After six years, 69 starts and nine victories with the Envision Virgin team, Sam Bird has a new place to call home. His summer switch to join their rivals Jaguar Racing should, on paper at least, give him a shot at a first Formula E drivers’ title that he’s long-coveted.
Speaking exclusively to Inside Electric, Bird explains that Jaguar had courted his signature for some time, but it was a moment during this year’s Marrakesh E-Prix that persuaded him to finally make the move.
“Virgin were an amazing team for me. I have nothing but respect for everybody that works and has worked there over my six years. We had a great time together,” Bird said.
“Sometimes you need a change, and change is good. I just felt like having the opportunity to work with the largest British automotive manufacturer was too good an opportunity to miss out on.
“We’ve been speaking about it for quite a few years now, myself and the top brass at Jaguar Racing. There came a point when I just thought ‘I’ve got to go for this move’,” said Bird.
“I could see that they’ve made massive strides with their car over the last couple of years. When they joined, they were trying to find their feet a bit, but now they’ve got to the point where Mitch, especially Mitch, has looked incredibly strong.
“He came past me in Marrakesh like I was standing still. It was like a sit up moment – ‘wow, I need to get myself in that car… that thing looks like it’s on rails! How is he doing that, because he’s got more energy than me and he’s come past me like I’m standing still!’
“There [were] a few nearly moments [with other teams] but nearly moments don’t matter. Even 2016, [Jaguar and I] were having these discussions so they’ve gone on for quite some time. I just feel right now the timing is absolutely perfect for this move to be done so let’s see what the future holds.”
Bird ranks third on the all-time Formula E winners list, but he’s the only one in the top five without a drivers’ championship win to his name. Why then would a move to a team with only two race wins in total give him a better chance of ending that record?
“I’m extremely excited about the future with Jaguar and I think we’ve got all the resources necessary to deliver some great seasons together,” said Bird.
“Obviously, there is an ultimate goal for me personally which is to try and get [the drivers’ championship]. Whether we can do it or not, we don’t know yet because there’s a heck of a lot of good teams out there and some amazing driver lineups.
“Also, to try and win the manufacturers’ title, I think Jaguar has two drivers now that can win races and multiple races in any given season, so let’s see what happens.
“Change is sometimes a little bit nerve racking. I hadn’t had change in my life for something like six and a half years. To go somewhere new, I was excited but obviously quite nervous but as soon as I walked in the door everyone was amazing. It’s a team I believe can take me to places that I haven’t been before with Formula E.”
Getting both their drivers regularly scoring podiums, or even points at times, has always been Jaguar’s achilles heel to some extent. Bird’s aware of their record, but dismissed any suggestions the team will find it a challenge to provide both himself and Mitch Evans with an equal shot at success.
“Consistency aside, I don’t know what mechanical issues [the team] had in the past but let’s put it his way – we’ve been testing together now on numerous days, and the feedback is identical [between myself and Mitch], the way we want the car is identical, where we’re pushing id identical which is great. I think the pairing is great, it’s going to work very, very well,” he said.
“[Mitch] has been superb. He’s obviously been Jaguar’s standout driver and he’s very much loved within the team, and he deserves to be. The fact that he is so strong I think will elevate Jaguar to new levels. I think that’s very important, that we’re going to really push each other.
“The first person you want to beat is obviously your team-mate. He will want to be in front of me and I will want to be in front of him, so we’re going to be pushing each other extremely hard and that will push us further up the grid so I can only see it as a positive.”
Whether Bird can mount a serious championship challenge in year one with Jaguar remains to be seen. His record though of winning at least one race every season can no longer be challenged and he’s keen to keep that one going for a little bit longer yet.
“In history now I am the only person that has done it and [the only one that] can do it in the future. Lucas didn’t get [a win] last year, Seb missed out on one in season four, so now I am the only person,” Bird said.
“I’d prefer to have a number one on my car than that, but yeah, in terms of records it’s a nice thing that I am the only person to do that. It’s something that’s quite nice for me. The moment I don’t win then that record obviously stops. I need to keep that going and I want to keep that going.
“I’m very, very hungry and motivated for much more than just a win; there needs to be multiple wins, lots of podiums, there needs to be consistency to deliver a title challenge.”
Bird appears to be settling in well in his new surroundings, but I reminded him that Lewis Hamilton stopped in the McLaren pit box during his second race for Mercedes. Both he and Bird had moved on after a six-year stint with one team, so is it an easy mistake to make?
“I hadn’t thought of it, but now you’ve put it in my head!”, he said. “Maybe I might be a little bit nervous in Santiago about doing that…. but I’m pretty sure I won’t do it!”