Formula E's Sam Bird on electric racing, F1, and the future - Sam Bird interview - page 3
We speak to Formula E's top Brit. What is racing in the electric single-seater series actually like?
It's the first thing you do when approaching a corner, making it the most critical area of any corner. If you can’t get the braking right, you can’t get to the apex right. If you can’t get to the apex right, you can’t get the exit right, so everything stems from your braking ability. And it does make braking difficult, yeah - it can make it inconsistent at times, but you have the regen, you have bumpy street circuits on Michelin road tyres, it’s very tricky and it’s a difficult skill to get correct all the time.
Is that something which has improved over the last few years?
Our understanding as a team and my understanding as a driver of what is required in order to extract the most out of the braking system we’ve got in the car, yeah, it’s improved a lot.
Formula E’s in an interesting position right now - it feels like the only way is up
Absolutely. It’s completely and utterly relevant, and I don’t think you can say that about other walks of motorsport. In probably 30 years time, everybody will be driving either an electric or a hybrid vehicle, and I think some governments will probably make that mandatory. Already there are some countries that have given a timeline - say by 2022, you have to be driving an electric vehicle or a hybrid.
We are a catalyst to that, and we’re a catalyst for the manufacturers to showcase what they can do, and then hopefully what they learn in our series will then go on the production line, and evolve into making electric cars better, last longer, more efficient, faster, cooler, whatever. We will be part of that cog.
Where are the biggest developments in Formula E coming from? Battery tech?
Not so much the battery technology, because it’s a single spec [evo: currently supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering, soon to be supplied by McLaren], and it’s not like we can develop that.
It’s more the drivetrains and efficiencies that we’re learning from. In the first year, we were using 150kW with the same battery - now, everybody has developed inverters, and gearboxes, and now we’re able to go to 170kW in the racing, as well as doing probably 3 or 4 laps longer than we did in season 1. That’s probably 10km longer range, while going 2-3 seconds a lap faster.
And with that kind of knowledge we can go back to the manufacturers, and they’ll be able to process that, understand that, and put that into road cars.
What are the fans like in Formula E?
They’re great, they’ve really bought into it. We have some very loyal fans, and I hope that our fanbase continues to grow.
It’s great because we’ve got the standard racing fan, who’s bought into it… okay, there are some petrolheads that don’t agree with the series, but my argument to that is we've got 20 of the best drivers in the world, and we take the racing very seriously. Just because we don't have a V8 engine in the back of it, it doesn’t mean it’s not real. Even Formula 1’s moved on from that.
And then we’ve got the new fan, who may be a little bit younger, looking to support something that is environmentally friendly, so I think that’s quite cool.
One last question - what do you drive day-to-day?
I have a DS 3 Performance, currently… and then I have something else in the garage!
What’s the something else?
Something a bit quicker… that isn’t quite so environmentally friendly… it’s in the other job’s family - big and loud and shouty!