Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel has continued his good pace from Free Practice 1 after finishing quickest in the second Friday session in Australia.
The Red Bull driver finished over two-tenths clear of teammate Mark Webber, with the team having made a big step forward since the final test in Barcelona.
Nico Rosberg finished third for Mercedes, with his teammate Lewis Hamilton down in seventh place despite both drivers encountering problems late in the session. The Silver Arrows will be pleased with their progress, although they have failed to repeat their testing pace so far. The Lotus pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean finished fourth and fifth respectively ahead of Fernando Alonso in sixth, and Felipe Massa struggled to match his FP1 success down in seventh.
Many of the drivers struggled with the new Pirelli tires, with their super-soft rubber prvoing particularly difficult to work with late in the session. Hamilton and Caterham rookie Giedo van der Garde both beached their cars in the gravel, and Mark Webber spun his RB9 late on as he pushed to beat his teammate.
Once again, it seems that Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes are closely matched with less than one second separating the top eight. McLaren appear to have work to do, finishing in 11th and 13th, whilst Jules Bianchi and Marussia will be happy to not only have beaten Caterham but also finish just three-tenths off Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
Free Practice 2 – Classification
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:25.908 33 laps
2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:26.172 +0.264 31 laps
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.322 +0.414 26 laps
4 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:26.361 +0.453 38 laps
5 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:26.680 +0.772 32 laps
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:26.748 +0.840 35 laps
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:26.772 +0.864 28 laps
8 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:26.855 +0.947 32 laps
9 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:27.435 +1.527 35 laps
10 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.187 +2.279 34 laps
11 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.294 +2.386 30 laps
12 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:28.311 +2.403 37 laps
13 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.566 +2.658 33 laps
14 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:28.627 +2.719 31 laps
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.772 +2.864 33 laps
16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:28.852 +2.944 36 laps
17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:28.968 +3.060 36 laps
18 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:29.386 +3.478 39 laps
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:29.696 +3.788 32 laps
20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:30.165 +4.257 37 laps
21 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:30.600 +4.692 36 laps
22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:32.450 +6.542 11 laps
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve
As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.
McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.
In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.
“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.
“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”
Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.
Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.
When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.
“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.
“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.
“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”
No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.
On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.
In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.
“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.
“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.
“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”
Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.
“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”
With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.
“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.
“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.
“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”