MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Spanish GP

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Formula 1 arrives in Spain this weekend for the start of the 2016 season’s European leg with one man firmly in control of the drivers’ championship: Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg has claimed four wins from four races so far this season to sit pretty on 100 points at the top of the standings, leaving Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton as his nearest rival – 43 points behind.

Rosberg and Hamilton’s rivalry has been one of F1’s most intriguing stories over the past three seasons, and their fight for the 2016 crown is poised to be the toughest yet.

Hamilton has been unlucky so far this season, leaving him to arrive in Spain hopeful of a change in fortune that may give him the chance to fight Rosberg wheel-to-wheel for the race win.

As ever, the MST team has made its picks for this weekend’s race. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Rosberg’s run has to end at some point, right? Hamilton has tasted success in Barcelona before, and showed in both China and Russia that his early-season start-line woes are now a thing of the past. I’m backing him to end the streak and score his first win of the season with a classy and dominant display.

Surprise Finish: Max Verstappen – I didn’t think we’d be talking about Verstappen racing in a Red Bull until next season at the earliest, yet here we are. Verstappen has already proven his enormous talent at Toro Rosso, but now he has the chance to achieve bigger and better things in a top-line car. I’m backing Verstappen to outperform Daniel Ricciardo this weekend and immediately justify Red Bull’s harsh call.

Most to Prove: 
Daniil Kvyat – After his disaster in Russia and demotion to Toro Rosso, Kvyat needs to prove that he’s still worth a place in F1. For the remaining 17 races of the season, he’s got to prove to the rest of the grid that he’s worth hiring for next season. Let’s see if he can get off to a good start in Spain.

Additional Storyline: Updates and upgrades – The beginning of the European season marks the first raft of updates for the teams to their 2016 cars, so it will be interesting to see how this affects the pecking order. Lots to be gained and lost this weekend.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg – This is it. I’m picking Rosberg for the first time this year. Which could well mean this is the first time Rosberg loses this year. I have no idea if there’s a correlation and it’s me seriously over-valuing the Team MST picks. I’ll say this though. Spain’s as good a time as any for Rosberg to win one in a straight fight against Hamilton and the Ferraris provided none of those three have issues. He’s done it here before and I think he can do it once more. A five-for-five start to 2016 wouldn’t be unprecedented, but it would give him the momentum needed to make his tally eight in a row overall with a chance to equal the record of nine on his unofficial home soil at Monaco later this month.

Surprise Finish: Fernando Alonso – I’m gonna throw a stunner out there and say Alonso/McLaren follow up their impressive Russian GP with a top-five finish for Alonso on home soil in P5. It’s probably an emotional pick more than a realistic one but this is a place to see whether McLaren’s improved form is genuine, especially as a number of teams bring on updates this race.

Most to Prove: Daniil Kvyat – There’s no question after his debacle in Sochi which served as a reason – if not the only reason for his demotion to Toro Rosso that Kvyat has a huge microscope under him this weekend. So does Max Verstappen in his place at Red Bull, obviously, but Kvyat is under pressure from more players to perform. He must respond in a way that helps his stock and not hurts it further.

Additional Storyline: Upgrades – With Spain the kickoff to the traditional European season it’s also the first chance to see a major round of upgrades for most of the field. Are Renault and Force India’s upgrades going to propel them higher in the midfield? Has Mercedes figured out its MGU-H woes? Is Ferrari going to go through a trouble-free weekend? Does Haas keep up after its flying start as the teams bring on their next round of packages? The VES/KVY switch is storyline number one outside the win battle but deeper in the field, whose upgrades do what will tell a greater tale for the races to come.

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

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.”