Virgin on a new dawn
Nov 24, 2016
Sam Bird is a driver for the Virgin Racing Formula E Team. Having previously been shortlisted for McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award, Sam has also held testing duties for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team.
On the day of his announcement as a driver for Virgin, he took a series of questions on behalf of GI Magazine from young motorsport fans at Venture House Youth Centre in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.
Sam – who were your role models, growing up, both in sport and in your community?
“My sporting idols and icons growing up were people like Ayrton Senna. I was still pretty young when the tragedy occurred, but I was still old enough to appreciate him as a driver. After many years of growing up and watching footage of him, and the recent film, you really begin to appreciate just how amazing he was as a racing driver and also as a person.
My other hero…and I was very, very lucky to not only work with him but to become good friends with him, and my fingers are still crossed for him and his family, and that’s dear Michael Schumacher. Michael was extremely supportive of me and we became good mates, and from watching him win so many world titles, to working with him, to chatting to him on the phone, or just chilling out with him, is something that was phenomenal for me.
My mum and dad are heroes in their own right, because they brought me up (laughs) they had to be fairly heroic. They are amazing parents.”
Does your family worry about your safety as a racing driver?
“I think that they probably used to. If there’s any worry now, it’s not so much worry about safety and stuff. We all know that racing can be dangerous and that’s indented into the back of our brains, it’s fast-paced and unfortunately, accidents do occur, but the cars are made to such a level now, that you like to think, touch wood, that most incidents happen and people are unharmed by them. They are more worried about me not achieving what I wish to achieve, so that’s probably their worry.”
Kieran, aged 14, asks: Could I drive a Formula 1 car?
“Any form of motorsport to someone who isn’t used to motorsport is very difficult. It’s not like just getting into a road car and driving around a track, it’s far more complex than that. If you gave any racing to car to any human being and said ‘go round the track’, they may be able to, but there would be scary moments with them going so slowly. I’m sure that they could drive it, but at 14 could you reach the peddles? It’s difficult for me, actually (laughs).”
How does driving an electric car compare to driving a vehicle which runs on oil?
“My initial impression is that the feeling of driving the car itself will be vastly different, but the challenge to be competitive will be equally as big as in F1. The two biggest differences are the power source and the tyres. Cornering speeds are likely to be very different and this presents the driver with a very different and exciting type of challenge for driving the car fast.”
What car do you currently drive?
“I’m in between cars, but I have a little white 1.2 litre Volkswagen Polo. What did you expect? As I’m now on board with a form of technology that’s very green, my next car will reflect that. I was in San Francisco recently and I saw some Teslas out there, I could see myself in a Tesla or one of the electric BMWs.”
Do you use a simulator for practice?
“Testing is so limited in most forms of motorsport now, and to an extent, we have some tests days in Formula E, but we would love more. The more testing you do, the faster you get the car. Testing on a simulator, if it’s a good simulator, can be very beneficial as well. One difficulty will be the track maps for the different places we go to. Beijing and Rio are some of the first rounds, but can we get the laser scans of those cities and the track layouts? That is another question. That will be the difficulty, but it would be good to do that because you learn the track, you get up to speed with things like minimum speeds, braking points, et cetera.
Simulation is something I have done extensively for the last four years of my life for Mercedes Formula 1. In fact, that was one of my main roles at Mercedes Formula 1, so it’s something I’m used to and confident in using.”
Do you play racing games?
“I have an Xbox 360, but I probably need to upgrade to the Xbox One, the newer version. After watching the Masters golf, I have kind of got into the Tiger Woods’ golf game, I’m currently crushing the field and I’m ranked No 1 in the world (laughs). This is the only time I will be No 1 in golf because I’m definitely not in reality.
I don’t normally play a lot of racing games when I come home. In my previous job I would have eight to ten hours in a simulator, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was to play more racing games.
You never know, in the future there may be a Formula E game coming out, I’ve put it out there for people to think about!”
Did you take the carting route into motorsport?
“I did. Although I didn’t cart to the same intensity as other people did. I lived at school, and I played a lot of other sports, so I found it very difficult to always do the carting thing. Academics was really important to myself and mum and dad, I needed to get a proper education and I went to some good schools, which was great. I also played cricket at a high level and football at a good level, so if the teams needed me then I would have to forgo the local cart race. Carting, I was never heroic at. I never won any European championships, I started to find my feet when I got into single-seater racing, that’s when I really was able to find a good level.”
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