Thursday, 24 July 2014

Meet Virgin's Formula E racers Part 1 - Sam Bird

Virgin is a brand synonymous with innovation and pushing boundaries. Now Richard Branson's ground-breaking organisation is starting a new venture in the all-new FIA Formula E Series.

Although this wont be Virgin's first venture into the world of motorsport (having previously sponsored the Brawn and Manor F1 teams), this is the first time the company has put together their own team from the ground up.

Led by Alex Tai, who has played a part in many of Virgin's technological ventures over the last few years, Virgin Racing certainly has all the ingredients to be a strong performer in the first season of Formula E racing.

The team has also secured the services of two top drivers in Sam Bird and Jaime Alguersuari, a pair of drivers who both boast a wealth of motorsport experience, including Formula One and sports cars.

Ahead of Formula E's first event in Beijing in September, I caught up with both of Virgin Racing's drivers to get their thoughts on the team and the new series. 

First up, former GP2 front runner and Mercedes F1 test driver, Sam Bird:


Interview with Sam Bird

Dominik Wilde: How hard was it to adapt to the Formula E car, and how different is it to your previous driving experiences?

Sam Bird: It’s quite different of course but it has not been too difficult to adapt. Most of us are used to driving different machinery and have learned to adapt to fast-evolving technology and regulation changes.

Dominik Wilde: Electric cars are predicted to be an option for all of us in the future, not just in racing. Do you think this is realistic? How has your Virgin Racing experience so far influenced this opinion, if at all?

Sam Bird: Not only do I think it’s realistic, I think it’s inevitable. However it may take a little time. The main obstacle at the moment is battery autonomy, which makes electric cars fairly impractical for anything other than short-distance or urban mobility. But the ultra-competitive environment of Formula E will definitely accelerate progress in that area, which we will quickly see in road cars. Small, lighter, faster-charging and more autonomous batteries. My experience to date of working with Virgin Racing and understanding their long-term ambitions with this project has given me full belief that progress will be exponential.

Dominik Wilde: Your team mate is James Alguersuari. Are you looking forward to racing alongside him?

Sam Bird: Yes, we get on really well and we have been very much on the same wave length in testing. I’m looking forward to racing alongside him. I think we will push the team forward together but also spur each other on.

Dominik Wilde: We've seen you race in GP2, FR3.5 and WEC recently, so how did the opportunity to race for Virgin come about?

Sam Bird: My management team and I had been following Formula E since the announcement of its launch a couple of years ago. We met with a few of the teams last years and were extremely impressed with the project that Alex Tai and his people presented us with. In addition, the opportunity to become associated with Richard Branson’s Virgin brand, with it’s unparalleled track record in innovation was too good to turn down.

Dominik Wilde: There are a lot of single seater series across the world right now. Besides the obvious, what would you say sets Formula E apart from everything else?

Sam Bird: Undoubtedly the stage. In other words, a few exceptions apart, traditional motor racing is staged on purpose-built tracks. Formula E will race exclusively in iconic city centres. This is quite different and very exciting for the spectators and also for us as drivers.

Dominik Wilde: Of course, Formula E is a new series, but how do you think Virgin Racing, and yourself, will fare this year?

Sam Bird: Making predictions can be a dangerous exercise. There are some outstanding teams and drivers in this Championship and we have to take their challenge very seriously. For now we can only focus on what we’re doing and make sure that we delivery to the best of every single team member’s ability. If we manage to do that then we will be competitive, given the talent that we have in all departments of the team.

Dominik Wilde: The Formula E field looks set to be very strong in the first season, so who would you say will be your biggest rival? Who've you got your sights set on?

Sam Bird: That’s hard to answer at this stage. Most teams are keeping their cards close to their chest. We are too! Ask me the same question in Beijing.

All images © Dominik Wilde 2014

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