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SMITH: Can Bird be Champion?

Can Rome E-Prix winner Sam Bird go all the way and take the Season Four Formula E title…?

Photo: Formula E

You won’t find him shouting about it, but Sam Bird has a very good chance of becoming the fourth ABB FIA Formula E Champion this summer.

He won’t be verbalizing it loudly because, last month, as he chatted to e-racing365 soaking up the early evening sunshine on the pit wall at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, he told us so.

“I always seem to struggle to find it within myself to talk myself up and say I am a big gun in the championship,” he admitted.

“I’m just ‘Sam Bird who tries his best’ and is somewhere in those [race winning] names.”

How many drivers do you know who say things like that, without any artifice whatsoever?

Yet, it is somewhat typical of Bird, a modest man who has matured into a respected professional of the drivers’ driver variety.

Two victories, two further podiums and, Mexico City apart, his lowest finishing position has been fifth. Make no mistake, this is title form.

When you factor in that DS Virgin Racing had little significant development to add upon its Season Three package and Bird’s second position in the title standings is all the more remarkable.

But pre-season, there were concerns.

One was that the DS and Virgin axis was going in to its final season together and the other was that Audi and Jaguar had completely fresh tech at their disposal.

Privately, Bird was concerned, as indeed was everyone in the paddock, that Audi would simply run and hide.

For now at least those concerns have been quashed, but such was the timing of Audi’s early season troubles allied to the time it has taken Jaguar to fully embrace its potent package, Bird has used his cunning, experience and talent to thrust himself in to a credible title force.

Bird knows his cars inside and out now and consistently his qualifying performances, give or take the odd occasion, have been brilliant.

Also, don’t discount the fact that Bird has had three exceptional teammates in as many years. Jean-Eric Vergne came and went, largely due to internal political issues.

Jose Maria Lopez was a similar story, and the latest hotshot Bird has to watch out for is Alex Lynn.

Lynn is seriously quick but has had disappointing results so far, most by bad luck and once through his own accord.

Bird leads four to three in qualifying over his fellow Brit with an average grid position of seventh this season, although this is skewed somewhat by his penalty in Mexico City.

Again, in Mexico, when I reminded him about the last time he was in a title challenging position, at the Abu Dhabi GP2 finale in 2013, he quipped: “Well, I can’t stall a Formula E car can I, so I’ll be fine.”

That was a reference to him stalling on the grid and seeing his title chances wither. It is rare you get a driver who has the ability to laugh or send himself up like that.

Bird is comfortable enough to occasionally do that and restore ones belief that top-line racing drivers are also sometimes just humans as well as super-humans on the track.

With five races remaining, Bird is in charge of his own destiny and for a serious crack at the title.

He hasn’t got the quickest package, he probably hasn’t got the second quickest package, but there is something in the air this season that says the odds and the formbook can be done away with.

With Lucas di Grassi, Sebastien Buemi and Mitch Evans all likely to put at least one win together in the remaining five races, the title claim may be about who can maximize the points away from the top step of the podium.

If that’s the case I’d place my betting stake squarely with Bird.

In Formula E, knowledge is speed. Bird may well be genuinely humble but he doesn’t lack that thrusting self-belief which is part and parcel of any racing driver’s DNA. Its just that now he knows when and how best to deploy it.

So, can Sam Bird finally win a single-seater title 15 years after he first set foot in a Formula BMW car as he embarked upon his eventful career so far?

Of course he can. Just don’t expect Sam Bird to shout about it. Perhaps not until the job’s finally done, that is.

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

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