F1 Preview: 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix

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The Hungarian Grand Prix may not be among Formula 1’s most glamorous or iconic events, yet it has become a mainstay on the calendar ever since it was first hosted in 1986.

Traditionally the last round before the summer break, this year the race was brought forward one week, leaving the F1 paddock with a trek from Budapest to Hockenheim in Germany before the vacation period begins.

The race is also the third of four packed into July, a month that has already seen the momentum in the title race swing emphatically in Lewis Hamilton’s favor.

Victories in Austria and Britain have seen Hamilton draw to within a single point of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the top of the drivers’ championship, stoking the fire in their battle ahead of this weekend’s race.

However, with Red Bull and Ferrari lurking dangerously behind, Mercedes knows it has a fight on its hands in Budapest.

Here is our full preview of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

2016 Hungarian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Party like it’s 2014

For all of Mercedes’ dominance during the hybrid era of F1, the Hungarian Grand Prix is the one trophy missing from its cabinet. Victories have been scored at the other 20 tracks on the 2016 calendar, but not the Hungaroring. This weekend is about completing the set.

Budapest was arguably where the public civility of the Hamilton-Rosberg relationship broke down in 2014. Hamilton refused to let Rosberg past, angering the German and leaving him to stew over the summer break before their on-track clash in Belgium. It was where the tide turned against him.

At a track where he has struggled before, Rosberg must fight back this weekend. He may say that the glass is half-full, but losing the title lead ahead of the summer break may leave him in a similar boat to 2014, stewing over the summer.

Opportunity knocks for Red Bull, Ferrari

The tight and twisting nature of the Hungaroring makes it a circuit where the strength of the Mercedes W07 Hybrid car is minimized, bringing Red Bull and Ferrari into the fray as contenders.

Max Verstappen won in Spain and has two second-place finishes under his belt in the past three weeks, making him a definite candidate for victory, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo famously won here in 2014.

Ferrari’s win drought in 2016 has caused concern at Maranello, with Hungary arguably offering its best chance to end that this year. Failure for either Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen (both former winners in Budapest) to reach the top step of the podium may lead to a more serious inquest.

Six drivers all hungry and capable of victory. Sunday’s race should be a thriller.

Radio Ga Ga

The fall-out from Nico Rosberg’s radio debacle at Silverstone two weeks ago looks set to continue, with the FIA reportedly changing the rules regarding communications once again.

Teams will now be able to tell drivers to come into the pits if they have a critical problem, where they will be exempt of the radio restrictions.

To balance this out, the penalty for breaching the regulations is now more severe, potentially even as harsh as disqualification from the race.

Keep an ear on the radio channels this weekend. The boundaries may be pushed, but crossed at the teams’ own risk.

Track limits set for greater policing

Track limits proved to be a talking point over the British Grand Prix weekend as a number of drivers had their lap times deleted for running wide and supposedly gaining an advantage in qualifying.

The Hungaroring is set to offer a similar debate this weekend, but with new electronic devices in place to police it and improved curbing on corners, cases may be more cut and dry.

Keep an eye out for track limit breaches at Turns 1, 2, 3 and 4 – it could make or break a few qualifying runs.

2016 Hungarian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Hungaroring
Corners: 14
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:19.071 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
2015 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:22.020
2015 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:24.821
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T14 to T1); T1 to T2

2016 Hungarian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports App 4am ET 7/22
Free Practice 2: NBC Sports App 8am ET 7/22 (encore on NBCSN, 11pm ET)
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 5am ET 7/23
Qualifying: CNBC 8am ET 7/23
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 7/24

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.”