Max Verstappen gets jump on Lewis Hamilton to win F1’s first sprint qualifying race

Max Verstappen F1 sprint
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
0 Comments

SILVERSTONE, England — Max Verstappen took the lead from Lewis Hamilton at the start of Formula One’s experimental first sprint qualifying race to capture the F1 pole for the British Grand Prix and spoil the homecoming of the seven-time champion.

Hamilton initially seemed fine with the defeat and showed enthusiasm for the format and the fan energy at Silverstone, which packed in 90,000 fans this weekend.

“I don’t know how it looks to watch from the fans,” Hamilton said from aboard an open-air trolley used for the “podium” drivers as they were taken for a lap past the grandstands.

Hamilton said in the trolley the inaugural sprint race format was “way more enjoyable. We should do more like that, or a version of it in the future.”

But the Mercedes driver changed his tune by the postrace news conference as he sullenly accepted he’d lost again to Verstappen and Red Bull. Hamilton said there he didn’t like the format, which also cost him another point in the standings.

The Dutchman stretched his lead over Hamilton by winning the sprint and will take a 33-point advantage over the local driver into Sunday’s grand prix.

“In my opinion there needs to be a Saturday and Sunday weekend,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen and third-placed Valtteri Bottas — Hamilton’s teammate — said they preferred the traditional three-round qualifying, noting they’d rather have used the track time for practice.

The leaders of F1 have recognized the series needs a freshening as its audience starts reaching key younger demographics and so this weekend they tried something new. One practice session was cut and transitioned instead on Friday to the preferred knockout qualifying, which was won by Hamilton.

But that only set the starting grid for Saturday’s sprint race — dicey because there’s always the chance the drivers don’t push hard out of fear of damaging their cars a day early when points aren’t on the line.

That wasn’t a problem because it was racy right from Verstappen’s jump on Hamilton as flames shot from Verstappen’s heated left front tire. Fernando Alonso jumped from 11th to fifth in the opening lap before finishing seventh, and Sergio Perez crashed.

Any chance of Hamilton finally topping the championship leader was lost when Verstappen simply drove away from Hamilton at the start.

“They’ve done a really great job with their engine, their starts are really great this year,” Hamilton said. “We’ve lost a bit of performance on our starts, so we’ve got to work a bit harder to improve that.”

Verstappen earned three points for the win, as well as the pole. It put Verstappen in position for a fourth consecutive win, all from pole.

Red Bull has won five straight, which includes a Perez victory. He was the biggest casualty of the experimental qualifying when he crashed on the fifth lap and finished last.

That is a reason Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff pointed to in favor of sticking with traditional qualifying.

“Overall it is a good add on,” Wolff said. “I don’t want to see it every race, I think there is too much randomness … last is not the place Sergio Perez should be.

“It could really work against you if you’re one of the frontrunners so there is too much randomness, but I think if the next few ones go like this one, I think it has a place in the calendar in a limited form.”

The hard racing was celebrated after the finish as Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas climbed aboard the trolley. Verstappen was presented with an old-school winner’s wreath around his neck, and all three drivers waved to fans as they passed.

Hamilton has not won a race since May 9 at the Spanish GP, but Silverstone has long been a Mercedes stronghold and the team has won seven of the past eight British GP. Hamilton has won six of those.

With Perez starting last and both Mercedes on the tail of the lone Red Bull, Mercedes believes Hamilton could win a seventh British GP and reignite his title defense.

“We have pace,” Wolff said. “If Lewis would have held the position at the beginning, I think we would have pretty much had the same race just with the Mercedes in front.

“With two cars right there you can split the strategies, you can go long, you can try overcutting, you can try undercutting, starting on different tires. That is certainly a big advantage.”

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.”