What to watch for: British Grand Prix (CNBC, NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET)

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Lewis Hamilton’s charge to pole position at Silverstone in Saturday’s Formula 1 qualifying session for the British Grand Prix acted as the latest twist in a strange week for the sport.

Having announced and held a groundbreaking demonstration in the very heart of London earlier this week, F1 was dealt a blow when Silverstone confirmed it would be breaking its current contract after 2019 to host the British Grand Prix.

Hamilton, meanwhile, came under fire for being the only current driver to have missed the London showcase, only to then send the home crowd into raptures with a remarkable final lap in qualifying on Saturday.

You can watch the British Grand Prix live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race from Silverstone.

2017 British Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton chases fifth home win

Lewis Hamilton may have scored a PR own-goal earlier this week by missing the live event in London, but his on-track exploits have done much to impress the baying crowd at Silverstone so far this week.

Hamilton’s continued success has put more and more records in his sights, and a fifth win at Silverstone on Sunday would tie him up with Jim Clark and Alain Prost for the all-time record.

Hamilton looked imperious through qualifying, so if can channel the home support in the same kind of way on Sunday, it would be a massive result for his championship bid.

Ferrari hopes to make numbers count

Ferrari may have struggled to match Mercedes’ pace through Friday practice or qualifying, but it heads into Sunday’s race with one key advantage: numbers.

Following Valtteri Bottas’ grid penalty for a gearbox change, Hamilton will have to fend off the Scuderia by himself at the front. Kimi Raikkonen starts second on Sunday ahead of Sebastian Vettel in P3.

Ferrari has traditionally gone stronger in the races so far this season than qualifying, giving Vettel some hope that he can rain on Hamilton’s parade and extend his championship lead.

Bottas, Ricciardo plot fightbacks from grid penalties

Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo have been two of F1’s in-form racers recently, yet both have a challenge to continue their good recent record after being hit with grid penalties at Silverstone for gearbox changes.

Bottas drops from P4 to P9 on the grid, giving him a challenge to battle back through the midfield and rejoin the Mercedes/Ferrari train ot front, while Ricciardo will start P19 after a turbo issue in qualifying forced him out in Q1.

The high-speed 2017 cars have been spectacular to watch so far this weekend at Silverstone. Seeing them pick their way back through the field should be particularly exciting to watch.

Genuine hope for McLaren at home?

McLaren has not won the British Grand Prix since 2008, and while that is highly unlikely to change today, the team does head into the race with some genuine hope that it could hit the points.

The ‘Spec 3’ Honda power unit upgrade has offered a noticeable step forward in terms of performance, allowing Stoffel Vandoorne to partake in Q3 for the first time this season on Saturday.

The Belgian will start the race eighth on the grid, while teammate Fernando Alonso faces his usual challenge of recovering from the back of the field after grid penalties for power unit changes.

Strangely though, at a high-speed circuit where power matters, things may not be so bleak for McLaren.

2017 British Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
6. Sergio Perez Force India
7. Esteban Ocon Force India
8. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
9. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes*
10. Romain Grosjean Haas
11. Jolyon Palmer Renault
12. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
13. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
14. Felipe Massa Williams
15. Lance Stroll Williams
16. Kevin Magnussen Haas
17. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
18. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
19. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull**
20. Fernando Alonso Red Bull***

* Valtteri Bottas received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
** Daniel Ricciardo received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
*** Fernando Alonso received a 30-place grid penalty for multiple power unit changes.

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.”