F1 title is in Rosberg’s hands at season-ending Abu Dhabi GP

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) It seems simple for Nico Rosberg: Finishing in the top three at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix guarantees his first Formula One championship.

The German driver has pole position for the title thanks to a 12-point lead over Lewis Hamilton heading into Sunday’s showdown.

Even if Hamilton wins the race, Rosberg will clinch the bigger prize if he crosses the line third.

“Hopefully, the fans will get a great show to end the year,” said Rosberg, who is bidding to stop his Mercedes teammate from winning a third straight title and fourth overall.

Rosberg has been runner-up for the past two seasons, but the odds are stacked in his favor now.

If Hamilton finishes the race in second place, Rosberg needs only finish sixth, and if Hamilton places third, Rosberg needs eighth. Fourth place for Hamilton means Rosberg is champion regardless of where he places.

“(They) have been exceptional, and either one would make a worthy champion,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “After such a battle of endurance, the winner can say without doubt that they earned it.”

Both have won nine races each this year, and Hamilton has scooped up the past three to stay in contention.

Rosberg may be caught in two minds how to approach the race.

He does not need pole and can just sit behind Hamilton, knowing that the Mercedes car is easily fast enough to get him on the podium.

In fact, Rosberg has finished in the top three in 15 of 20 races this season, including the past eight.

But one notable factor may encourage him to race hard, rather than play it safe.

Fourth place in the championship is still up for grabs between Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the 19-year-old Dutchman who has taken F1 by storm.

Vettel, a four-time F1 champion, is only five points ahead of Verstappen, whose relentless hunger to impose himself – not to mention his increasingly fraught relationship with Vettel – may indirectly impact on Rosberg.

If Rosberg chooses to protect third place, rather than chase down Hamilton, he could get caught up in a potential scrap between Vettel and Verstappen, who has been involved in incidents with Ferrari drivers Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

“A small mistake during one of the many corner sequences can ruin a lap,” Verstappen said about the 5 1/2-kilometer (3 1/2-mile) Abu Dhabi circuit.

Missing out on the title would be especially demoralizing for Rosberg, considering he has been in a strong position for much of the season.

Last year, Hamilton won with three races to spare, but in 2014, the title went to the last race. However, Rosberg was only in it that year because of the double points rule in place for the last race. The hugely unpopular rule was quickly abolished.

Rosberg has failed to finish only one race this season, when he collided with Hamilton on the first lap of the Spanish GP in May, sending both drivers out of the race.

A similar incident would gift Rosberg the title, but Hamilton does not anticipate any cynical tactics from his teammate.

“I don’t go into the race expecting anything less than a fair fight,” Hamilton said. “I like to think higher of (Rosberg), and that wouldn’t be something he would do.”

Rosberg trailed Hamilton by 19 points heading into the summer break, but then turned the tables on Hamilton, who seemed to be drifting out of the reckoning only a few races ago.

Engine failure cost Hamilton a seemingly certain victory at the Malaysian GP.

Rosberg followed up that stroke of luck by padding out his advantage to 33 points with victory at the Japanese GP, where Hamilton finished third.

“I’m faced with pretty impossible odds,” said Hamilton, who has been hampered by engine problems. “But I can’t give up.”

Rosberg appears to have settled on a cautious approach for Sunday.

“I was joking that I would still be taking things one race at a time,” Rosberg said. “But, the more I think about it, that’s actually not as crazy as it sounds.”

He simply has too much to lose.

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.”