Formula E showdown: can Bird beat Vergne?
Until Lucas di Grassi won the first Zurich eprix last month, only Sam Bird had achieved a win in each of Formula E’s four seasons. It’s a record that Sebastian Buemi – statistically the most successful of the electric championship’s ‘big three’ – is unlikely to match at this weekend’s
New York season-four finale.
DS Virgin Racing driver Bird has the opportunity to become the last of the trio to seal an FE title but, thanks to Jean-eric Vergne holding a 23-point series lead, the odds are stacked against him. Win or bust – and Buemi’s 2016-17 Montreal implosion and FE’S unpredictability suggest the title destination is still very much up in the air, especially if Vergne suffers a repeat of his poor Zurich qualifying form – Bird is pleased with his 2017-18 performances.
“I’m really proud of my team and I suppose I’m proud of myself for being able to achieve this many points,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, we never thought that this would be possible.”
That doubt, and the reason why Bird’s campaign has been conducted in his classic FE underdog style, stems from a lack of upgrades to the DS powertrain ahead of season four. As well as the eventual steamrolling performance of Audi and the giantkilling form of Vergne’s Techeetah squad, weight and efficiency issues have hampered Virgin, especially on flowing tracks that do not suit its package.
“We did no upgrades on our performance and other people made their cars a lot lighter, more efficient and just faster,” explained Bird, who has scored two wins and four further podiums in 2017-18.
Bird was peerless in New York last season (below), as he claimed both wins of the double-header in the Big Apple.
But changes to the Brooklyn Circuit’s layout mean a repeat performance is not guaranteed. The track is nearly 0.3 miles longer, with four new flowing turns added.
“It’s a completely different animal,” said Bird. “The track is longer, which means efficiency is key. And there are some cars out there that are just more efficient than us. There’s no getting away from that so we’ll have to just do our best.”
Whatever happens in The City That Never Sleeps, Bird considers FE’S fourth campaign to be his finest so far: “This would be the best one. For consistency, not necessarily better wins or better podiums or stuff like that, but just consistency, always maximising the package.”