Ferrucci, Mazepin make successful F1 test debuts in Silverstone

Santino Ferrucci. Getty Images
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One of the joys of in-season testing – limited as it is in Formula 1 with this week’s two-day affair at Silverstone one of only two in-season tests (Barcelona) – is occasionally seeing new drivers get the chance to debut in F1 machinery.

Two drivers had that shot today with American Santino Ferrucci becoming the first American driver to drive the American-entered Haas F1 Team VF-16 Ferrari, and then with Russian Nikita Mazepin running in the Force India VJM09 Mercedes.

Mazepin and Ferrucci were fifth and seventh on the timesheets but the debuts for both of them focused on getting comfortable in F1 machinery first.

Ferruci for Haas.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Ferrucci for Haas. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrucci, the 18-year-old from Woodbury, Connecticut, ran a total of 55 laps split between Pirelli’s medium, hard, and briefly, intermediate tires. His debut marked the first time an American driver wheeled an American Formula One car since Oct. 9, 1977 when Danny Ongais drove a Penske PC4 in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario.

Ferrucci accumulated 324.005 kilometers (201.327 miles), surpassing the 300-kilometer (187 miles) requirement necessary for obtaining an FIA superlicense. A superlicense is needed to compete in a Formula One race.

“It was great to get out in the car this morning, especially to run over 300 kilometers,” said Ferrucci, who will also test tomorrow. “The Haas VF-16 was a very different experience from my GP3 car, and a lot of fun to drive. Unfortunately, there was a lot of rain in the afternoon. We didn’t really want to run too much in the wet, especially with the aero testing we had planned.

“Hopefully we’ll get better weather tomorrow and we can achieve all our goals. I’ll spend tonight looking at my driving and I’ll work on gaining even more confidence in the car. We’ll be focusing on the car tomorrow if the engineers are happy with my driving. It was really nice to work with everyone at Haas F1 Team, and now I’m hungry for more.”

Added team principal Guenther Steiner, “Santino did a very good job. We’ve all been impressed with his professionalism. He was prepared for the test. He was well set up to be able to handle the car. These cars are very complicated, but he adapted quickly, was reliable and he didn’t put a foot wrong all day.”

Mazepin.
Mazepin for Force India. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Mazepin, who’s 17, ran only 35 laps but seemed to acquaint himself decently well after jumping up from F3 machinery.

“It’s a great feeling to be driving a Formula One car and I am so grateful to Sahara Force India for this opportunity,” he said. “We managed to do a lot of running this morning, before the rain, and thankfully we have a second day in the car to make up for the time we lost in the afternoon. Jumping from a Formula Three car into a Formula One, there are hundreds of surprises, but the biggest have been the amount of downforce and the amount of speed you can carry through corners, and how great the change of direction feels.

“The team has done a really good job to help me get acclimatized to the car and I already feel pretty comfortable. It’s also been good to work with the whole team and get to know all the mechanics and engineers better. I still have lots to learn, but it’s been good so far and I am looking forward to being back in the car tomorrow.”

Force India’s chief race engineer Tom McCullough added, “It’s always exciting to be part of a driver’s first day in the car, and today was no different. We’ve worked very closely with Nikita for the last six months and driving the car at this test was the logical next step in his development program with the team. He has shown some very encouraging signs so far and he’s improved his lap time with every run.”

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.”