Refuelling set to return to Formula 1 in 2017

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The FIA has announced that refuelling is set to return to Formula 1 for the 2017 season in a bid to make races more exciting and improve the ‘show’ of the sport.

Representatives from a number of F1 teams met with FIA president Jean Todt and F1 Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone at Biggin Hill in England on Thursday, and agreed to change the technical regulations for the 2017 season.

The biggest change will be the return of refuelling, which was last used in F1 back in 2009. This is likely to tie in with a more durable compound of tire that allows drivers to push throughout the race, with the main variation being fuel load.

For 2016, the Strategy Group plans to allow teams a free choice of tire compound across the course of the race weekend instead of being restricted to the two that are selected by supplier Pirelli and deemed most suitable for the race.

“The Strategy Group members have debated a number of levers aimed at improving the show,” a statement from the FIA reads. “An initial series of measures has been voted:

For 2016:

  • Free choice of the two dry tyre compounds (out of four) that each team can use during the race weekend

For 2017:

  • Faster cars: 5 to 6 seconds drop in laptimes through aerodynamic rules evolution, wider tyres and reduction of car weight
  • Reintroduction of refuelling (maintaining a maximum race fuel allowance)
  • Higher revving engines and increased noise
  • More aggressive looks

A few other measures have also been discussed but require further investigation before they can be implemented:

  • A global reflection on race weekend format
  • Measures to make starts only activated by the driver without any outside assistance

Furthermore, in light of the various scenarios presented by the independent consulting company mandated by the F1 Strategy Group, at the initiative of the FIA, to work on the reduction of costs and following a constructive exchange, a comprehensive proposal to ensure the sustainability of the sport has emerged.

The Strategy Group member teams have committed to refine it in the next few weeks, in consultation with the other teams involved in the championship. On the engine side, it has been decided that stability of the rules should prevail in consideration of the investments of the manufacturers involved in the sport and to give visibility to potential new entrants.

The allowance for a 5th engine to be used during the 2015 season has been rejected.

At the Spanish Grand Prix, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery told MotorSportsTalk that the Italian company would not allow a free choice of tires in the future.

“No, we’re not going to be doing that, it would be a no,” Hembery said. “You can’t because you’d have some idiots making decisions to run things to try and get performance.

“If it was 50 degrees like today and they were on super-softs, you’d have a car sat in the garage with either no tires left or tires breaking on the track.

“It will never be the team that chose the wrong tires, it will be Pirelli’s fault. We can’t have that, but we’re always willing to look for change if change is needed.”

Pirelli’s current F1 contract runs until the end of the 2016 season, but Michelin has expressed an interest in entering the sport if the regulations were changed to fit its approach.

The push for more aggressive and quicker cars has been gathering steam in recent months, with Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene leading the charge. Unquestionably, quicker and cooler looking cars would be positive steps for the sport.

However, the biggest talking point coming out of this meeting will undoubtedly be the return of refuelling. This will result in slower pit stops, given that the sport has become accustomed to sub-three-second stops since the refuelling ban, and will also increase the safety risk in the pit lane.

The decisions will also raise further questions about the legitimacy of the Strategy Group, given that it features just six of the ten teams, excluding Sauber, Lotus, Manor and Toro Rosso.

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.”