MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Brazilian GP

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The Brazilian Grand Prix has become an integral part of Formula 1 folklore over the past decade or so.

Six world championships have been settled at the Interlagos circuits in Sao Paulo during that period, the most recent being Sebastian Vettel’s third title success in 2012.

Nico Rosberg has the chance to make it seven this Sunday, knowing that victory would assure him a maiden F1 drivers’ title. The German has been taking things one race at a time for sometime now – and this could be the weekend where the approach pays dividends.

Standing in Rosberg’s way is Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton has never won at Interlagos, but has fond memories of the track from his own championship success in 2008. With rain forecast, can the Briton break his Brazil drought and set up a title decider in Abu Dhabi?

Here are the MST F1 writing team’s picks for the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton may have never won at Interlagos, but he’s looking strong and relaxed after wins in Austin and Mexico. I’m tipping him to keep the streak going and take the title battle to Abu Dhabi.

Surprise Finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Hulkenberg has always ran well in Brazil, famously coming close to a maiden victory in 2012 before tangling with Lewis Hamilton. Force India is in good shape at the moment, so I’ll say he can score a top-five here.

Most to Prove: Nico Rosberg. Time for Rosberg to perform under pressure. Can he take advantage of the opportunity to wrap up the championship early?

Additional Storyline: Felipe Massa’s final home race. Massa has been the main man for the crowd at Interlagos for the past 10 years. Can he given them one final hurrah?

Predict the Podium

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

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. He doesn’t need to win to win the championship – second will suffice both in Sao Paulo and Abu Dhabi – but as he’s won twice in Brazil the last two years, I’m thinking Rosberg will be keen to wrap it up in advance and take a potential gut-wrenching loss in Abu Dhabi out of play. He’s driven authoritatively all year and I think he’ll take this one.

Surprise Finish: Felipe Massa. Such is the form of Williams – regularly behind Force India – that a “surprise finish” for Williams is a top five. I missed on Perez in Mexico but I’ll take Massa for a top five in his final race on home soil. If he could get on the podium, which is an admitted longshot, it’d be an incredible result.

Most to Prove: Sebastian Vettel. In the wake of his radio outburst and, objectively, poor-ish run of form by comparison to teammate Kimi Raikkonen, I’d like to see Vettel have a dynamic weekend. I’m sure he would too. Sadly dynamic for the 2016 Ferrari and Vettel means at best a podium finish.

Additional Storyline: Midfield jockeying. A handful of races of late have only seen the top 5 teams score points and as such it becomes harder to stand out among the Haas, Renault, Sauber, Manor, McLaren and Toro Rosso teams. With more drivers yet to be sorted than not, there’s a number of them that need a big race.

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
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.”