Rosberg tames wet conditions to claim Belgian GP pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in a wet qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps today.

The German driver beat his teammate by two-tenths of a second in the final session on Saturday afternoon, as Mercedes proved itself to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field come rain or shine. Sebastian Vettel was over two seconds behind Rosberg in third place, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo.

A brief rain shower in the run-up to qualifying meant that the session got underway in damp conditions, with all of the drivers fitting intermediate and wet tires accordingly. A number of them struggled to keep their cars on track in the wet, including Lewis Hamilton, who couldn’t get his Mercedes stopped at the final chicane. Despite his off-track excursion, he still managed to post the fastest time during the first runs ahead of Rosberg in the sister Silver Arrow, although the German driver did win out in the end to finish the session a tenth clear of Hamilton at the top.

Williams ran well in Q1 to finish third and fourth, whilst Jean-Eric Vergne rallied through the spray to fifth place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. Esteban Gutierrez’s session came to an early end when his Sauber ground to a halt on the exit of Stavelot, meaning that he finished in the dropzone at the end of the session.

Andre Lotterer performed well in his first F1 qualifying session to finish almost one second clear of full-time teammate Marcus Ericsson at the back for Caterham, whilst Nico Hulkenberg was the surprise casualty of the first session as he couldn’t get his brakes warm enough. Pastor Maldonado and Max Chilton also dropped out at the end of Q1.

As Q2 got underway, more rain began to fall over Spa, prompting Force India to tell Sergio Perez that his first run could actually turn out to be the fastest of the session. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both struggled to keep their cars on track on intermediates, but the latter soon found his feet to move up into first place ahead of Rosberg.

Contrary to Force India’s forecast, the times did continue to improve throughout the session. Hamilton closed out Q2 ahead of Rosberg and Alonso at the top, with the Mercedes duo enjoying an advantage of almost two seconds over the rest of the field.

The dropzone at the end of the second session was made up of the expected names. Jules Bianchi will start tomorrow’s race from 16th, but making Q2 was a considerable achievement for the Frenchman. His compatriot, Romain Grosjean, will start just ahead in 15th after being beaten in the dying stages by Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil, who were 12th and 13th behind the two Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat (P11) and Jean-Eric Vergne (P12). Kvyat then made a rather embarrassing mistake on his in-lap though, as he waved his hand in frustration before spinning his car as a result.

Q3 saw all of the drivers head out early to get in a banker lap as the sun peeked through the clouds above Spa, giving the track a chance to dry as the session wore on.

A mistake at La Source meant that Hamilton’s first timed lap was a poor one, allowing Rosberg to take provisional pole. The Briton improved with his second effort, but was still some seven-tenths adrift when they pitted for fresh tires with five minutes remaining.

Rosberg headed out early for his final run, but a slow first sector put paid to his initial timed lap on fresh intermediates. Hamilton crossed the line with 20 seconds remaining, and traded fastest sector times with Rosberg, who was now on his second lap. However, the Briton could not keep this form up, and eventually came home in second place. For good measure, Rosberg improved his final time to finish two-tenths clear of Hamilton and claim his seventh pole of the season.

Vettel managed to improve on his final lap to qualify third ahead of Alonso and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who ran wide at Blanchimont on his final lap. Valtteri Bottas qualified sixth ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Kimi Raikkonen, with Felipe Massa and Jenson Button rounding out the top ten.

This result marks Rosberg’s fourth pole position in a row, and he will be hoping to convert it into a win that would see him extend his lead over Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings. However, with the Briton qualifying inside the top five for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June, he will be pushing to wrangle back the championship lead and win for a second time in Belgium tomorrow.

You can watch the Belgian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7.30am ET tomorrow.

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

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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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 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 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 car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

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. – McLaren Racing

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.”