F1: Daniel Ricciardo had ‘sleepless nights’ about leaving Red Bull

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) Although weighing up the decision to leave Red Bull gave Daniel Ricciardo “a few sleepless nights,” he felt his unexpected move to join Renault was inevitable.

The Australian driver stunned F1 when, instead of signing a new deal with Red Bull on July 31 as widely anticipated, he announced days later he was joining Renault for 2019.

Not, he said, because of an uneasy relationship with Dutch driver and teammate Max Verstappen. Ricciardo insists there was “no falling out or bad blood” with Verstappen, team principal Christian Horner or any of the management.

His decision to leave was because he needed “fresh motivation” after feeling “frustrated and a bit numb” following so many years within Red Bull’s set up. Ricciardo started in F1 with Toro Rosso – Red Bull’s feeder team – in 2012 and joined Red Bull in 2014.

“I was really torn with what to do and that process took time,” Ricciardo said Thursday. “It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of factors and variables in my mind. When I weighed it up the change of setting, a new challenge, are probably the answers I needed.”

Ricciardo began this season well, winning two of the first six races.

Then, the team’s reliability problems resurfaced as did his sometimes difficult relationship with Verstappen. At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April, they crashed into each other. Neither accepted the blame.

Ricciardo was faster than Verstappen in Baku but couldn’t get past him. As a frustrated Ricciardo tried to force his way past, Verstappen closed the door on him and Ricciardo, with no time to react, slammed into the back of his teammate.

It wasn’t the first time they had collided.

Last year, Ricciardo was livid with Verstappen after being bumped off the track by him on the first lap of the Hungarian GP. Ricciardo described Verstappen’s driving as “amateur” for the way he swerved into him when going wide on the exit from a turn.

Although the 29-year-old Ricciardo has won seven races for Red Bull, Verstappen is just 20 and considered the future star of F1.

By the age of 18, Verstappen became the youngest driver to win an F1 race and qualify in the top two positions. He has already won four F1 races, secured multiple podiums, and is one of the quickest and best at overtaking.

While Red Bull has always insisted the drivers were on equal footing, Verstappen was given a lucrative multi-year deal – before Ricciardo was offered his new contract – which appeared to suggest the team’s focus was more on him.

Ricciardo was asked if his move to Renault was to get away from Verstappen.

“No is the short answer,” Ricciardo replied, adding that perceptions that Verstappen was the team’s designated No. 1 were inaccurate, albeit understandable.

“From the outside people thought that, but hand on heart there was never any concern or sign of that,” Ricciardo said.

He was also happy with the new contract offered to him by Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko but it was not enough to change his mind about leaving.

“(Marko’s) known me for 10 years and I think he’d sensed at times some frustration or maybe some things changing in me,” Ricciardo said. “He was a little bit disappointed I was moving on.”

Ricciardo’s sudden refusal of a new deal left Red Bull scrambling for a new driver for next season.

The seat has gone to 22-year-old Frenchman Pierre Gasly, fast-tracked from Toro Rosso after largely exceeding expectations this season.

“He owes me a drink,” said a smiling Ricciardo, who sat next to Gasly at Thursday’s news conference. “Two drinks.”

Gasly and Verstappen are friends since their karting days but that friendship might be more difficult to maintain on the F1 track.

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.”