In a continuation of our new series titled “Locked Down,” we are interviewing international drivers who are currently sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this edition, Speedway Media catches up with Envision Virgin Racing driver, Sam Bird.
Bird, an English native, has competed in all six seasons of the FIA ABB Formula E dating back to 2014 for Envision Virgin Racing. During this interview, the English native talks about what he has been up to during his time off, his sim racing adventures, any new hobbies that may he have discovered, and what his goals might be should the Formula E season return to racing this season.
SM: It has been a while since you were last on-track back in February. How have you been holding up during this time off?
SB: “I’ve been keeping really active during the lockdown here in the UK (United Kingdom), Bird said. “I’ve really tried to work on my fitness again and have even completed a half-marathon in aid of the NHS (United Kingdom National Health Service) in conjunction with a number of other British racing drivers. It’s been great to spend some more time with the family, as we’re normally away from home so often. The team has also been in regular contact and we’ve been working as much as possible during the downtime.”
SM: You have been participating in the Race At Home Series (hosted by Formula E) during the past few weeks. How is that going for you and did you learn about it when you received the invite from Formula E?
SB: “I was unable to join the first few races due to a poor internet connection in my house here in the UK, but the team and Formula E were great in getting me to a place where I could start competing,” he said. “We’ve all been working really hard and it’s great to see my teammate Robin (Frijns) competing up at the top. Unfortunately, I’ve still got a fairly bad signal and this is affecting my competitiveness, but we’re still working on this and hopefully I’ll be up at the front soon.”
SM: By competing in the Race At Home Series, do you feel as though you are learning or gaining a more competitive edge on tracks you are racing in real-life, despite these being virtual?
SB: “The Race at Home Challenge has been very useful for us as a team, whilst we’ve not learnt anything from the tracks, it has allowed us to continue working together,” Bird said. “The team have continued to have engineering meetings and worked together so it’s been a great way to continue communicating whilst we can’t see each other or race.”
SM: Before this halt for racing, you had a decent season going, especially since opening up season six with a win. Is there anything different about this season compared to previous seasons you’ve competed in? Anything you felt like has improved or is it too early to tell?
SB: “Personally, I worked really hard over the summer period to get into a great place, both mentally and physically ahead of the upcoming season, and I think that really helped going into Riyadh,” Bird said. “I spent a lot of time on the team’s new state-of-the-art simulator and I’d worked on my diet so that I was only consuming a plant-based diet. I think the combination of these two things put me in a great place at the end of last year. That combined with the strength of our team and the learnings we had taken from season five as a newly competing independent team, all seemed to come together well.”
SM: You won the season-opener at Riyadh. Did you at all expect to open the season with a win and if so, how great did that feel to kick the season off with the win?
SB: “It felt incredible to start with a win. As a team, we knew how much work we’d put in over the summer and it was so good to see that materialize as a win in the first race,” he said. “Obviously, motorsport is a turbulent sport and you try not to dwell too much on the wins especially as it was a double-header weekend but you still take the moment to appreciate it.”
SM: Knowing that we may only get a couple of more races to consider a complete season, has this break altered your expectations for the season of what you once had before the season started?
SB: “Our main goal is to get back racing, but obviously this needs to be when it’s safe for everyone involved to do so and that is the priority,” Bird said. “I think that Formula E is an incredibly difficult series; we’ve seen the likes of Jean-Eric Vergne fight their way back from the bottom of the standings and go on to win the championship so I’d say it’s open to anyone. I think the time off has allowed us to look at everything that’s happened so far and hopefully use this to come back fighting stronger when the season restarts.”
SM: Once we get back racing, are there any tracks that you have your eye on that you think you can win or perform well at? If so, what comes to mind?
SB: “I think with everything that’s happening at the moment it’s very difficult to know where we’ll be racing,” he said. “I know that Formula E is working on a plan for when we move out of the ‘red flag phase’, but I don’t currently know what that looks like. It’s obviously a shame that I won’t be able to compete at my home race in London. I was very much looking forward to that as I’ve won in London previously, but the aim at the moment is just to get back to racing when we feel it is safe to do so.”
SM: As a driver, you are always on the go and don’t really have the time to slow down. However, how difficult was it to have kept going and going, and then eventually stop due to current situations?
SB: “It’s been great to spend so much time with my family and I’ve really enjoyed being at home,” Bird said. “The Race at Home Challenge has added a new level of competition to my life too. I’m very new to it and trying to work it out still, but some of the other drivers have been competing for years.”
SM: With the current situations, how have you been able to stay positive during a time where everyone can be discouraged?
SB: “I think a lot of this comes down to keeping a routine and not expecting too much of yourself,” he said. “I’m really trying to maintain my fitness and keep my diet plant-based, and I think having these normals where everything else is out of your control really helps.”
SM: An additional follow up to that. With the time-off, have you been able to discover any new hobbies that you might otherwise not have discovered when you are racing?
SB: “I’ve not discovered any new hobbies, but I’ve been able to play football with my stepson a lot which has been great,” Bird said. “He’s a Youth player for Bournemouth FC and I was a keen footballer back in the day, so it’s been great to get my skill level back up a bit.”
SM: What is one-thing that you miss being at the track?
SB: “I miss all the elements of racing really,” he said. “The adrenaline you get when you jump in the car to set your qualifying lap, watching those lights go out whilst you sit on the grid, even analyzing all the data. I’ve driven for Envision Virgin Racing for six seasons now, so it’s weird to not be around them all the time. We also spend a huge amount of time away from our families and often more time with the team so it’s weird to not see them.”
SM: Wrapping it up, what is the first thing you are going to do when done quarantining?
SB: “Honestly, I’m just so excited to get back to racing again,” Bird said. “It’s the only thing I’m not doing regularly in my life at the moment and I can’t wait to get back to the track.”
Bird has competed in all six seasons dating back to the inaugural FIA ABB Formula E season in 2014. Since that time, Bird has achieved at least one win every year and has a total of nine career wins, 18 podiums, and 5 career poles, along with 216 laps led. In addition, the English native scored a best finish of third in the championship points standing back in 2017.