George Russell wins first pole of F1 career; Max Verstappen qualifies 10th at Hungary

George Russell Hungary pole
Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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BUDAPEST, Hungary — George Russell stole the show Saturday at the Hungarian Grand Prix by earning his first career pole and first of the season for Mercedes – on the same day F1 champion and current points leader Max Verstappen qualified a season-worst 10th.

Russell screamed in celebration after a fast final qualifying lap helped him beat Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc.

“Whooooo, come on! Yes! Hahahaha. You beauty! You beauty!” yelled Russell before jumping into the arms of his engineers.

The pace was surprising becuase Russell claimed Mercedes’ second practice was “disastrous” on Friday, when Russell was about a full second slower than Leclerc’s leading time.

“For us as a team it’s massive. We were all here until 11 p.m. last night scratching our heads, and we all felt pretty lost,” Russell said. “To come back and grab pole position is an amazing feeling. We absolutely nailed today, 100%.”

Verstappen unleashed expletives as his qualifying bid was undone.

He struggled with grip then complained of having “no power … nothing works” on his second attempt.

“I still don’t know what it is. I need to talk to the team, but I hope everything is fixable,” Verstappen said. “I know this track is very hard to pass at, so we have to be patient. This year has shown that a lot of things can happen.”

The Hungaroring track, nestled amid rolling hills just outside of Budapest, dried out somewhat for afternoon qualifying following a huge downpour during the third practice.

Leclerc – who leads F1 with seven poles this season – crashed while leading the French GP last Sunday to hand Verstappen a win that gave the Dutchman a 63-point lead over Leclerc in the standings.

But now Leclerc has an ideal chance to close the gap on Sunday on one of F1’s hardest tracks for passing.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez had a disappointing session and starts from 11th place.

“It’s been a bad day,” Perez said. “It’s certainly going to be difficult to overtake tomorrow.”

Lando Norris of McLaren qualified fourth followed by Esteban Ocon – last year’s winner – Alpine teammate Fernando Alonso and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who is F1’s record holder with 103 poles.

Russell, who replaced Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes this year, landed his seat in part by overperforming for struggling backmarker Williams last year with an incredible performance in the wet to qualify second for the Belgian GP.

“Dare I say better than the Spa one?” Russell said. “This is what racing’s all about. This is why I want to become world champion.”

After a first pole, the British driver is eyeing a first win.

“Hopefully we can drive off into the sunset tomorrow. I’m already thinking of what I can do to win,” he said. “Saturday doesn’t mean a huge amount, Sunday is when the points and prizes are won.”

Russell has what it takes to reach the top, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes.

“This is one of many milestones to come. George is a champion in the making,” Wolff said. “We would never have put him in a Mercedes if he didn’t think he could become a world champion.”

Hamilton had some bad luck as his drag reduction system stuck.

“My DRS stopped working, which was frustrating after all the struggle we had to finally have the chance to fight for front row,” he said. “We didn’t know how strong our pace was and where it came from, so it’s a very positive day for us. Huge congratulations to George, it’s an amazing feeling to get your first pole.”

Sainz called his form “nothing special” and conceded Russell “deserves that pole,” while Leclerc said he “struggled massively in Q3” because “the tires were definitely not in the right window.”

At least he has Verstappen where he wants him, seven cars back.

“Max might take a few more laps to come to the front,” Leclerc said.

Drivers had earlier tackled a difficult rain-drenched third practice.

Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel lost the rear tires and went backward into the crash barriers, bringing out a red flag with about 10 minutes to go. The session restarted with four minutes left.

After the intense heat of Friday, rain began thundering down around midday and the Hungaroring was drenched by the 1 p.m. start.

The Ferraris were the first to go out and Leclerc slid as he missed a chicane.

As rain got even heavier and visibility worsened, Vettel – who is retiring at the end of the season – missed a turn and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly just avoided a crash barrier then later did a 360 spin.

Russell said he was “struggling a lot,” Ricciardo spoke of having “absolutely no grip” and Haas driver Mick Schumacher complained his rear tires felt like they were slipping on ice.

Williams driver Nicholas Latifi surprised everyone by posting the fastest time on his final lap.

“I was wondering if that clapping was for me,” joked Latifi, who is last in the standings and yet to score a point.

That joy was short-lived as the Canadian driver was among the five eliminated from Q1, along with Vettel and Gasly.

“I’m gutted,” said Gasly, who had one of his lap times deleted for going off track limits, also at Turn 5.

Latifi starts last on Sunday.

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.”