United States GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday

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AUSTIN – Lewis Hamilton’s march to the 2014 Formula 1 drivers’ championship continued at the Circuit of The Americas today as he managed to catch and pass title rival Nico Rosberg to clinch his third victory in the United States.

Yet again, Rosberg was made to look decidedly average by his teammate. The German driver simply had no answer for Hamilton’s pace, failing to hold a candle to him once he had been overtaken on lap 25 of the race. The margin at the line may only have been four seconds, but the impact of this victory is far, far greater.

This was perhaps the best of the three United States Grands Prix that have been held at the Circuit of The Americas (in terms of on-track action, that is). Not only did we have a close and well-fought fight for the race win, but throughout the field there were a number of great battles. Although the grid was two teams light, Austin still threw up a fantastic grand prix weekend that saw the tide take yet another turn in the favor of Lewis Hamilton.

RACE REPORT

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Five stars for Lewis in the Lone Star State

With five wins on the bounce, Lewis Hamilton has entered unchartered territory. Only six other drivers have won five in a row before, and only two – Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher – have won more than 10 across the course of a season. Quite simply, Lewis is making history.

Once again in Austin, he proved his champion credentials, overhauling Rosberg after lagging behind at the start as the medium tire came towards him. Ultimately, Rosberg was rather forgettable today. He kept Hamilton is sight, but lacked that extra gusto that the Briton has in abundance. Nico is yet to come from behind to win a race against Lewis this year.

The falsity of double points is clear

Without the utterly ridiculous double points race in Abu Dhabi at the end of the year, Hamilton would be poised to sew up the drivers’ championship in Brazil next weekend. He leads by 24 points, and would ordinarily need to carry a lead of 25 into the final race of the year to be champion.

Of course, now that figure is 50, even if he wins in Brazil and Rosberg retires, he could still end up losing the title. Nico’s only hope is that Lewis hits reliability problems late in the season – he’s got little else going for him at the moment.

Ricciardo continues to show Seb up

Another great display from Daniel Ricciardo in Austin today. The Australian driver rallied from a poor start to pass Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa en route to his eighth podium finish of the season. It was another vintage display of great racecraft from Ricciardo, who is showing experience far beyond his three years in the sport.

As for Vettel? On paper, it seems that he did a good job, jumping from the pit lane at the start to P7 at the flag and overtaking seven cars in the final four laps. However, the German driver was still in a miserable mood after the race, complaining that he was too slow in the first stint and that his late overtaking spree was “fake”. The agitation at Red Bull is perhaps beginning to show as their glorious marriage enters its final three races in 2014.

Where is Kimi?

That was the question Lotus asked last year, and it’s very true once again in 2014. Kimi Raikkonen was nowhere today for Ferrari, finishing 13th out of 15 finishers behind both Lotus drivers and a Toro Rosso. The Ferrari F14 T may not be a good car, but still – his performance was simply terrible.

Fernando Alonso kept the Maranello flag flying, albeit barely in sixth place, but he rejected the idea of it being a “disaster” in the post-race media session. Instead, he was very unflustered about it – sixth was all they could do, so fair enough. The team will hope for better in Brazil next weekend, although any hopes of catching Williams are all but over.

Thank you, COTA

Ahead of the race start, I took some time to venture out into the general admission areas and meet some of the fans who had come to this weekend’s race in Austin. As I wrote in my three features earlier this week, the American market is being cracked with this race, and the wonderful turnout proved it. The sport is being embraced in the United States, and the wonderful facility that is the Circuit of The Americas put on a show once again. So thank you, COTA, for rocking it once again this weekend.

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That’s all from the paddock in Austin. We’ll be bringing you more reports and features as the fallout continues over the next few days, and the Paddock Notebook will return for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

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.”