Hamilton dodges first lap carnage to win Singapore GP, F1’s first wet night race

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Lewis Hamilton took a huge step towards winning a fourth Formula 1 world championship by taking a dramatic victory in the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, dodging first-lap carnage that eliminated title rival Sebastian Vettel.

Growing rain in the lead-up to lights out in Singapore left teams split on choosing intermediate or full wet tires for the start, but regardless of their picks, it would be the first wet night race in F1 history.

Good getaways from Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen saw them move to the inside of pole-sitter Vettel, only for the trio to crash together in a dramatic incident.

Raikkonen and Verstappen were eliminated on the spot, while Vettel suffered damage that caused him to spin into the wall as he tried to get back to the pits, also leaving him out of the race.

To make matters worse for Vettel, championship rival Hamilton had dodged the drama to move into the lead ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were also able to rise up the order under the safety car.

Hamilton led the field away when the race returned to green with Ricciardo in tow, and was quickly able to open up a five-second lead through the spray, only for it to be wiped away a few laps later when a crash for Daniil Kvyat sparked a second safety car period.

Red Bull reacted immediately and pitted Ricciardo, costing him just one position that was regained when Renault swapped Hulkenberg from wet to intermediate tires one lap later, the German dropping down to fifth behind Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Hamilton stayed out on his starting set of intermediates, but now had Ricciardo for close company on fresher rubber, concerning the Mercedes driver at the restart.

Hamilton was able to eke out a gap over Ricciardo once again when the race returned to green, with the track starting to dry after the rain stopped, leaving those on intermediates wondering when they could make the switch to slicks.

The first man to roll the dice was Kevin Magnussen, who came in at the end of Lap 24 to take on a set of ultra-soft tires, with Williams’ Felipe Massa following suit soon after. With the rest of the field still lapping on intermediates, they would be watching the pace of the dry-runners closely.

Red Bull opted to make the switch first, bringing Ricciardo in at the end of Lap 28 for ultra-softs, only for a slow stop to cost the Australian an additional couple of seconds and give Mercedes some more room to breathe.

The German marque reacted one lap later, pitting Hamilton and getting him back out still comfortably leading by around eight seconds to Ricciardo, with teammate Bottas sitting third.

With the track getting dryer and dryer, lap times continued to tumble with Hamilton and Ricciardo trading purple sectors back and forth. Despite the Red Bull looking stronger in the dry on Friday over the long runs, Hamilton seemed to be in control at the front.

Another twist threatened to spoil Hamilton’s day when the safety car was called for a third time after Marcus Ericsson spun his Sauber and stopped on the tight bridge at Turn 9, causing the field to bunch again.

With the race already set to be run to time instead of its full 61-lap distance, the clock continued to tick down as the marshals took their time to recover the stricken Sauber, with the green flag returning with 27 minutes to go.

Hamilton and Ricciardo ran nose-to-tail across the line to resume the race, only for the Mercedes driver to once again put the hammer down and open up a healthy gap in little time at all, dropping his rival into the clutches of Bottas.

Hamilton was told over team radio to keep the field bunched for fear of another safety car period, prompting him to ease off slightly and allow Ricciardo to close once again. Uncomfortable with the tactic, Hamilton asked to push again, with Mercedes giving him the go-ahead to stabilize the gap.

With the gap gradually growing as the timer neared two hours, Hamilton took the checkered flag 4.5 seconds clear of Ricciardo to take his third straight victory, crucially extending his points lead over Vettel to 28 with six races remaining.

Ricciardo was left to settle for second for the third year in a row in Singapore, while Valtteri Bottas completed the podium for Mercedes, giving it a big boost in the constructors’ championship.

Just 48 hours after clinching his move to Renault for 2018, Carlos Sainz Jr. secured his best finish yet in F1 by taking fourth for Toro Rosso, while Sergio Perez wound up P5 for Force India.

Jolyon Palmer was another driver to celebrate his best grand prix result in P6 for Renault, with teammate Hulkenberg eventually retiring after an issue on his car despite early promise, becoming the record-holder for the most F1 starts without a podium in the process.

Stoffel Vandoorne took his second F1 points finish in P7 for McLaren ahead of Lance Stroll and Roamin Grosjean, while Esteban Ocon completed the top 10 for Force India. Felipe Massa and Pascal Wehrlein were the last classfied finishers in P11 and P12.

More to follow…

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.”