Rosberg has to blank out bad memories and focus on Hamilton

© Getty Images
3 Comments

Nico Rosberg would have spent much of the summer break agonizing over how a 43-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the Formula One championship had turned into a deficit of 19.

The German would also have devoted his energy toward planning a reversal of fortune in the title fight and how to stop his Mercedes’ teammate’s ominous momentum, beginning with this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Chasing his first F1 title, Rosberg has appeared to wilt under pressure over the past few races, handing the initiative back to Hamilton as the British driver chases a third straight drivers’ championship and fourth overall.

Having failed to win any of the first five races, when he was hampered by mechanical woes and engine troubles, Hamilton has roared back to win six of the past seven, with an increasingly exasperated Rosberg unable to stop him and to contain his own frustration.

Victory on Sunday would be a 50th career win for Hamilton. More importantly, perhaps, it would deal another blow to Rosberg’s fragile confidence.

A third straight year as runner-up to Hamilton – his rival since they were racing karts as teenagers – would be unbearable for Rosberg having won the opening four races of the season.

“I know I’ll have the best car out there and I’m massively pumped to be back on track,” a defiant Rosberg said. “It’s like a clean slate at this stage.”

The German driver insists that “what’s happened so far this season is in the past,” but it is clear that Rosberg will need a more steely approach over the nine remaining races and must not take Hamilton’s resurgence so personally.

For his part, Hamilton did well to contain what must have been huge frustration early on, and is not shy in reminding Rosberg that he has slashed his lead away.

“The first half of the season was a bit of a roller-coaster, so it’s great to be in the position I’m in,” said Hamilton, who has won twice at Spa. “The way myself and the team have performed gives me huge confidence.”

Last year, Hamilton won here from pole – five years after his other win – with Rosberg finishing second after recovering from a poor start.

Stretching through the Ardennes forest, the Spa circuit is the longest of the year at just over 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), and features famed F1 corners such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, an incredibly steep hill and moody weather conditions that can leave one part of the track damp and another part dry.

These ingredients make it arguably F1’s most pure test of drivers’ pure skill, and is regularly cited alongside Japan’s Suzuka as the race they enjoy most.

Unlike another iconic track in Monaco, which is twisty, sinewy, notoriously slow and tough to overtake on, Spa is incredibly fast with more than 70 percent of the race at full throttle and average speeds around 230 kilometers per hour (143 miles per hour).

“Spa is a great track, one that every driver enjoys,” said Hamilton, who has extra incentive to win there again. “It’s been such a proud few weeks for British sport, with the Olympics … I’ll do my best to keep the flag flying.”

Mercedes team management, meanwhile, will hope the second part of the season is free of the tensions that saw Hamilton and Rosberg crashing into each other in Spain and Austria.

While both drivers retired after the Barcelona collision – advantaging neither – the last-lap crash at the Austrian GP in early July cost Rosberg dearly as he dropped to fourth, while Hamilton won.

It also infuriated head of motorsport Toto Wolff, who said he was “fed up” trying to analyze which driver was in the wrong. It stoked an edgy rivalry that spilled over into open feuding during the 2014 campaign.

While maintaining that team orders will not be imposed – meaning the drivers are still free to race against each other – Mercedes has made it bluntly clear it will not accept any more crashes when they go wheel-to-wheel.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
0 Comments

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.”