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Formula E

Bird’s Jaguar Formula E downfall rests mostly on him

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Why didn’t it happen for Sam Bird at the Jaguar Formula E team? It’s a question that will puzzle and frustrate most, not least Bird himself.

Jaguar announced during the evening of the 2023 Formula E season finale in London on Sunday that Bird had competed in his final race for the team and will leave after three seasons.

The Race revealed earlier this month that Bird was to be replaced by Nick Cassidy, who ran his final race for Envision at the ExCeL in London and who will shortly be announced as having joined fellow New Zealander Mitch Evans at Jaguar.

Formula E Sao Paulo Eprix

Bird is widely believed to have struck a deal with McLaren to join Jake Hughes for 2024, after Rene Rast chose to concentrate on his BMW World Endurance Championship and DTM commitments for next season.

Talking of his time at Jaguar, Bird said: “On the whole, this season has been fairly disappointing for me, with a lot of wasted opportunities early on but I have to take the positives – the pace has been strong, I’ve had four podiums, scored nearly 100 points and finished eighth in the championship ahead of some big names.

“It’s bittersweet to be leaving the team, the past few years have had their fair share of ups and downs, but I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to the team for everything, and I look forward to what the future holds.”

Bird won two E-Prixs for Jaguar, with both coming in his maiden season in 2021 when he claimed victories in Diriyah and New York City.

That season he finished sixth in the standings, just 12 points off champion Nyck de Vries, but the following season was a torrid campaign that Bird ended with a best finish of only fourth in the season-opening Diriyah race as he slipped to 13th in the standings, ending a fraught season on the sidelines after breaking his hand in the second London E-Prix.

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Bird has rediscovered some form this year, scoring four podiums in Diriyah, Sao Paulo, Berlin and Rome, but scored 102 points fewer than title contender team-mate Mitch Evans. His season has also featured several accidents, including two intra-team ones with Evans – in Hyderabad and Jakarta.

The decision to replace Bird with Cassidy came between the Portland and Rome events a month ago and this triggered Bird’s camp to enter discussions with McLaren, as Rast’s decision came to light around the same time.

The relative paucity of results, in light of the competitive cars he was racing, mostly rests on Bird himself. Always one to admit his errors, there were simply too many of them over the past two seasons to warrant a contract extension with a team that somehow is still striving for a first title in Formula E as it ends its seventh season.

Driver errors in Formula E, amid the perennially underestimated tasks and stresses that drivers face in the series, are almost inevitable. But the last two title winners, Stoffel Vandoorne and this year’s champion Jake Dennis, and their extreme limiting of mistakes in their triumphant years tells a notable story.

Consistency is absolutely key, and Bird rarely showed he was able to perform the way the world knows he can, weekend-in and weekend-out.

Formula E London Eprix

When he switched to Jaguar in the summer of 2020 it was rightly perceived as one of the biggest Formula E driver moves ever.

Jaguar had always struggled to find a team-mate that could get close to and beat Evans, who had hands down made this team his own in the first four campaigns across 2016-20.

James Barclay and his team have made some peculiar decisions, not least to forego Alex Lynn for a total Formula E unknown in James Calado for the 2019/20 season.

But when it signed Bird the feeling was that this was it. This was the line-up that would bring a glut of E-Prix wins and titles.

While the first of those ambitions was met, the latter was only really tantalisingly tickled for the first time by Evans in 2022.

Frankly, Bird went missing that season, and perhaps it laid the foundations for Jaguar declining his services for 2024. He often appeared distracted – and distraction provides a breeding ground for mistakes. They came in some horribly high-profile ways this season, such as the aforementioned collisions with Evans in Cape Town and Jakarta, while his car-destroying shunt in Rome caused the same outcome for three others.

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Despite all of this, Bird was quick. Four 2023 podiums and sporadically challenging for wins was what was expected. But he couldn’t deliver a win this year or last, and in two extremely competitive Jaguars that was never going to be enough to keep him at the forefront of the team’s mind when it came to long-term line-up options.

A future at McLaren awaits now for Bird. The Race understands that this was at the total behest of Zak Brown, who personally contacted Bird earlier this summer. A swift deal was reached thereafter and he will partner fellow Brit Hughes, extending his almost ever-present career in Formula E in doing so.

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