Even more than normal, youth will define Red Bull’s two teams in 2015

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Think Red Bull, and you think youth. You think edgy. You think prodigies. You think outside the box.

And in Formula 1 2015, you think “are they almost too young?”

Combined, Red Bull has four race drivers between Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso, and only one with more than one year of F1 experience.

Daniel Ricciardo is 25, born in 1989, and was alive when neon was still a thing. He’s also about to embark on his fourth full season in F1, fifth overall, and first as the undisputed team leader.

Meanwhile Daniil Kvyat will turn 21 in April – the age when the Russian could actually drink Russian vodka legally in the U.S. – and gets the call-up to Red Bull to replace the team’s most recognizable youngster in its F1 history, Sebastian Vettel.

Toro Rosso has gone for the all-youth, all-rookie route with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr., who combined are age 37, only two years older than the oldest driver on the grid, 35-year-old Kimi Raikkonen. Verstappen’s the 17-year-old wunderkind who many expect to turn F1 on its head, and Sainz Jr., 20, has already garnered an impressive string of results – and a World Series by Renault championship – in the junior categories.

The evolution to this truly youth-dominated lineup is something that has taken much of this quartet’s life to evolve, since Red Bull (the team) entered F1 in 2005. It’s marked a culture shift and has also been a signal of Red Bull’s intention to give its young talent a shot in F1, even if not all young drivers it grooms make it to the mountain top.

With David Coulthard and Christian Klien/Vitantonio Liuzzi in 2005 and 2006, the team opted for one pair of safe, veteran hands while also promoting from within. Once Coulthard was joined by Mark Webber in 2007, suddenly a team known for its youth-conscious image had two drivers that were among the most experienced on the grid.

Webber’s run through 2013 ensured the veteran presence stuck, and even last year Vettel was still just 26 but already into his seventh season of F1 but four times a World Champion. He was an entrenched team leader and a true set of veteran hands.

Toro Rosso has always sought the younger driver or drivers. But only Vettel, Ricciardo and now Kvyat have fully made the leap into Red Bull – the likes of Scott Speed, Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, and Jean Eric-Vergne are all out of F1 race seats at the moment. Many others didn’t even make it that far. All bar Bourdais were groomed for F1 from the start in Red Bull’s youth incubator, and once they arrived, it was up to them to prove it. Vergne stands the best chance of that group in terms of coming back.

Now, the proof of Red Bull’s driver development is in the pudding with four of its own in the pair of cars for the two teams. True, the same could be said last year, but Vettel was a more finished product at this point than is Ricciardo now.

It’s arguably Red Bull and Toro Rosso’s most inexperienced lineup across the board to date, and one where both teams hope their drivers grow quickly in this most dog-eat-dog world of F1.

Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari have the five World Champion drivers on the grid in their cars. Red Bull and Toro Rosso don’t – yet – but this is a year where the seeds could be sown to see their drivers become the next Vettel, or Hamilton, Button, Alonso or Raikkonen.

Ricciardo, a year ago, was in an almost ideal position where he had nothing to lose against the four-time World Champion. Now, he must be the driver that helps lead Red Bull’s return to title contention, and look to build on his three victories in 2014.

Kvyat had a solid if unspectacular debut season. On merit, there were probably other drivers who Red Bull could have opted to pick to replace Vettel. The Russian has a high ceiling but it remains to be seen whether he can match Ricciardo’s leap of a year ago.

Down at Toro Rosso, Verstappen has the weight of the world on his shoulders as he will become the youngest driver to ever start a Grand Prix, nearly a full two years younger than past Toro Rosso debutante Alguersuari. His rapid rise caused the unintended consequence of an 18-year-old age limit, and a points system for junior drivers that changes the pathway to getting into F1. All of this for a special talent who top observers say is far beyond his years.

Sainz is the wild card, as perhaps the one member of Red Bull’s overall four drivers with the least amount of pressure on his shoulders. Whereas Ricciardo, Kvyat and Verstappen immediately enter the season with something to prove, Sainz can go about his business quietly and seek to outperform expectations.

As ever, any of these four drivers will only be as good as the chassis provided to them. Additionally with Lotus shifting to Mercedes, these two teams are also the only two with Renault engines on the grid. The respective chassis and power unit performance will have much to say about how the quartet gets on this year. Both teams excelled in testing in terms of lap counts, which is more than can be said a year ago.

From a long-term planning standpoint, this is the year where Red Bull’s future seeds are sown. Ricciardo, Kvyat, Verstappen and Sainz represent the beginning of a new era. This year marks their first season as a unit where their performance will be matched against the veterans, and how well they go now will lay the groundwork for successful careers in the future.

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.”