Following the unveiling of its rebranded Formula E team, PH talked to driver Sam Bird about 'the world's fastest game of chess'
By John Howell / Thursday, November 4, 2021 / Loading comments
Jaguar unveiled its new 2021-22 Formula E racer this week. The team has announced its rebrand to Jaguar TCS Racing and Thierry Bolloré as its new chairman, but its highly successful driver line-up of Sam Bird and Mitch Evans, who together took the team to second in the constructor’s championship last season, remains unchanged. PH sat down with Sam to chat about Formula E, his teammate, the changes to qualifying next season and his approach to racing.
PH: Sam, you had a hand in the changes to the new qualifying format. How did that come about?
Sam: I’ve had this idea in my head for a couple of years now, and I was driving home from a simulator day in the middle of the season. Everyone was getting a little tired of the current format and I gave Alberto [Longo – Co Founder, Deputy CEO and Chief Championship Officer at Formula E] a ring to see what he and the powers that be thought of a knockout stage. They liked it, and we’ve come up with the idea now that we feel will be great fun.
PH: What is the aim of those changes?
Sam: It’s no longer the case that if you’re doing well, we’re going to hinder your progress over the next couple of races. You can still perform at a high level all the time and it rewards people for good driving and having a good powertrain and good car.
PH: Last year the team finished second in the constructor’s championship, which was huge jump. How was that achieved, and can you go one better next season?
Sam: We’re up against some world-class teams. I’ve got every faith in Jaguar TCS Racing and the leap that we took last year was massive, from seventh to second, and narrowly missing out [on the championship]. In previous years, Mitch has been left to score a lot of the points, and this year’s jump came from us both scoring heavily. Also, there were new components: a new car, a new rear end. All those things, in conjunction with our great engineering ability, great mechanics, designers and everyone in the team, are pulling things in the right direction. But there is another step to take. It will be difficult, but that’s ultimately the goal and I think it’s achievable.
PH: Who do you see as your main challengers next year – Mercedes again?
Sam: I think Mercedes are always going to be there. Also DS, my old team, Envision Virgin Racing, are always pretty strong as are Andretti and Nissan. There are so many good teams in this championship and it’s hard to name just one because, on any given day, any of those guys can turn up and be quick. The driver line-up is such and the closeness of the championship is such that one day you can be winning and the next you can be P15.
PH: As a racing driver, does that degree of variance in form frustrate you?
Sam: It is frustrating, but at the same time I have to remind myself that I am racing some of the best drivers in the world. If you’re missing two tenths of a second, you’ll be P15, that’s just how close it is. It can be very difficult to swallow because I am very competitive, but I am a pretty good racer. I can come back through the field if qualifying doesn’t go well. You can’t win them all, but you’ve got to make sure you score consistently.
PH: You and Mitch seem to have a good rapport from what I’ve seen. If you two are fighting for the championship, will that change, and how will you manage that?
Sam: Yeah, if it’s me and Mitch fighting for the championship, of course it’s going to be more strained because we both want to win. But I think we’re professional enough firstly not to allow it to destroy our personal relationship, and also we understand that the most important thing is working together for Jaguar TCS Racing. The main goal is to get that championship and, in doing that, if we can get the driver’s championship then amazing. But the goal for the team is to win the constructor’s.
PH: Where are your strengths over Mitch and vice versa?
Sam: Mitch is very strong in all departments. If I need to improve anything over last year it’s my qualifying performance, which I wasn’t totally happy with. I only got one pole last year and only went into a couple of Super Poles. Although I was in group one a lot of the time, for my standards, I didn’t feel that was good enough. I’d say my racing might edge it a little bit, but I need to improve my consistency there – I got into too many scrapes. If I’m in seventh, sometimes you have to take seventh and move on to the next day. However, I always feel like if I am third or second, then I can get to the top step.
PH: How will you improve your qualifying?
Sam: I just need some fine tuning so I can execute better qualifying laps. This year I am going to be working with a sports psychologist to unpick and unlock a few mental things, and I am going to be working with someone who’s going to be training me physically and mentally so that I am in the best possible mindset going into qualifying sessions. Honestly, right now I am not sure how and what to unpick, but with some help I believe I can make that step and be better.
PH: How do you and Mitch compare on car set-up?
Sam: Normally the set-ups are very close. It’s more the finer elements within the software that we might tweak, so I might have slightly different braking maps or mid-corner things to help me rotate the car more or less than him.
PH: That must be quite useful for the two of you?
Sam: It’s important for us to develop the car in the same way. I mean, if we had wildly different set-ups and wildly different ways of driving, while we could both be quick and wins races, it makes it very difficult for the engineers moving forwards, especially when you’re designing a new car, like we are with Gen3. It’s much cleaner if we can work together, and we’re fortunate in that we’re quite similar in our approaches. And if we have issues in the set-up, I might try one thing and he might try another. If his works and mine doesn’t, I trust his feedback and he trusts mine. He’s a great teammate: he’s very quick, very reliable and fun to get on with.
PH: There are three new circuits this year – Vancouver, Seoul and Jakarta. How will they suit you and the car?
Sam: All of them should suit us. It’s longer-radius corners that don’t necessarily suit our car, because we’ve designed it to work on tight, twisty street circuits, not long, flowing, wide racetracks. In the pandemic we had to go to some ‘proper’ racetracks and that hurt us a little bit. Now we’re out of the pandemic and back to city centres, that should suite our car and we should be flying.
PH: Which of the current circuits are your favourites?
Sam: I enjoy driving Riyadh. I think it’s a great challenge and I love the middle sector; it’s really good fun and I’ve been fortunate to win there twice. And New York. I’ve won there three times now, so that’s pretty cool. Those are places where I feel very in the groove. I am also looking forward to going back to Mexico City. I had a great race there a couple of years ago, although unfortunately it didn’t end well, but I know the Jaguar component is very quick there. And I am looking forward to getting back to London. But I look forward to all the races – every single one is an opportunity to score maximum points and showcase what we can do as a team, and what I can do.
PH: How does Formula E differ from the other cars you’ve driven?
Sam: I’ve got to be careful with my energy consumption in races, which is like the world’s fastest game of chess, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to set the car up to carry good minimum speed and get down the next straight well. I’ve now got a wealth of experience in all forms of motorsport and I’ve been driving Formula E since 2014. When I started, I had zero knowledge of how to negotiate a racetrack quickly in an electric vehicle, but now, eight years in, I am fully in tune and understand all the little nuances so I don’t need to rely heavily on past experiences. But if it weren’t for those past experiences, I wouldn’t have got the job in the first place. So it all adds up into one ball of knowledge that I use to go quick around a racetrack.
PH: Does the technology around Formula E interest you or is it just about the racing?
Sam: When I started Formula E it was just the next job, and I wasn’t sure that it would progress to what it is today. Nobody knew whether it would sink or swim. Thankfully, it’s swimming very well and I’ve come to realise that it’s a catalyst for change. The software that’s involved in the cars goes onto the production line and makes the cars of tomorrow better and more efficient. And with Jaguar going fully electric in 2025, that means our racing cars are a serious testbed for the vehicles to come. That’s an exciting thing for us [drivers] to know and understand.
PH: Thank you Sam, we really appreciate you taking the time to chat to us.
Sam: No worries and thank you for your time. I’ll probably be on your website later – you have many cars that I want to buy, which is a problem for me.
PH: Which ones?
Sam: Most of them. They’re all nice!
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