F1 teams say new owners need time to develop strategy

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SINGAPORE (AP) Formula One teams have welcomed the commercial takeover of the sport by American company Liberty Media and the prospects of improving the product on and off the track, while cautioning that such changes won’t come any time soon.

This weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix is the first since Liberty struck an agreement for an $8 billion staged takeover of the sport, with controlling shareholder CVC Capital selling out and minority shareholders to follow.

The new Liberty-installed chairman of Formula One is Chase Carey, an American who formerly ran 21st Century Fox. Accompanied by long-term F1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone – who will stay on for the short term under the new owners – Carey visited the race paddock at Marina Bay on the weekend and had an opportunity to meet team bosses.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner welcomed a return to hands-on ownership and said Liberty’s media expertise should boost F1’s presence in new media, an area where it is viewed as being slow to capitalize.

“Rather than having a venture capitalist or a financial institution buying into the sport, it’s far better that a company like Liberty has bought in and hopefully that will address some of the areas we have been weak in previously,” Horner said. “Hopefully for the US market it could be a great thing and some of the other platforms like the digital and social platforms could also be very interesting.”

Liberty does have the capacity to make some changes in the near term – such as to the season calendar, promotion and media coverage – but the fundamental changes to the sport that many are urging will need more patient negotiation. Changes to the program of race weekends, rules governing car design and fairer distribution of revenue to teams are governed by the secretive Concorde Agreement – between the owners, the teams and the FIA, the sport’s governing body. The latest iteration of that agreement runs through the end of 2020 so big changes to the sport are some way off.

“It’s not so much what’s going to happen in 2017 or 18, it’s what does the future beyond 2020 hold in store,” Horner said.

“It’s great they’ve come to agreement with Bernie for him to be around for a few years to come, because that intervening period is going to be crucial. He (Carey) is going to have to get himself up to speed with the business and then decide what actions they want to take for the future.”

Maurizio Arrivabene, the team principal of the sport’s perennial power Ferrari, said Liberty clearly sees potential to grow the sport, given the amount of money invested, but also said it will take time for them to develop and enact a strategy.

“Normally what you do when you buy something, you are listening, learning, sharing and acting,” Arrivabene said. “All these phases are going to happen, and they request good time to make sure that the sport is growing.”

Cyril Abiteboul, team principal of Renault, hopes the new owners can forge agreement on a better balance between no-holds-barred technological development on the one hand, and close and entertaining racing on the other.

“A number of partners want to showcase technology, which sometimes goes against the interests of entertainment and the show,” Abiteboul said. “So it will be interesting to see, with the arrival of a pure player on entertainment and show, how it can impact the product.”

Guenther Steiner, operational chief of the U.S.-owned Haas team, believes the arrival of a U.S. company should not only boost the sport’s presence in that key market, but might bring about some blue-sky thinking.

“There is big potential in the States, so we being an American team, we hope they bring that to fruition,” Steiner said. “We are more than happy to help them to do anything they need to do in the United States.

“We are waiting for their plan because maybe they have got some ideas we haven’t thought of. We are quite stubborn in this business, we just keep on asking for the same. Maybe they’ve got some great ideas as we can support them and help them along.”

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.”