MotorSportsTalk’s F1 2013 mid-season review – part one

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With ten races down and nine to go, Formula One’s summer break has come at a pivotal time during the 2013 season. Sebastian Vettel may enjoy a 38 point lead at the top of the standings, but the season is far from over: Fernando Alonso’s squandering of a 40 point lead in 2012 acts of proof for that point. However, besides Vettel’s success, there have been many many stories that have made this season one to remember – be it for the right or wrong reasons. Therefore, the MotorSportsTalk team has cast its eye over the season so far

BEST DRIVER

Tony diZinno: Kimi Raikkonen. Quietly has hung around with a win and five second place finishes in what hasn’t been the best car. If the team makes improvements he could be championship material.

Christopher Estrada: Sebastian Vettel. Is there really a doubt about this one? It hasn’t been a completely smooth year for the three-time defending World Champion (see Silverstone, as well as the firestorm he created after his Sepang win) but he’s once again shown why he’s been the dominant force in Formula One.

Luke Smith: Sebastian Vettel. The German driver has picked up where he left off in 2012 by laying down a quite remarkable pace. What’s more: he doesn’t even have the quickest car over one-lap, a position he hasn’t been in since 2009. Just think what position he would be in had he not retired from the lead at Silverstone…

Keith Collantine: Sebastian Vettel. I would give it to him purely for having the gumption to show Red Bull exactly what he thought of their attempt to impose team orders in Malaysia. But there’s plenty of other reasons to single him out as the top driver so far this year. He’s scarcely put a wheel wrong and had it not been for a gearbox failure at Silverstone he’d be more than two wins clear of his rivals already.

MOST DISAPPOINTING FIRST-HALF DRIVER

TDZ: Sergio Perez. Part of it has been the a poor car but Perez has rarely seized any opportunities with McLaren this year, and made some mistakes that have earned the ire of drivers.

CE: Felipe Massa. A string of crashes and retirements for the Brazilian has forced Fernando Alonso to carry Ferrari’s scarlet flag largely by himself. Speculation about Massa’s future in Maranello has intensified in recent weeks and he knows that he is likely facing a pink slip unless he raises his game in the second half.

LS: Pastor Maldonado. Car problems aside, Maldonado has lacked the spark and panache that saw him run so strongly in 2012. Being matched by your rookie teammate is not the mark of a future champion. On the plus side, he has only retired on three occasions this season.

KC: Felipe Massa. He ended last year strongly and began this season well. But he slumped horribly thereafter with a string of unforced errors and crashes.

MOST IMPROVED FIRST-HALF DRIVER

TDZ: Paul di Resta. Off a disappointing second half of 2012, improved pace and results through the first half.

CE: Nico Rosberg. So much for being Lewis Hamilton’s sidekick. Rosberg has been a
surprise for Mercedes in 2013, with his two first-half wins at Monaco and Silverstone showing that he’s more than a match for the popular Brit. But this intra-team rivalry could heat up even further now that Hamilton’s on the board after his triumph at Hungary.

LS: Charles Pic. It is difficult to prove yourself when towards the back, but Pic has been very impressive, leading home a Sauber in Bahrain and finishing just 2.4 seconds behind a Williams in Spain, who had won the race in 2012.

KC: Romain Grosjean has been a changed driver in the last few races having got the E21 to his liking. He’s still got a propensity for carelessness though, as he showed with his incautious move on Jenson Button in Hungary.  

BEST FIRST HALF RACE

TDZ: Canada. On track, Vettel dominated at the front of the field but a lot of great action behind him all day.

CE: Bahrain. Political unrest continued to mar the event, but the race itself was quite intriguing even though Vettel ruled at the front. Highlights include Romain Grosjean and Paul Di Resta’s duel for the last spot on the podium and Sergio Perez delivering a wild but entertaining drive after being told to “toughen up” going into the weekend.

LS: Germany. A fantastic battle for the win saw Vettel, Raikkonen and Grosjean go toe-to-toe on different strategies as Mercedes struggled and Bianchi’s race went downhill… literally!

KC: Hungary. Who’d have thought a driver could win the Hungarian Grand Prix from pole position and it would be considered not just a surprise but also a good race? This one had strategic intrigue and some memorable overtaking moves.

WORST FIRST HALF RACE

TDZ: Britain. Despite an entertaining finish, the rash of tire failures was difficult to watch.

CE: Canada. Thoughts continue to be with the family and friends of Canadian Grand Prix track marshal Mark Robinson, who lost his life while helping to remove a wrecked car at the end of the race.

LS: Monaco. For all of the glitz and glamor, it was an incredibly dull race at the front as the teams ran well below their optimum pace in order to preserve their tires. Damn, mentioned the ‘t’ word.

KC: Too many of the earlier races this year were utterly forgettable, a haze of endless pit stops and dull DRS passing. Add that to the idiocy of F1 continuing to race in Bahrain and the sheer awfulness of the point-and-squirt desert track and you have a clear ‘winner’.

BEST OFF TRACK STORY

TDZ: Sauber’s future secured thanks to Russian investors. For all Peter Sauber has put into the team, much out of pocket, great to see the team live on.

CE: Formula One stands to gain even more exposure (particularly here in the States) when its most glamorous and dangerous era takes center stage in the upcoming Ron Howard film, “Rush.” If it manages to legitimately capture the aura and the fire of the sport as well – and the flick’s trailers look promising in that regard – all the better.

LS: Mark Webber’s optimism for 2014. One would imagine he could have a bitter taste in his mouth following the fall-out at Red Bull, yet Mark seems relaxed and excited about moving to Porsche’s Le Mans programme next year.

KC: DRS being scrapped for 2013. Sorry, I must have been dreaming.

WORST OFF TRACK STORY

TDZ: Tiregate. I was “tired out” of it almost from the outset. Too obvious a pun?

CE: Formula One without Bernie Ecclestone would be like NASCAR without the
France family: Very tough to imagine. But with the British billionaire now facing major bribery charges, the prospect of an F1 world without its supremo is now potentially in play. Ecclestone has had many battles along the way in making F1 the massive spectacle that it is, but this may be his biggest one to date.

LS: The tire safety row. The short-sightedness of the teams put them in the mess, and for the safety of the drivers to be put at risk was highly embarrassing for all involved.

KC: The tire row exemplified everything wrong with F1: a lack of leadership from the FIA, the inability of the teams to agree on anything, no heed being paid to safety warnings from the drivers, mixed messages given to Mercedes about their test and young drivers losing their chances to get running. The only upside was that the FIA’s new International Tribunal did a thorough and fair job, but it should never have come to that to begin with.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for part two of MST’s mid-season review.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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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.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

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 Formula E 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.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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.”