McLaren Racing officially introduces new car, drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris

McLaren Ricciardo Norris
McLaren Racing
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McLaren Racing officially announced Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo as their 2021 Formula 1 drivers and unveiled the McLaren MCL35M this week in a launch party at the organization’s Surrey, England headquarters.

Norris will return to McLaren to compete for his third full season. Ricciardo moves from Renault to McLaren after two season with the rival team. This will be Ricciardo’s 11th season with Formula 1.

Looking to build on momentum from the 2020 season, McLaren expects to continue to battle for one of the top spots in the constructor’s championship. Last year they finished third in the standings on the strength of two podiums. Norris scored one of these early in the year with a third-place finish in the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. His teammate at the time, Carlos Sainz finished fifth in that race and later scored a dramatic runner-up result in the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

Ricciardo earned two podiums last year driving for Renault. These came at the Nurburgring in Germany and the Autodrome Ferrari in Imola, Italy.

Last year’s constructor’s championship showcased a fierce battle for third that might have gone to one of three teams in the final race at Abu Dhabi. McLaren narrowly beat Racing Point by seven points for the honor. Renault was 21 points behind in fifth.

“It’s crazy to think this is the 11th season I will be in Formula 1,” Ricciardo said at the launch party. “It goes quick. Even though that sounds like a long time, I still feel young and energized, but now with the benefit of all that experience.”

Ricciardo has seven Formula 1 wins to his credit in a career that has already spanned a decade. The most recent of these came in 2018 when he won the famed Monte Carlo Grand Prix after starting on the pole with Red Bull Racing.

Norris has only one podium finish. That was also his first career top-five finish, but he went on to score five more top-fives including the next week in a second race at Spielberg.

“Every time I get into the car I feel like I’m growing in confidence and experience, which helps me build my performance year-on-year,” Norris said in a release. “I’ve been working hard personally throughout the off season to be as sharp as I can when we get to preseason testing, and I can’t wait to get back in the car soon.”

McLaren Ricciardo Norris
McLaren Racing livery includes the iconic papaya orange and blue, colors first carried in the 1960s with founder, Bruce McLaren, at the wheel. (McLaren Racing).

McLaren also revealed their new car at the launch party. With new chassis and aerodynamic developments over the winter, McLaren introduced a new power unit supplied by Mercedes-AMG.

Mercedes won the constructor’s championship with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas last year.

“After a challenging but rewarding 2020, we have firmly hit the reset button for this season as we continue on our path towards the front of the grid,” said McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown. “This will be an even tougher season but we’re ready to meet the challenge.

“I want to pay tribute to Formula 1 and the FIA and our fellow teams in continuing to work hard for the benefit of our sport as we strive to bring exciting racing to fans around the world.”

Ricciardo has known he would race with McLaren since early in 2020. The announcement of his switchover came in May, when a seat at McLaren opened up with the announcement that Ferrari hired Sainz to replace Sebastian Vettel for 2021.

“It’s great to have finally joined the team after what feels like an age since we confirmed it last May,” Ricciardo said. “I’m thrilled to be a McLaren driver and super keen to get started. McLaren has been on an awesome journey over the last few years, and I’m looking forward to helping the team maintain this positive momentum.”

The 23-race 2021 Formula 1 season is scheduled to begin March 28 with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

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.”