12 Jun 20

Sam Bird: 'Formula E gave me something back when I was on my knees'

Brit Sam Bird found himself flung from the depths of despair, seemingly out of the sport he loved, into sheer delight when an opportunity to race in a then-new championship, Formula E, came calling in 2014.

"And We Go Green" star Sam Bird had found realistic opportunities as a front-line racing driver drying up prior to securing a seat for the inaugural season of Formula E. 

The talented racer competed without the deep pockets and financial clout of some of his rivals, ascending the ladder as far as Formula 1.

Bird had long been touted for the top, and a test role at Mercedes, preceeding a strong second overall in F1's junior category at the time, GP2 Series, were the latest illustrations as to why. 

Saving grace

In 2014, by his own admission, Bird was facing the prospect of seeing his dreams of competing at the very top of the sport he loved fall by the wayside, until the opportunity of a drive with Virgin Racing, now Envision Virgin Racing, emerged - a chance he took with both hands.

"Formula E is very special to me, and it holds a special place in my heart," said Bird. "It gave me something back when I was on my knees.

"It was close to being 'dream over' for me in racing. Formula E resurrected and saved me."

"I didn’t come from a super-wealthy background, we didn’t have millions. My mum and dad really had to sacrifice their lives for my motorsport career. It was a tough time. 

"It was close to being 'dream over' for me in racing and Formula E resurrected and saved me.

"I don’t hide from that. It gave me focus and drive, and I was there at first as more an underdog to some of the other big names."

Front-running fixture

Bird has become a front-running fixture in Formula E with Envision Virgin Racing since that maiden season - in which he tallied two race wins, including a victory on home soil at the finale in London - one of many highlights for the 33-year-old.

"Every win is a highlight," he said. "I’ve had ten, which I’m very pleased with. I’m the only driver to have won in each season – so that’s pretty cool. The double win in New York is also unique, and the victory in London on home soil, too, was really special to me."

He rounded off 2014-15 in fifth position in the standings, more than vindicating his spot in the series.

Bird again found himself right at the sharp end in Seasons 2 and 3, sealing third in the standings in the former and fifth once again in the latter. 

For Season 4, his expectations were tempered by the team's decision to run the car with the prior campaign's underpinnings, whilst rival outfits fitted the very latest and greatest tech to their machines. 

However, he'd find himself challenging at the head of the field once more as results fell into place and an unexpected title challenge started to gather momentum.

"We felt we didn’t have much of a chance, because we were running Season 3 kit," explained Bird. "We didn’t have a match for the Renault, Audi or Mahindra Racing guys as they’d all upgraded theirs.

"All of a sudden though, we picked up momentum. The podiums and wins came and we made a thing of it. At times, I kind of felt like I was using a plastic sword instead of Excalibur!"

Starring role

Bird is one of the key figures in “And We Go Green” – set for global release on Formula E’s YouTube channelFacebook page and via the website tonight at 19:00 BST.

The feature-length documentary chronicles the championship’s journey to becoming the world’s fastest-growing motorsport series, with a behind-the-scenes look at the 2017/18 season.

"I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good season that year," he adds. "There were many positives from my point of view, which worked well for myself as one of the main protagonists.

"It was amazing to be in the fight - you’ll see that unfold in the film."

'And We Go Green' Teaser Trailer. Watch the film tonight from 19:00 BST on our YouTube channel or Facebook page

“An experience I’ll take to the grave,” said Bird on being selected to feature in the film, directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

"Working closely with the three of them was a real highlight. Those guys were really impressive and to say I’ve been involved in one of their projects is unbelievable.

"Fisher and Malcolm made you feel so at ease that the camera might as well have not been there. I could just be myself.

"One of the things that Fisher really instilled in us was not worrying about the camera, and just being yourself. He wanted to make clear that it didn’t matter if you were upset, angry, or were going to curse, or whatever else. He just wanted you to be yourself. That was key to the film and it’s why I think it’s going to be such a success.

"It really shows what I'm about. It gets up close and personal. I’m open about who I am under the skin and what issues and struggles I’ve had on the journey to where I am now."

Super cutthroat

The documentary also lifts the lid on the demands of competing in one of the most demanding and closely-contested series' on the planet.

"This is the most difficult championship I've ever been a part of, period. The competition is, dare I say, the best, pound for pound, in the world."

"It's super cutthroat," said Bird. "If you don’t get the job done, there's going to be someone there to replace you. It’s a very challenging sport to be a part of. 

"One metre too late on the brakes, you’re in the wall or one metre too early on the brakes, and you're getting hit from behind. 

"I've been involved in pretty much every single-seater formula that you can think of off the top of your head. This is the most difficult championship I've ever been a part of, period.

"The car is super difficult to drive on the edge, we're racing on tight street circuits all around the world, and the competition is, dare I say, the best, pound for pound, in the world."

Seismic shift

The switch to Gen2 is also a major feature throughout the movie. It was a seminal moment in the series evolution, and as Bird says, quite a way to highlight just how far battery-electric technology had come in his first four years of competition in Formula E.

"The rate of improvement was incredible. In Gen1, we had to use two cars in each race, and every 22 minutes you’re changing car in the pits at the half-way stage of a race.

"Come Gen2, that swap became unnecessary, range doubled and performance increased by 20 kilowatts – in just four years. It’s a phenomenal pace of development in battery technology.

"In 2014, there was something like half a million electric cars worldwide now there's close to four million. Growth is going to continue at pace.

"We'll keep on doing the same thing. We go to the city centres we produce great, exciting racing, and put out the message that electric cars are the way forward."

Tune in tonight at 19:00 BST for your feature-length fill of Formula E