Buemi victorious in first London ePrix, cuts into Piquet’s advantage ahead of Formula E finale

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LONDON – Sebastien Buemi brought himself back into the thick of the fight for the inaugural FIA Formula E championship by winning the first London ePrix race on Saturday at Battersea Park.

Starting from pole position, the Swiss driver was rarely challenged en route to his third victory of the season as he slashed the gap to championship leader Nelson Piquet Jr to just five points ahead of the last race of the season on Sunday.

Piquet could only finish the race in fifth place following an early clash with title rival Lucas di Grassi, who crossed the line just ahead in fourth to give himself an outside chance of winning the championship on Sunday.

Following the decision to reprofile the first corner in the morning, the start of the race took place under the safety car before the drivers were finally released on lap two. From pole, Buemi immediately shot off into the distance, leaving Jerome d’Ambrosio trailing in second place by a couple of seconds after the opening five laps.

Just behind, there was a dramatic twist in the race for the Formula E championship. Running fourth, series leader Nelson Piquet Jr bravely tried to overtake Lucas di Grassi for third place, using his FanBoost to have an extra 40 bhp. However, the two Brazilians made slight contact, forcing Piquet onto the kerbing and to drop back into the clutches of Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman took full advantage of this, slipping into third place on lap three.

Vergne put another spoke in the works at the front by lunging down the inside of di Grassi on lap seven, making a fantastic overtake to seize third place. His Andretti team engineer quickly gave him the call to get his head down and push on for second place, whilst Buemi continued to push on at the front.

Buemi retained his advantage to the first round of pit stops, coming in one lap after the first teams that decided to come in. The Swiss driver retained his advantage after switching cars ahead of d’Ambrosio, who in turn had been caught by Vergne during the pit stop cycle. Di Grassi and Piquet remained in fourth and fifth place respectively, and as the race entered its second half, the advantage lay with Buemi.

However, his lead was eradicated when the safety car was deployed on lap 17 after Daniel Abt crashed at the final corner. The German had been dealing with a steering problem on his car following contact earlier that lap, but ended up in the wall.

The safety car was brought in at the end of lap 20, allowing the drivers to return to full speed. Buemi wasted little time in re-establishing his lead over d’Ambrosio. Di Grassi did appear to make up some ground on Vergne in third place, but soon found his mirrors filled with Piquet in fifth. Despite using his FanBoost again, Piquet was unable to make a pass, and dropped back from his compatriot with five laps remaining.

At the front, Buemi was able to simply monitor the gap to d’Ambrosio behind before crossing the line to win the first London ePrix event and move to within five points of Piquet at the front.

D’Ambrosio managed to keep his head to finish second ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne, who scored his second podium finish of the season in third place. Di Grassi kept himself in the title fight by finishing fourth, whilst Piquet saw his advantage drop to just five points in fifth, edging out Sam Bird on the final lap of the race.

Heading into Sunday’s season finale, just 13 points separate Piquet, Buemi and di Grassi, setting the stage for a thrilling last battle at Battersea Park tomorrow.

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.”