Sam Bird racing at Buenos Aires ePrix
Formula E returning after winter break
It wasn’t so long ago that owners of electric vehicles were greeted with mocking sneers by fellow motorists – and with some justification.
The ill-fated Sinclair C5 didn’t even resemble a car, the G-Wiz was recently voted the UK’s worst-ever car, while the three-wheeled Zap Xebra appeared to be a battery-powered reincarnation of the defunct Reliant Robin.
Times and technology have moved on, thanks in part to Tesla, which has altered perceptions and the performance of electric vehicles in recent years.
On the race track, meanwhile, it’s Formula E that’s helping drive that change.
“Formula E is the future,” says Sam Bird, who drives for the DS Virgin Racing team in the world’s only all-electric race series.
“In 40 years’ time – let’s face it – everyone on the planet will be driving an electric vehicle,” the Briton adds.
“We are a catalyst in that, kind of, cog to ensure that electric cars develop quickly and that people watch Formula E and think, ‘They’re cool, I’m going to buy one for the road.’”
Bird and his teammate Jose Maria Lopez are in Buenos Aires for this weekend’s third round of the 2016-17 world championship.
For Argentine native Lopez, the ePrix will be a home race, but Bird will be feeling right at home too – the 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) Puerto Madero Street Circuit was the scene of his one and only race victory in season two.
“Firstly, the city is amazing – we go to the heart of the cities and this is one I really look forward to,” Bird explains.
“The track lends itself to overtaking and intense battles throughout the pack – and that’s exactly what you saw last year with me and (Sebastien) Buemi at the front.
“I hope that’s what you see again hopefully with me able to repeat what I did last year.”
Bird and the rest of the Formula E grid have had to play second fiddle to reigning champion Buemi in season three thus far.
The Swiss has steered his Renault eDams car to victory in the opening two races in Hong Kong and Marrakesh, giving Buemi a commanding 22-point lead over nearest rival, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport driver Lucas di Grassi.
“Buemi’s in great form at the moment,” Bird concedes.
“In Hong Kong, I felt like I had the beating of him but unfortunately my pit stop wasn’t brilliant. In Marrakesh we came second to him – so we’ve been there or thereabouts. I’d like to think we can reverse the roles when we get to Buenos Aires.”
A different formula
The home of racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio and an intermittent host to Formula One between 1953 and 1998, Buenos Aires is steeped in motorsport history.
It’s an appropriate place for Formula E to put down some roots – this is the third successive year an ePrix has been staged in the city.
Bird has experience of both race series – previously he was a reserve driver for the all-conquering Mercedes F1 team – and he thinks Formula E offers something different.
“Formula E doesn’t want to be compared to F1 – it has a completely new identity and it’s going down a completely different road,” Bird says.
“I think Formula E is as fun, if not funner. We go to some amazing countries, some great cities and I’m racing some of the best drivers in the world in high-tech machinery at 140 mph on a street where you would only be able to go 20 mph normally.”