The FIA faces its first major challenge of the 2014 season in Paris tomorrow as Red Bull’s appeal against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix is heard.
Ricciardo had finished his home race as the runner-up behind Nico Rosberg, marking a great turnaround in fortunes for Red Bull after a disastrous winter. It was also an emotional result for the Australians in attendance at Albert Park, having never seen a home driver step up onto the podium at the circuit.
However, this elation soon turned to dismay as the FIA found that car #3 – Ricciardo – had “exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100kg/h” in the race. The new regulations are very strict when it comes to fuel usage, and the team had failed to adhere to them. In fact, it transpired that the FIA had informed the team throughout the race that Ricciardo’s car was using too much fuel; the team simply ignored these calls.
Red Bull’s management was outraged by the decision, given that the team’s own meter showed that the car was well within the fuel limit. As the FIA had encountered problems with its meters earlier in the weekend, there appeared to be some argument here. However, the sport’s governing body insisted that “rules are rules”; Red Bull broke them and Ricciardo was subsequently excluded.
In Malaysia, the war waged on as team principal Christian Horner reached out to the FIA for talks following multiple fuel sensor failures on the cars. The FIA responded by again pointing to the regulations. Red Bull’s argument was that the fuel sensor used was merely a directive (despite being homologated by the FIA and used by every other team), allowing them to use their own if they wanted to. Again, the FIA stood upright: they’re the rules.
“Article 5.10 makes it quite clear in my view that the only way the fuel flow will be measured is with the homologated sensor,” race director Charlie Whiting explained in Malaysia. “To me, it is perfectly clear.”
The races in Malaysia and Bahrain went by with little more being said in the fuel sensor debate (or – given that it is common place in Formula 1 to gate-ify topics – fuelgate), and the camps remained defiant: Red Bull sure of victory, the FIA sure of victory.
“We have got a very strong case,” Horner is quoted as saying. “As more races have progressed, issues have become more evident – and new evidence has come to light, new understandings have come to light. So hopefully we can present our case fairly and get our second place back that Daniel deserves from Melbourne.”
Yes, Daniel does deserve P2. He drove a perfect race in a car that hadn’t even completed a full race distance during testing. However, if the team was in the wrong, then it does not deserve P2. The FIA did acknowledge that Ricciardo had done nothing wrong in this saga; he simply drove a great race.
What undermines Red Bull’s argument is the fact that the other teams also had reservations about the FIA’s measurements, yet they still kept to them. If a marathon finish line is at 26 miles, do the runners keep going for another 385 yards? No, you play to the guidelines that have been set. ‘Thems the rules’.
After so many years of success, Red Bull appears to have gotten a little too confident in its own perceived righteousness.
For the sake of the sport, the FIA must win this case, judging by the information we have. Anything else would open the door for self governance and regulation by the teams.
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 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.”
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.”