Renault beats Force India in midfield scrap at British GP

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In the battle of Formula 1’s midfield, Renault Sport F1 Team won the day in Sunday’s British Grand Prix, with Nico Hulkenberg delivering a sixth place for the Enstone-based squad as “best of the rest” behind the two Mercedes, single Ferrari and two Red Bulls that were in the top five.

Hulkenberg and Renault have tended to fade this year in the races when they’ve had qualifying pace. But after qualifying a season-best sixth on Saturday, which became fifth on the grid with Valtteri Bottas’ grid penalty for a gearbox change, Hulkenberg backed it up on Sunday.

The German was poised for a top-five finish before Daniel Ricciardo came calling in the final laps in the Renault-powered, TAG Heuer-badged Red Bull.

Alas, Hulkenberg matched his season best result of sixth (Spanish Grand Prix) and was happy to have finished ahead of both Sahara Force Indias for his best career finish at Silverstone. He’d come seventh here for Force India each of the last two years.

“It felt good. Very good actually,” Hulkenberg told NBCSN’s Will Buxton post-race. “I expected not too much but it was a positive surprise the pace and the balance were there. From Saturday to Sunday we scratched our heads with grip. But today it worked really well in our favor. We outpaced the Force Indias which is great news, and I didn’t see it coming at all.

“I think it’s couple things. It’s a high speed nature flowing tracks which suits the car better. I love the high speed stuff. I love this track,” he added about why he thought the race went better.

Hulkenberg said the car’s new floor and other updates to come will see Renault further up the order. This gives him and the team 26 points for the year – teammate Jolyon Palmer was unable to add to that with a brake-by-wire failure sidelining him before the race even started.

“This was an important thing for us to bring this floor and for it to deliver a big impact,” Hulkenberg said. “I know there is more coming for Budapest. I think the first half is decent – get to the points every now and then. But at this rate of progression we are looking for more vs. Haas, Williams and Force India and to take more points off them.”

Force India got both its cars home in the points again with Esteban Ocon finishing ahead of Sergio Perez for the first time this year, the pair ending in eighth and ninth. This marks the eighth time in 10 races Force India has banked a double points finish as they are a solid fourth in the constructor’s championship.

Neither was particularly thrilled with the result though, having been behind Renault at the weekend.

“Well I think it was a brilliant start. Felt like four-wheel drive!” Ocon told NBCSN. “We gained two positions. Then he took the place back. Great improvement on my side. There was a points finish again and we have to keep going.

“Sometimes they are faster than us. But it’s not consistent over the year. Maybe they drop a bit in the next race.”

Perez added to NBCSN, “It was a very difficult race today. Everything got complicated. We had much more pace than what we showed today. We didn’t get to show our true pace. Renault beat us big time. I couldn’t recover from the start. I think I managed my tires well. Silverstone is one of the most difficult tracks to overtake given how fast it is.”

Felipe Massa got the final point for Williams Martini Racing in 10th place, with one point a good result for the team as it celebrates his 40th anniversary in Formula 1. This extends Williams’ points-scoring streak to five races running. Lance Stroll endured a tough weekend, ending 16th, and ending his own three-race streak of scores.

Haas F1 Team’s longest ever run of consecutive points scores ended at five this race, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean unable to better 12th and 13th. Magnussen ran in the points most of the race but ran a longer first stint on softs and switched to supersofts. Despite starting 10th after being frustrated on Saturday, Grosjean never looked a points scorer and had late-race contact with a Sauber that set him back.

McLaren got Stoffel Vandoorne home to the flag in a season-best 11th place, one spot shy of his first points finish of the year. Meanwhile Fernando Alonso reported in yet another loss of power and retired the car. His Q1 heroics on slick tires on a damp track stand as his highlight of the weekend.

Things were worse down Toro Rosso way, the pair of drivers in Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. colliding on the first lap. Sainz was done on the spot while Kvyat got a drive-through penalty for an unsafe re-entry and two more penalty points assessed, giving him nine in a 12-month period.

Sainz lamented another tough race when speaking to NBCSN.

“I don’t comment too much on FIA penalties, but not an ideal situation when we take each other out. It is a frustrating situation as one can imagine,” he said.

“I normally do (have confidence in him) which is why I gave a lot of space to him for the same piece of tarmac, but when one car loses control and hits the back of you, you can’t do anything but turn the page for Hungary.”

The midfield battle in the Constructor’s Championship sees Force India a clear fourth, Williams still fifth with Toro Rosso and Haas having lost a key opportunity to score today and Renault making a big push to get up to sixth as a result of Hulkenberg’s eight-point haul.

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

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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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 Racing 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 Formula E 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 team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

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.”