RIYADH: Few Formula E drivers will be looking forward to the Diriyah E-Prix double-header on Jan. 26 and 27 as much as Sam Bird.
The new NEOM McLaren Formula E Team driver has record at the Riyadh circuit that not many rivals can match on any track – two wins and podium in his illustrious career.
Bird, 36, is a veteran of all nine seasons of the electric car series and has quickly settled in at his new team ahead of the 10th campaign starting on Jan. 13 in Mexico.
He told Arab News: “Everything is going very, very well. I’m very impressed with the work ethic from everybody. That’s from comms team, to data engineers to engineers, great team boss, everybody is performing at a high level. And there’s no reason why this team can’t deliver straight out the box in Mexico.
“Obviously, I’m still learning about the car, about how the team operates and works. But it’s a great team. And I feel very much at home already.”
Since the launch of the first Formula E season in 2014, Bird has won 10 races and finished third in 2017-18 with DS Virgin Racing. From 2020 he raced for Jaguar until his move to NEOM McLaren in August.
He noted that the sport had come a long way since the early days.
Bird said: “In 2014, everybody had the same car. We had two cars for the race. At one point during season one, we didn’t know whether we would finish the championship. We thought the championship might be finished before it even started.
“But it’s just grown. Manufacturers got involved, they saw the unique opportunities that Formula E could give them in terms of marketing, in terms of software development, that would then go onto the production line.
“It’s worked so well, we’ve now got better teams, better drivers, more manufacturers. We’re now a bona fide World Championship racing series.
“The series has gone from strength to strength. It’s now nearly a decade old, but we’re still a very new racing series. But we have grown at a very quick rate in comparison to most other forms of sport. And I think that we as a championship should be very proud of this,” he added.
Season nine in 2023 saw the introduction of the Gen3 car, the fastest and most efficient Formula E model yet.
Bird said: “I actually found it fine to adjust to it. But whenever you get a new car, there are teething problems. And I think everybody experienced some small little issues last year.
“We also had a new tire and tire partner in Hankook. Now getting your head around the tire is a very important part of racing. So that took a bit of time as well, understanding where the sweet spot might be with this tire. And that’s kind of an ongoing process, I think for everybody.
“But everybody’s learned an awful lot from last year, everybody’s going to be coming out of the blocks this year thinking that they have more knowledge than last year. And everybody will do a better job this year. Everybody’s reliability, everybody’s performance, everybody’s tools and software will be at a higher level in season 10 than it was in season nine, that’s for sure,” he added.
As Formula E enters its 10th season, Bird pointed out that the series was staring to get the recognition it deserved.
“If I speak to people and they ask what I do, and I say I’m a racing driver, they then ask what series I do, and I say Formula E. Nine times out of 10 now people know of Formula E, have heard of Formula E, whereas that wasn’t the case four or five years ago.
“So, I do think that we are now quite a well-known series, the next step is to get a bigger fan base. And I think we’re doing a very strong job of that.
“We’re not even a decade old yet, so we have to realize that these things don’t happen overnight, it’s going to take time, and the team at Formula E and all the teams themselves have got strategies in order to try and improve our engagements and try and improve our fan base.
“But we have a great set of loyal fans, hundreds of thousands of them that tune in each weekend to watch us race. We normally pack out each race venue, which is awesome as well. And the reason for that is that it’s an entertaining, action-packed, thrilling race that a whole family can come and enjoy,” he said.
Bird’s most rewarding venue has been New York, where he took first place three times, but he now has a new favorite.
“Now that New York is no longer there, Diriyah is the next one where I’ve had the most wins. I’ve had two wins there and a podium there before. More points there than anybody else.
“Diriyah stands out as somewhere that I go to and score big points and that’s certainly the plan again this year.
“I’m very much looking forward to some of the new venues as well, specifically Tokyo. I think that’s going to be really incredible and Formula E have done a mighty job on getting us to some of these new venues.
“So, I would say the one I’m looking forward to going to and trying to score big points is definitely Diriyah. But there’s no reason why we can’t try and do that every race,” Bird added.