Sam Bird was in good spirits at the launch of Jaguar TCS Racing‘s Gen3 challenger the I-TYPE 6 last week, with the British driver having his eyes firmly set on making Season Nine his year.
The experienced ABB FIA Formula E World Championship driver endured a horrific Season Eight campaign, which saw the Jaguar driver suffer from horrendous luck. His luck certainly didn’t improve as the season developed, as the racing Gods wouldn’t even let Bird enjoy a home race without an issue, and a sizeable one of that!
Following a collision on the opening lap of the second race at the London E-Prix, Bird unfortunately broke his hand and somehow managed to make it to the end of the race, presumably in an array of pain.
As a result of the broken hand, Bird was forced to sit out the season finale in Seoul, due to needing a surgery to fix his hand. The Brit was also involved in a big crash during private testing, yet thankfully ahead of the new era of the sport, the fan favourite’s recently broken hand is “absolutely perfect”.
“Absolutely fine,” revealed Bird, exclusively to The Checkered Flag.
“No injuries from anything in testing, hand is absolutely perfect no issues at all. Lifting the same, if not heavier than I ever have done previously. So full strength, full range of movement, no issues at all.”
Bird sat down to talk to TCF at what was a brilliant launch event put on by the British manufacturer, perhaps even the biggest launch event since the return to normality following the Coronavirus pandemic.
TCF spoke to Bird about an array of topics other than his recent injury, starting off on how he feels when reflecting on Gen2. In the four years of Gen2, Bird achieved four brilliant victories, with two of those having come in Season Seven alone. His total of four was three less than he managed during Gen1; however, the sport has become more competitive year on year.
The world certainly didn’t see the best of Bird during Gen2, something he seemingly believes as well, with the thirty-five year old expecting Gen3 to suit his driving style “better” than the recent generation did.
“I look back on it with some good, some bad,” admitted Bird.
“It wasn’t stand out. I didn’t excel at Gen2. I think that the car didn’t suit me as well as Gen1, and I think the Gen3 will suit me better than the Gen2.”
“2022 for me, emotionally, personally, professionally, was a very challenging year”
With 2023 set to be such a big year for the sport and hopefully for Bird, just when does a driver start to get excited for a new season? Is it the launch? The first round? Or the first time speaking about the new car?
For the experienced Brit the launch is partly where the excitement for the new season begins to build, but that the launch is ultimately a time where the “media and marketing team get to showcase” their remarkable skill sets.
“In a way, yes, in a way, no,” said the Brit.
“I mean, today is a day where the team as a community, and especially the PR and the media and the marketing team get to showcase what they can do and it is amazing what they’ve done here today. So many hours have gone into what I think is the best launch that you will see for sure. We’ve been testing now for months and that’s our bit, really, the racing drivers.
“Today is a day of us recognising the birth of our Gen3 car, our new car. I’m not going to say too much because I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you, but yeah, it’s a day where we come together to recognise that this is a new thing for us now.”
As mentioned, the all-electric series hasn’t seen the best of Bird during Gen2, who is always amongst the thick of the action no matter how well or poorly his E-Prix is going. Season Eight actually saw Bird finish thirteenth in the Drivers’ Championship, his lowest ever position in Formula E by some margin.
With that in mind, Bird sees the upcoming season as a “fresh start”, with the Jaguar driver still having full belief in his “skill set”. Bird was visibly upbeat and motivated for the start of Gen3, after overcoming what was a “very challenging year” for the Season One veteran.
“Absolutely. Every season is a fresh start,” added Bird.
“I still believe in my skill set, I haven’t gotten any slower. We’ve been seeing that over pre-season testing, which has been great. 2022 for me, emotionally, personally, professionally, was a very challenging year. But as 2022 draws to a close, new opportunities for next year. And I’m really looking forward to getting out there in Mexico and showcasing just what our car can do.”
As stated, Bird has been in Formula E since its first race back in Beijing, China in 2014. Up until the recently completed campaign Bird did boast an impressive record for having claimed a victory in every season of the electric series; however, Season Nine was a winless year for the former Virgin Racing driver.
He’s seen a lot of drivers, teams, and venues come and go over the last eight going on nine years, but he remains incredibly proud of the sport’s “absolutely phenomenal” growth since Season One. Bird is hopeful that he’ll remain in the sport for “years to come”, with the ambition being to be a key part of the “journey” of Formula E.
“Yeah, it’s grown enormously,” said the Jaguar driver.
“You look at the level in all the teams now compared to what it was, it’s absolutely phenomenal. There’s a reason why it is a bona fide world championship event now for the last two seasons. So I am very proud of it. I’m proud to have been a part of that journey for so long and I hope that I’m part of the journey for years to come.”
“The steering is like nothing I’ve ever turned before”
As in any sport, when new regulations or equipment are introduced, the athletes tend to have to make tweaks to their training routines, to adjust to the varied demands of the new rules. Motorsport is no stranger to this, with the new Gen3 challengers being faster, lighter, more powerful, more efficient, and drastically different visually, partly due to the new 470bhp cars boasting front and rear powertrains. The sport has also changed tyre manufacturer, with Hankook having replaced Michelin.
The front powertrain in particularly has resulted in the drivers having to overcome an interesting feature of the Gen3 cars, incredibly heavy steering. Bird added to the list of drivers who have complained about it being “so difficult to turn the steering wheel”, something that Jaguar team-mate Mitch Evans also expressed when talking exclusively to TCF also.
The steering has become incredibly heavy for the drivers, with Bird believing that “everybody has had to work on their arm strength”.
“For some reason, the steering is like nothing I’ve ever turned before,” answered Bird, when asked what driving the I-TYPE 6 is like.
“It is so difficult to turn the steering wheel, so I think everybody has had to work on their arm strength for sure. So that’s been the main thing. It’s a tricky car to drive, very challenging. More power, more software and systems involved in all areas of a corner.
“We’ve got the fact that the car only has the front brakes, no rear brakes, but most of the braking, if not all of it, is done regeneratively through the front axle and the rear axle now. So that makes it tricky. Different tyre. So we’re now using a Hankook tyres instead of Michelins and that creates a different balance. So, it’s been interesting, but it’s been a fun process at the same time, learning together as a team.”
It’s not just the cars that are changing for Gen3, with a whole heap of format changes also set to be introduced at the season opener in Mexico City. For Season Nine, FanBoost has been dropped and the races will be done on a lap counter rather than a forty-five minutes-and-a-lap timer, with the latter set to make the races much easier to follow for both existing and new fans to the sport.
As well as these two changes, Attack Mode is set to be changed and the sport has introduced mandatory rookie Free Practice One sessions, identical to the rule used in Formula 1. From Season Nine, all the teams will need to use a rookie driver in two Free Practice One sessions during the season.
Given how big the step from Gen2 to Gen3 already is for the teams, some have questioned if the sport is attempting to introduce too many changes at once, something which could perhaps, cause confusion for new fans.
Bird, however, believes otherwise and actually thinks the new rules will be “simplistic for a viewer at home and better for a fan”. The British driver is also a supporter of FanBoost being dropped as keeping it would’ve seen too much for “people to worry about”.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Bird, in response to if the sport has introduced too many changes at once.
“In a way, we’re stripping things down. At the beginning of next year, it will be a lap-based race. I think for fans that’s important because it was only the real diehard fans that understood that, right, if it’s under safety car, the race is going to be extended, then you’ve got this cutoff point and then it could be one lap longer, it could be one lap shorter. And that made it tricky for fans to understand.
“Now they know that there’s a 40 lap race and after 40 laps, there’s a winner and a loser. I think that’s quite simplistic for a fan. We won’t have the fast charging at the beginning of the season. Fine. We’re going to have Attack Modes, we understand that. And we’ve got rid of FanBoost because otherwise there’s too many other elements during the race for people to worry about. So FanBoost served its purpose.
“It was great while it was around, but now that we’ve got Attack Mode, it’s not really necessary anymore. But I don’t think it’s too complicated. I think the race format should be good, fun, interesting simplistic for a viewer at home and better for a fan.”
Bird Calls For Season Ten Introduction of Fast-Charging Pit-Stops
There is one other change that is set to be introduced for Season Nine but not at the start of the season. Following issues in testing, the sport are considering introducing fast charging pit-stops mid-season, something that Bird would rather see introduced in Season Ten. The fast charging pit-stops will make an ‘Attack Charge’ race, where the drivers will need to complete a ‘quick’ thirty-second pit-stop to access additional power.
These races are set to occur at double-headers, with one race to use the traditional Attack Mode, whilst the other will use Attack Charge. Bird “personally” doesn’t want to see the pit-stops introduced mid-season, with there being a real potential that it could alter both a race result and the championship, should something go wrong with the new tech.
“Speaking personally, I would prefer it to be Season Ten,” admitted Bird, “but I’ve got all the confidence in the world with Formula E and the FIA that they would choose the right thing to do I don’t quite get the continuity there [if fast charge pit-stops are introduced mid-season], so I would want to see it in Season Ten. But let’s get the first few rounds done first.”
As well as new rules, Season Nine will see three new host cities hold E-Prix’s, with each being in a different continent. Formula E’s global reach is truly staggering, with the championship set to race in Cape Town, South Africa next season, as well as Hyderabad in India, and São Paulo in Brazil.
It does mean that Formula E will race in South Africa before Formula 1 returns to the nation, one that Bird is hoping to have a “little trip” in after the Cape Town E-Prix, if Team Principal James Barclay gives permission!
Bird is really looking forward to racing in Cape Town but also mentioned how big racing in India will be for the team, with their title partner being based in Mumbai.
“I think that India will be a massive market in general and also very important for us because of Tata and TCS,” said Bird.
“So really big race for us to showcase our talent at. Personally, I’m very excited about Cape Town and I think Brazil will be amazing as well. But for me, on a human element, I can’t wait to get to Cape Town. So I’m booking a little trip straight after there, out on a boat to go and see some big fish, see if the boss actually allows me to do it.”
So it looks set to be another relentlessly exciting year for Formula E. The championship crucially needs Season Nine to be a success, given that it is the first of Gen3, which has faced some criticism. The new generation has been criticised by the fans for not being good looking, with the chassis of the new cars having been called a “paper aeroplane”.
The Gen3 car isn’t the best looking; however, what is underneath the bodywork is truly a piece of engineering genius. What’s underneath, though, won’t be seen by the fans with Bird recognising the importance of Gen3 following the success of Gen2.
Bird is adamant that the “racing needs to stand out” like it always does, with a thrilling qualifying system and races that tend to involve chaos, carnage, and breathtaking overtaking. The Jaguar driver knows that “people want to be entertained”, something he is setting his sights on doing.
“The racing needs to stand out and needs to capture the imagination of the viewer,” Bird stated.
“It doesn’t matter how good looking or ugly your car is, if the racing is boring, the racing is boring. You can have the best looking cars in the world driving around, but if it’s a procession, people won’t be entertained. People want to be entertained.
“So, yeah, the car is the car in terms of what every team was given, that’s the design of the vehicle for the foreseeable future. What I believe we’ve done with our livery is superb and makes it look super cool. But the racing is the thing that draws in the crowds and draws in the fans.”