Hamilton storms to first Monaco GP pole position

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Lewis Hamilton bounced back from a difficult run in the second stage of qualifying to secure his first pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday with a scintillating final lap in Q3.

The defending Formula 1 world champion managed to edge out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by three-tenths of a second at the end of qualifying as the German team once again locked out the front row of the grid.

Thanks to falling temperatures, Ferrari was unable to put up much of a fight to Mercedes for pole position, allowing Hamilton to storm to the top of the timesheets with a best lap of 1:15.098.

Qualifying kicked off with most of the drivers heading out on the prime soft compound tire for their first Q1 runs. Hamilton set the early pace for Mercedes, only for Rosberg to hit back and edge out his teammate by six-hundredths of a second for P1. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were nine-tenths adrift of the mercedes duo, but had done enough to secure a place in Q2 without running again.

Despite establishing itself as the third-fastest team in 2015, Williams failed to get both of its cars through to Q2 as Valtteri Bottas finished 17th in the standings, splitting the Sauber duo of Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson who qualified 16th and 18th respectively. Once again, Will Stevens out-qualified Roberto Merhi in the battle at Manor as both posted a time good enough to line up on the grid tomorrow.

With a set of tires already saved, Mercedes and Ferrari moved onto the super-softs at the start of Q2 to ensure that its drivers advanced through to the pole position shoot-out. Vettel put his fresh tires to good use to top the timesheets for Ferrari with his first flying lap, but Rosberg once again responded by going three-quarters of a second faster.

Hamilton’s lap was less impressive, slotting into third place with a time that was identical to Vettel’s, and he lamented a poor run when speaking to his engineer. The Briton went out for a second run, but still could not get close to Rosberg’s time, giving the German the advantage heading into Q3.

McLaren’s hopes of reaching Q3 after a strong showing in practice were soon dashed when Jenson Button was left P12 after being forced to bail on his flying lap due to yellow flags, whilst teammate Fernando Alonso suffered an engine issue that left him P15. Romain Grosjean missed out on Q3 for the second race in a row, qualifying 11th, whilst Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa completed the dropzone in P13 and P14 respectively.

With rain hanging in the air at the start of Q3, all of the drivers in the top ten moved quickly to get out on track and post a lap time in case of a later downpour. After taking two laps to warm up their tires, the Mercedes drivers began their fight for pole, with Hamilton drawing first blood by going 0.136 seconds quicker than Rosberg in the opening salvo.

The rain continued to linger but failed to affect track conditions, giving Hamilton and Rosberg a chance for a second run to try and improve their times. With fresh tires fitted, Hamilton was the first to get out on track, opting once again to take two laps to warm up ahead of a final flying lap.

In spite of the falling temperatures, Hamilton managed to produce a superb lap to improve his time and leave Rosberg with a mountain to climb. However, after poor first sector and a lock-up at turn one, Rosberg failed to improve his time, leaving him second on the grid and handing pole position to his teammate.

Sebastian Vettel also failed to improve on his final lap time, leaving him third on the grid ahead of ex-Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who will line up fourth on the grid tomorrow. Daniil Kvyat followed his teammate in fifth place, whilst Kimi Raikkonen’s tough weekend continued as he limped to sixth overall in Q3.

Despite not running again in the latter stages of the session, Sergio Perez qualified an excellent seventh for Force India, whilst Pastor Maldonado enjoyed his best qualifying of the season to finish ninth between the Toro Rosso drivers of Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen.

In the fight for supremacy at Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton has claimed an important victory with pole in Monaco. Given that this Nico Rosberg’s favorite circuit and that ten of the past eleven races have been won from pole position, the omens are certainly good for the defending world champion.

Join us tomorrow from 7am ET on NBCSN and 7:30am ET on NBC for live coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix.

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.”