Sam Smith meets a new racing breed – a driver who’s fast, versatile... and fascinated by a potentially electric future
It was Patrick Head who once said that racing drivers are like light bulbs. “You just screw one in and then replace him with another when he’s done.”
If you were to follow such brutal wisdom nowadays, you might be interested in meeting Alexander Sims. The 25-year-old is very much in demand – as he proved during a spectacularly diverse 2013 campaign. It began with one focused programme, as a factory GT driver, taking in the Blancpain Endurance Series with the French Hexis Racing team and a McLaren MP4-12C.
Second place in the intensely competitive championship proved a worthy highlight, but by mid-season things started to get busier.
“Status GP called me to deputise for one of its drivers during the GP3 meeting at the Nürburgring,” he says. “Then Carlin did the same for Spa. In addition to that, Three Bond/T-Sport needed someone at short notice for the remainder of the FIA F3 season. All of a sudden I found myself racing pretty much every weekend.”
Sims did an extraordinary job, scoring a superb GP3 win at Spa, notching up five F3 podiums and finishing off with a fighting fourth place in the Macau Grand Prix. Versatility sets him apart – and he relished the challenge. “I noticed that I had slightly changed,” he says, “in the sense that I actually enjoyed the racing more. I was no less intense in the car, but it was actually how I was out of it that reaped results. I realised you don’t need to be too severe away from the cockpit. It actually wastes mental energy to be overly ‘tight’ when you are not driving, which yields a payback when you come to compete.
“My more relaxed demeanour definitely helped me last year to perform better in the car. My friends and family noticed it and I felt it myself. Perhaps it was getting away from the cut and thrust of single-seaters for a while, who knows? Whatever, it helped me as a person and to have a more balanced outlook on life.”
For 2014 Sims is again a driver in demand. The year started in the best possible way as he was snapped up by BMW to become an official factory driver. He will race in both the Nürburgring and Spa 24 Hours as well as the majority of the British GT Championship. As opportunities go, this one is huge.
As he sits in a BMW i3 electric road car that he is testing for the day around the lanes of his home in Soham, Cambridgeshire, Sims also ponders the inevitable links with the new and innovative FIA Formula E Championship. His knowledge, passion and genuine understanding of electrically powered vehicles make it an obvious fit for a crack at the series that kicks off this September, in Beijing.
“I admire what the FIA Formula E Championship is creating and it is of enormous interest to me, irrespective of whether or not I am directly involved,” Sims says. “FIA Formula E looks to be a good way to engage a youthful market and to make low-carbon racing cool. That can only be a good thing for future generations.
“I’m a real geek when it comes to electric cars and love how they can contribute to a more sustainable life. I have driven a Tesla for a few years and really enjoy it. To me it represents what future motoring can be all about. I’m fascinated with the simplicity of it all and how its performance always surprises people, particularly when they experience the torque. But once the novelty factor wears off, you forget you are driving an electric car. It’s a great way to travel.”
Sims will be a major asset to the BMW GT programme in 2014 but – as is so often the case with racing’s more thoughtful and interesting characters – there is an awful lot going on beneath the surface.
Career in brief
Born: 15/03/1988, London
2006-2008, Formula Renault (2nd in 2008 UK championship)
2009: F3 2010: F3 (4th in Euroseries), AutoGP
2011: GP3, F3
2012: ELMS, F3
2013: Blancpain GT series, GP3, F3
2014: works BMW GT driver