Sam Bird’s motorsport journey is one many racing drivers can relate to – a lot of success, but no crack at the big time.
The 29-year-old driver from Roehampton has impressed throughout his career, whether it be in go-karting, GP2 or the Formula E Championship where he is targeting the title this season.
But ever since he was a child decked out in full Williams overalls at the British Grand Prix, it was Formula One where he dreamed of making an impact, and that chance seems to have passed him by.
Many thought his big break would come after a superb 2013. Having been involved in various F1 set-ups, he was runner-up in GP2, the feeder series to F1, finishing ahead of a field including current F1 drivers Felipe Nasr, Marcus Ericsson and Jolyon Palmer.
Yet he was always held back by one factor – money.
“I was the reserve driver for Mercedes for three seasons and I conducted testing duties with Williams before then, so I had a good four or five years with Formula One teams which was a great period in my life,” he said.
“However, Formula One is a sport dictated by money and I didn’t have any of that stuff.
“I didn’t have any notes in the back pocket.”
Despite seeing his chance go by, Bird continues to be hooked on racing and dedicates that to his parents.
“My mum and dad, they’d always have Formula One on at the weekends and I would watch this with them – I loved it,” he said.
“I was desperate to go every time there was a race at Brands Hatch or Silverstone, I’d be there in my little Williams overalls.
“Gabrielle Tarquini was my hero and I used to go and ask for autographs all the time.”
After stepping into a kart for the first time aged eight, he quickly worked his way up through the ranks to be competing in the Formula BMW series, a category of racing which has produced many great drivers.
This success wasn’t straightforward though. Despite their love of motor racing, the Bird family had no experience of just what it took to transform this passion into a career.
“Neither of my parents were from a racing background, which made it quite difficult,” added Bird.
“We didn’t have a clue what we were doing – what teams to call, where to go, what chassis to be on, what kind of budget was required.
“It was tough to try and do that.”
It wasn’t just the lack of knowledge that made things hard for Bird – he was trying to juggle racing with his other sporting passions of football and cricket, as well as his studies.
Eventually it proved impossible for him to continue them all, so he had to make a decision.
“When the racing started to be more frequent others things just dropped in level because I was just too fatigued,” he said.
“I didn’t have the time to succeed at everything and when I was 17 I took the decision to stop school and try and pursue my racing dream.”
Bird was incredibly determined to fulfill that dream and this never-say-die attitude was reflected in his racing, but it ended up not being enough to get on the Formula One grid.
But he didn’t crumble and moan, he got on with life and made the most of what he had.
He has just finished second in the LMGTE Pro category in the World Endurance Championship, having won the LMP2 title in 2015, and has also competed in every season of Formula E since its introduction in 2014.
“I’m just so happy with the two series I’m in, I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
“I wouldn’t change where I am right now for the world.”
He is particularly effusive in his praise for Formula E, which sees cars powered entirely by electricity racing across street circuits in some of the biggest cities in the world.
He said: “It’s becoming more and more successful with every season.
“There’s more manufacturers in Formula E now than there is in Formula 1 – it’s a very exciting championship for a manufacturer.
“Let’s face it, in 50 years’ time everybody will be driving an electric car and this is the manufacturers’ chance to showcase their technology before they then put it on to the market.”
Feature image courtesy of FIA Formula E Championship, via Youtube, with thanks
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