s just turned 26, has emerged as the team’s lead driver having contributed a staggering 77% of their total points across four seasons and has seen off four different team-mates in the process.
The closest any of those drivers came to beating Evans was former series champion Nelson Piquet Jr, who scored 51 points to Evans’ 68 during Jaguar’s second season in the championship back in 2017-18.
Now with Bird onboard, Jaguar could easily lay claim to having one of the strongest driver pairings on the Formula E grid. His signing too could also be seen as a statement of intent by Jaguar to reaffirm their commitment to the series.
With the automotive sector being hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Jaguar Land Rover made a pre-tax loss of £501m in the first quarter of this year due to declining sales, and the decision was made recently to pull the plug on Jaguars Formula E support series, the I-PACE eTROPHY, at the end of this season.
Having held an interest in Bird for some time, Jaguar are believed to have approached the nine-time Formula E winner several weeks back after choosing not to take up the option of extending newcomer Calado’s contract for a second term.
The news of Bird’s signing will come as a blow to Calado who told Inside Electric at the beginning of the season that he saw Evans as “a great reference” for him as a rookie and said that his goal was to stay in the championship having “always wanted to do Formula E”.
Calado, who won the 2017 LMGTE Pro class in WEC as well as the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, has struggled to match Evans’ results since joining the championship, and has scored just 10 of Jaguar’s 66 points so far this season.
It’s not clear yet whether Calado will be retained by Jaguar, but it’s possible he may be offered a test and development role, similar to the position former driver Alex Lynn occupied after he himself was replaced by Calado.
Cassidy’s move to succeed Bird at Virgin is an intriguing one as the team have opted to replace the joint-most experienced driver in Formula E with one that’s yet to drive competitively in the series.
The 25-year-old Kiwi comes highly rated, however, and has recent Formula E experience having represented Virgin in the Marrakesh rookie test earlier this year as well as in the virtual ‘Race at Home’ Esports series that took place under lockdown.
It’s known that Cassidy has been keen to secure a full-time Formula E drive for some time having spent several years competing in Japan – albeit with significant success having won both the Super GT title in 2017 and the Super Formula title last season.
Inside Electric understand that Cassidy was offered a six-race deal with Mahindra for the upcoming Berlin rounds, and was close to signing before the opportunity of a full-time drive emerged with Virgin.
With a Super GT race at Fuji scheduled for the weekend of 8th-9th August, Cassidy’s participation in the Berlin races would have resulted in him being forced to skip at least one race of the new season in Japan.
Mahindra’s approach was understood to cover just the remainder of this season, so it’s understandable that Cassidy may have been reluctant to disrupt his full-season Super GT drive without the reassurance of a longer-term contract.
Cassidy’s proposed switch to Virgin for next season will now see him remain in Tokyo for the remainder of the year in order to fully focus on his dual Super GT and Super Formula programmes.
Both Jaguar and Virgin were approached by Inside Electric for comment. Jaguar say they “don’t comment on driver market speculation” while Virgin are yet to respond.