F1 Preview: 2017 Mexican Grand Prix

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has established itself as one of the highlight races of the season due to its buzzing, unique atmosphere and party vibe.

This weekend is likely to see festivities reach a new height as Lewis Hamilton prepares to be crowned F1 world champion for a fourth time, needing only a top-five finish to reclaim the crown he lost to Nico Rosberg last year.

Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel knows he must win all of the final three races to stand any chance of denying Hamilton a fourth crown, having seen his team capitulate in both title races over the last two months.

With all of the signs pointing to a Hamilton coronation, Sunday’s race in Mexico City is likely to be one that goes down in F1 history.

Here are the key talking points heading into the Mexican Grand Prix weekend.

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – Talking Points

How will Hamilton be crowned champion?

Lewis Hamilton’s 66-point advantage means the question is when, not if, he will be crowned world champion for a fourth time and move clear as the most successful British driver in F1 history.

A top-five finish will do the job for Hamilton at any of the final three races, but his recent form – five wins in the last six races – suggests it will be in Mexico on Sunday.

Hamilton has finished outside of the top five just once this season, taking P7 at Monaco after dropping out in Q2 on Saturday, and Mercedes’ reliability has been near-bulletproof through this year. Naturally, though, there is a first time for everything…

The unique nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez being some 2,200 meters above sea level means teams can run high-downforce setups with big wings, theoretically playing into the hands of both Ferrari and Red Bull.

Alas, even if Mercedes were firmly the third-fastest team in Mexico, you could count on Hamilton to be the leading Silver Arrow to cross the line in fifth behind the pairs of Ferraris and Red Bulls ahead.

Hamilton isn’t one to seal the deal by doing just enough though – he wants to win this title in style. Even if a win is not forthcoming, for the sake of the celebrations, a podium finish would be fitting as a way to clinch the title so he can appear in front of the passionate Mexican crowd packing out the Foro Sol stadium section.

Ferrari, Red Bull look for late-season success

The titles may have been pretty much settled, but there are still 75 points and three race wins up for grabs before the end of the season, giving Ferrari and Red Bull the chance to finish on a high and take the fight to Mercedes up front.

All three of the remaining circuits hold possibilities for the chasing teams, with the high-downforce requirements for Mexico and Abu Dhabi, in particular, playing to their strengths.

Malaysia proved that both teams are capable of getting an edge over Mercedes on merit, even if we were robbed of a straight fight between Red Bull and Ferrari at Sepang due to the latter’s reliability issues.

One year on from the fraught battle between the two teams to complete the podium, could they be going toe-to-toe for the top step this year?

Hartley aims to build on solid debut

The news that Toro Rosso had elected to stick with Porsche LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley until the end of the season and dump Daniil Kvyat for good may have not been surprising, yet it was nevertheless highly significant when it comes to the 2018 driver market.

Hartley’s planned one-off appearance saw him put in a solid display en route to P13 in his first single-seater race for five years, and the New Zealander will be aiming to build upon that this weekend.

Just as at the Circuit of The Americas, Hartley will be racing on a track he knows this weekend from his FIA World Endurance Championship duties, but now has the added experience of being in a car he knows.

His selection of a permanent number (No. 28) and Ed Jones’ signing for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series – a seat Hartley was nailed on for – all points to an extended future for Hartley with Toro Rosso.

Nevertheless, he’ll be keen to impress once again this weekend in Mexico.

Can Renault continue its climb?

Much as F1 will be hitting new altitudes this weekend in Mexico, Renault will be aiming to do the same in the constructors’ championship as it breathes fresh life into its season following Carlos Sainz Jr.’s arrival.

Sainz took to his new Renault R.S.17 car like a duck to water on debut in Austin, charging to P7 in the race to lift the French manufacturer above Haas in the constructors’ standings.

Renault has been developing rapidly this season, meaning its pre-season target of P5 is still not out of reach with three races to go.

Next on the team’s hit-list is Toro Rosso, just five points ahead in sixth, and given the Red Bull B-squad will be fielding a line-up with a combined three races worth of experience, Renault will fancy its chances of getting the jump by the season’s end.

The fight for the midfield positions may not be of great interest to the casual fan, yet for the team’s involved, there are millions of dollars in prize money up for grabs.

Fuerza Mexico

This year’s Mexican Grand Prix may be signifcant for F1 in terms of the title race, but it holds a far greater meaning for the people of Mexico City, coming just over one month since the devastating earthquake that claimed 370 lives and levelled a number of buildings.

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was unharmed by the earthquake, meaning the race could go ahead as planned, and it will be a sign of strength from Mexico City as over 300,000 fans pack out the grandstands.

Sergio Perez will be flying the flag on home soil once again, having enjoyed another strong year with Force India through 2017, and fans attending the race will dare to dream of a popular podium finish in a nation with a rich motorsport history.

NBCSN’s Will Buxton and Jason Swales headed to Mexico City earlier this year to get a flavor of the city and explore the nation’s racing heart. You can watch the film they produced here.

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
Corners: 17
Lap Record: Nico Rosberg 1:20.521 (2015)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:18.704
2016 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:21.134
DRS Zones: T17 to T1, T3 to T4

2017 Mexican Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

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.”