Bird hopes flying laps at Silverstone will drive his F1 dreams

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The Independent Online

Five years ago winning the British GP-supporting GP2 race triggered the first bouts of "Hamiltonmania" as Lewis Hamilton stormed to victory. This weekend 24-year-old Sam Bird is fervently hoping that a similar performance can cement his growing status as the next Briton likely to race a Formula One ride.

He is already well on the road; among those who speak highly of his talent behind a steering wheel are Ross Brawn at Mercedes, for whom Bird is the official test and reserve driver; Patrick Head at Williams; and Sir Frank Williams's talent-spotting son, Jonathan.

In his first season of GP2 last year Bird set pole positions and scored podium finishes, and proved he could win by dominating much-vaunted team-mate Jules Bianchi at Monza. Williams tells an interesting story about that breakthrough success. "Sam told me that he came across Bianchi with his head in his hands, looking completely deflated," he said. "When he asked him what was wrong, Bianchi replied that he had no answer to Sam's speed. To do that to your team-mate, especially one of Bianchi's calibre, really says something..."

At the end of the season Bird set the third fastest time on his maiden outing for Mercedes in a young drivers' Formula One test in Abu Dhabi, attracting a favourable review from Head, for whom he had previously worked at Williams. "With his simulator work for us Sam did a good job, and he also provided good feedback from his straightline running," Head said. "I was also impressed by what he achieved in the F1 test in Abu Dhabi."

Brawn also liked what he saw. "Sam has worked very well with the team over the course of the two-day test, proving himself to be professional and disciplined in the car, with an excellent grasp of our procedures and our requirements from the test programme," he noted enthusiastically. "I've been very impressed with his performance."

"I think I did a pretty good job out on the track, and I think I've proved that I have the pace," Bird says.

Williams has no doubts. "In GP2 Sam's as good as they come," he insisted. "He's right up there with drivers such as Bianchi, Ferrari's 'Golden Boy'. Sam has driven superbly, and deserves to take the next step. He's talented and hard-working and when you look how Sergio Perez has come in with Sauber and delivered, I believe that he has the capability to do something similar."