Verstappen, Hamilton ready to tangle again in Chinese GP

Getty Images
0 Comments

SHANGHAI (AP) — Get set for Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton to tangle again in the Chinese Grand Prix.

Last Sunday in Bahrain, Verstappen tried to squeeze by Hamilton at the start of only the second lap. But their cars clipped each other and the Dutchman, well known for taking risks and pushing the envelope, wound up with a punctured tire and was forced to retire.

Hamilton got the better of it and managed to finish third.

But the four-time champion – and defending champion with Mercedes – was not happy. Hamilton called Verstappen an expletive after the race and suggested the 20-year-old Red Bull driver lacked maturity and respect for others.

“I went through that stuff when I was a young guy,” the 33-year-old Hamilton said a few days ago. “So I know how it is. And it’s easy to also get ahead of yourself and forget also the respect for the other guys.

“I just hope he’s learning from whatever situation he’s going through.”

Verstappen didn’t back down on Thursday in Shanghai and defended his driving. He said Hamilton was making him a scapegoat.

“It’s quite simple and easy to blame the younger driver,” Verstappen said. “That’s the only way I can see it. Like I said, those things happen. There’s no reason for me to change anything.

“That’s racing. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. You can say whatever you like about the incident. I had a fair shot at it. It was nothing crazy, nothing risky. Unfortunately, this time it didn’t work out.”

Verstappen said he had not talked with Hamilton since the incident. He said he might, but only “if it’s really necessary.”

Just a few minutes after he said that, the two shook hands in the paddock with some form of apology exchanged.

But that won’t lessen the tension on Sunday.

Neither Verstappen nor Hamilton have had perfect starts as the young season enters the third race. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel has won the first two races with Hamilton second in Australia and third in Bahrain.

Verstappen and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo both retired early last weekend in Bahrain, and they both had off-the-podium finishes in Australia: Ricciardo was fourth and Verstappen was sixth.

The Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday offers a chance for a turnaround, particularly for Verstappen, who finished third in China a year ago.

“I’m just looking forward to getting started again here because I think we have a good package and have a lot of promising things coming,” Verstappen said.

Hamilton is probably the favorite to win on Sunday in China. In 11 races at the Shanghai circuit, he’s won five times – three of the last four races, including last year – and has claimed the pole six times.

Rain is possible for practice during qualifying on Friday and Saturday, but race day should be dry and chilly.

Only three other drivers on the grid have ever won on the Shanghai circuit: Fernando Alonso (2013 and 2005), Vettel (2009) and Kimi Raikkonen (2007).

Verstappen was the youthful promise when – at 17 in 2015 – he became the youngest driver to race in Formula One. The next season at the Spanish Grand Prix, the Dutchman became the youngest to win a race.

But he also started slowly last season, retiring in seven of the first 14 races. The only bright spot early was his podium in China.

Asked if he’d be more conservative in China, Verstappen said “there won’t be a change.”

“We gave each other, maybe not enough space (in Bahrain),” he said, “but that’s racing.”

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
0 Comments

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.”