Hamilton aims to seize momentum in Hungary before F1 break

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) At the Hungaroring circuit where he secured the first of his many wins for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton will aim to seize the momentum this weekend heading into the Formula One championship’s midseason break.

After a reversal of fortunes, the British driver is only one point behind F1 leader Sebastian Vettel ahead of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. It was at the tight-turning track outside of Budapest, one of the toughest for overtaking maneuvers, that Hamilton secured the first of his 36 race wins for Mercedes in 2013. That year, Vettel totally dominated as he sealed his fourth straight F1 title when driving for Red Bull.

Hamilton’s win here, though, was the precursor to a period of Mercedes dominance. The following two years, Hamilton won the title and his former Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, won it last year before suddenly retiring.

Now Vettel is the one trying to deliver the title back to Ferrari for the first time since Kimi Raikkonen – his current teammate – won it in 2007.

Against expectations, Vettel took the early ascendancy in this year’s championship and, with Hamilton struggling with some technical issues on the car, moved 20 points clear after the Austrian GP.

But, two weeks ago, Vettel had problems at the British GP in Silverstone with his tire shredding late on. Hamilton won in style, Vettel squeezed home in seventh, and the 20-point buffer evaporated to just one.

It was Hamilton’s fourth and best win of the 2017 season, restoring his confidence after two difficult races – including a heated clash with Vettel in Azerbaijan.

Now Vettel, who has three wins, is the one needing a boost.

It would be a blow to the German driver’s morale, and to Ferrari, if he went into the month-long summer break trailing Hamilton.

Vettel’s motivation level is likely to be higher than usual, and that makes Mercedes wary of a Budapest backlash from Ferrari.

“Our rivals will be determined to fight back strongly and we have to anticipate that,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “There is no complacency at all at Mercedes, just a resolute determination to get the job done.”

While Hamilton is chasing a fourth F1 title to match Vettel’s career mark, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is proving to be much more than a reliable backup – which is initially how he was perceived after leaving Williams to replace Rosberg.

Although Bottas remains an outsider for the title, he has trimmed Vettel’s lead to 23 points after four highly consistent races. He won in Austria and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and at Silverstone.

The Finnish driver seems to be driving with a point to prove to Mercedes, which has yet to say whether he will get a new contract next year. With the drivers’ market likely to be wide open next year, Mercedes is leaving it late.

Still, the odds are improving in Bottas’ favor.

“Valtteri has a fierce work ethic, steely approach and a great natural talent,” Wolff said. “He threw himself into the challenge of switching teams and we are now starting to see his full potential. I have the feeling he is getting better with each weekend and I’m excited to imagine how he will continue to develop for the rest of the season.”

The top four in the championship have all had their moments of excellence this season.

Daniel Ricciardo, who is fourth, secured five straight podium finishes heading into the British GP. Perhaps even more impressively, he steered his Red Bull from 19th place on the grid to fifth place there. It was a fine drive and showcased the Australian driver’s speed and flair.

His teammate, Max Verstappen, had a determined fourth-place finish at Silverstone.

The 19-year-old Dutchman, arguably the most impressive driver last year in an incredible breakthrough season, will hope that his car’s troublesome issues are finally over.

For having Verstappen in top form, and with a reliable car, will add even more spice to one of the most tantalizing seasons for many years.

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.”