How will 18 cars change proceedings at the US GP?

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The financial difficulties being faced by both Caterham and Marussia mean that next weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin is set to be contested by just nine teams fielding 18 cars.

On Friday, Caterham confirmed that it had been taken over by administrators who are now looking for a new buyer. Until such a date, it will not be racing, meaning that it will be absent from the next two grands prix in the USA and Brazil.

Marussia has not yet officially confirmed that it will be missing the United States GP at the Circuit of The Americas, but F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone claims that its financial problems have also become so grave that it cannot race in Austin.

So we’re now left with our lowest F1 field since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix. The regular field was 20 cars from 10 teams, but BAR was banned after running below the minimum weight during the San Marino Grand Prix.

Technically, it will be lowest number of cars to start a race (that is, actually pull away from the grid when the red lights go out) since the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, where 14 cars pulled into the pits after the parade lap to withdraw on safety grounds. Just six cars took part in the race, with Michael Schumacher winning for Ferrari.

It is worth stressing that this is not a repeat of Indy ’05. Admittedly, this problem has been caused by the selfish agendas of those at the top of F1, but a six-car field is very different to an 18-car field. Here are a few ways in which the reduced field will affect running in Austin.

Less cars = better chance of points

Theoretically, this works into the favor of both Lotus and Sauber, who have been languishing on the fringes of the top ten all season long. Although both Marussia and Caterham were usually behind them, without this competition, there is no chance of being outqualified by them, nor being denied points.

Jules Bianchi’s run to ninth in Monaco came out of the blue, with many expecting Sauber to break its duck long before Marussia. The Swiss team is now propping up the grid, with both Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez desperate to score some points.

In reality, the actual race itself won’t be too different from the stands. It’ll be like a reduced field – often caused by retirements under normal circumstances – running from the start. It’s not great, no, but you’ll still get a show at the front of the field.

No Marussia means no Alexander Rossi

This is hypothetical, given that Marussia had not confirmed whether it planned to run two cars in Austin. Following Jules Bianchi’s accident in Japan, the team chose to run just one car in Russia, leaving the Frenchman’s fully ready to race in the garage, waiting for its driver.

Rossi had been named as the team’s substitute for the race, though, and would have been the choice in Austin once again. Had the team elected to race with his car, the American would have been in line to make his long-awaited full F1 debut on home soil.

The lack of an American driver in Austin will certainly take some of the sheen off for some fans.

Qualifying should change to take absences into account

With 22 cars, it works as follows: six cars are eliminated at the end of Q1, another six are eliminated at the end of Q2, leaving the remaining ten to fight it out for pole position.

So with just 18 racing, does that mean only two will be knocked out in Q1? Don’t count on it.

The most likely solution will be to amend the running so that four cars drop out in each of the sessions to still leave 10 to fight it out in Q3. When Super Aguri pulled out after four races in 2008, qualifying was changed so five cars dropped out in each session (half of the field outside the top ten). Given that the regulations are written for a 26-car grid, it is likely that this will be the course of action.

With Sebastian Vettel already saying that he will sit out qualifying to take a whole new engine, there will be just three cars dropping out at the end of Q1. Expect Sauber and Lotus to share those positions.

At the front, little will change

It’s a brutal truth, but the big teams won’t miss Caterham and Marussia. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will still be duking it out at the very front of the field. Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso will most probably be fighting for the final podium position. Everyone else will continue with business as usual. Big questions will be asked of the top powers in F1, evasive answers will be given.

Formula 1 will ultimately continue on like it always has in Austin. Let’s just hope that 18 cars isn’t going to become the norm for 2015.

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

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.”