Sam Bird’s fifth win of the season from pole position in the reversed-grid race at Singapore set up a fascinating title showdown at Abu Dhabi with Fabio Leimer, but as 2012 champion Davide Valsecchi has discovered, success in GP2 – even winning the title – is no guarantee of making Formula One.
Indeed, while Valsecchi sits on the sidelines, Esteban Gutierrez, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde all made the step up to a race seat this season, so with this in mind, The Checkered Flag ponders where 26-year old Bird – the Mercedes F1 team’s test and development driver – will go next.
1. Wait for an opening at Mercedes
The test and development driver at Mercedes GP for several years now, Bird is well known to the team, but how much longer will he be willing for wait for his chance? Only so much can be gained from pounding around in the simulator, and with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tied down, Bird would likely find opportunities limited to the annual young driver tests.
2. Race for Mercedes elsewhere
Bird’s existing ties with Mercedes could be of use outside of Formula One too. Mercedes are looking to expand their DTM lineup to eight cars to match the output of rivals Audi and BMW, leaving two potential spots to fill, while the SLS GT3 programme continues to go from strength to strength, with factory-supported efforts winning the Blancpain Endurance Series, as well as the Bathurst 12 Hours, Nurburgring 24 and Spa 24 enduros with Mercedes grandmaster Bernd Schneider anchoring the programme. However, whether Bird would view sportscars or touring cars as a viable career path is as yet unclear.
3. Take a drive with a lower F1 team
It is well known that the likes of Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber started their careers by bringing money to tail-enders Minardi, so Bird shouldn’t turn his nose up at today’s equivalents, the Marussia and Caterham teams. While the heroic drives through the pack we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Bird may not be possible in such machinery, proving himself against an established team-mate could do his career the world of good. After all, it was by performing well against Tonio Liuzzi at HRT in 2011 that Daniel Ricciardo confirmed to the Red Bull hierarchy that he was capable of pulling out the goods at the highest level, eventually resulting in his promotion to a more competitive Toro Rosso and now to Red Bull Racing.
4. Become a GP2 professional
Russian Time may have taken on much of the iSport entry’s staff over the winter, but Timo Rumpfkeil’s team needed an experienced driver of Bird’s calibre to point the team in the right direction on setup. Bird’s wealth of technical knowledge and experience in GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5, where he finished third last season for ISR Racing, showed that he could be an asset to any team, much like Luca Filippi, who made somewhat of a career driving GP2 cars for numerous teams, appearing over 100 times in the F1 feeder category between 2006 and 2012.
Speaking of Filippi, who this season has made the foray into IndyCar racing, could Bird follow an increasingly popular trend of European single-seater racers moving Stateside? IndyCar is on the up, with Chevrolet and Honda at loggerheads for supremacy and former champion Juan Pablo Montoya returning to add a second Indianapolis 500 to his resume bringing some F1 pedigree to a series also boasting fan-favourite Takuma Sato. Oval racing is another discipline to master altogether, but Bird would not be out of place, as recent converts James Jakes and Tristan Vautier have shown the switch to be a manageable one.
Regardless of what happens in Abu Dhabi, Bird’s next career move will be the result of a season of character and resolve, beating Felipe Nasr to the flag by 0.08s in Bahrain, dominating around the streets of Monte Carlo for a second successive season and this weekend’s reversed-grid win salvaged from a qualifying ruined by the unruly Johnny Cecotto (not for the first time this year!), which should stand him in good stead for the future.