Formula E and Tesla: Names that should be synonymous but aren’t.

Formula E is the new kid on the block. The kid which now is gaining attention of the established names in motor sports such as, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes – all brands with some racing heritage. It is the battleground, where new technology and advancements happen in the electric car industry, much like what Formula One has been for the automobile industry.

However, there’s a conspicuous absence of one brand. One brand which has redefined the term ‘electric car’. It has brought the luxury, the performance, the safety and the technology into the terms associated with an electric car. That brand is Tesla.

Tesla has brought about tremendous improvements in electric car technology over the past decade, with its Model S, the Model X, the Model 3 and its newly launched line of semi trucks. It’s quite like what Apple did with the smartphones – it has brought in features to its cars which customers didn’t even realize they wanted, or would have found useful. There’s performance. Who would have thought that the fastest ever production car in the world would be an electric car?

Tesla has pioneered the technology behind the success and the performance of electric cars.

Formula E cars are still developing in performance. The drivers have to manage the energy consumption of the cars, they have to swap the cars midway through the race, which is the F1 equivalent of a pit stop. Technology is still developing. Cars are slower than their F1 counterparts, going up to a speed of only 190 km/h.

So, there’s room for much development. This is where Tesla could help the racing series develop. They could bring in the battery swap technology to Formula E, where the driver doesn’t switch the car, he makes a pit stop, and the battery of the car gets swapped in 90 seconds flat. This technology has made its way to Tesla charging stations. Besides, Formula E cars can be made to look sexier than they are today. Aerodynamics could play a part in that, and Tesla is no stranger to that either. Their upcoming Roadster makes good use of aerodynamics, which plays a role in it becoming the fastest accelerating car. They have claimed it’s ‘more aerodynamic than a Bugatti Chiron’.

Unlike F1, where costs are a hindrance to new manufacturers coming in, it’s more open in Formula E, and that is one of the reasons why it’s gaining so much popularity among the big names. Costs are comparatively lower, and regulations are more open.

However, management priorities of Tesla could delay its arrival in Formula E –  if it arrives. They have wait lists for their cars stretching to years. They have to focus on improving their manufacturing capabilities, in order to be able to build a Formula E team. As a matter of fact, Tesla Model S cars are already taking part in an Electric GT series, which was conceived this year only. It’s a series in which identical Model S’s, about 20-30 of them take part in races on renowned tracks around the world, such as Paul Ricard in France.

Meanwhile, as Formula E continues to grow and continues to harbor more and more established names, like Fiat-Chrysler who are talking about entering the Maserati name, a manufacturer like Tesla entering Formula E would not only be the most obvious decision that many people had been expecting, but also as mentioned above, be beneficial to the sport. If Tesla succeeds in it, and beats other top manufacturers, it’s credentials as a manufacturer will be tremendously strengthened. Moreover, Tesla will be at an advantage because they are familiar with the technology.

If not a constructor, Tesla could come in as a supplier to supply customer teams such as Techeetah, and Virgin Racing, which is owned by Richard Branson who recently invested in the Hyperloop, another of Musk’s initiatives, much like what Cosworth was to Formula 1.

 

 

Samin Batra

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McLaren Honda : Past success doesn’t always guarantee success in the future

One of the sport’s most successful teams, and the second oldest team. With 182 race wins, 12 drivers’ championships and 8 constructors’ titles, McLaren are the second most successful team after Ferrari. They’ve always remained a customer team, getting engines from the most successful and impressive suppliers of their era – Mercedes, Honda, Ford, Porsche, Cosworth, you name it.

In 1988, McLaren signed a deal to get the field leading Honda engines. The result was utter domination. They won 15 of the 16 races of their first season together, in 1988, and also took both drivers’ and constructors’ titles. Three more years of such a dominating run followed, which yielded three more drivers’ and constructors’ titles – the longest such run for the team in its history.

Fast forward to 2014. McLaren are now a customer of Mercedes engines, but are struggling in the new era of hybrid turbo engines. Ron Dennis announces a deal with Honda, bringing the famed manufacturer back to the sport. They drop Mercedes, because they believe they can’t beat the works Merc team while running their engines. They form a ‘works’ team of their own, because they’re an exclusive customer of Honda.

The deal was unique, with Honda investing money as well, to pay their drivers’ salaries.

There was much promise in the partnership, mainly due to the run that McLaren and Honda had, the last time they were in a partnership. They signed the best driver on the grid, Fernando Alonso to drive alongside the experienced driver Jenson Button. The team had all the makings of a world champion team. They unveiled a new livery, and a ‘size zero’ design of the car. With razor sharp edges and the thinnest rear wing that you could see.

The season began with testing, in which they completed the lowest mileage of all, with the car breaking down many times on track. Technical insight into the design revealed flaws. The Honda engine was constrained by the size-zero concept adopted by McLaren. Honda had gone ahead with a radical design, but as the new engines are complex to get right in the first go, they struggled. In a nutshell, the 2015 season was a rough ride.

Non-finishes : 14

Average finishing position : 11th

mclaren_2015
Race-wise qualifying performance of McLaren Honda in 2015

Coming to 2016

With one tumultuous year behind them, the team toned down their expectations from 2016, by setting a ‘realistic’ target of a podium by the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

Reliability improved, but the car still lacked straight-line speed, which made it a sitting duck on circuits with fast corners and long straights.

Non-finishes : 10

Average finishing position : 9th

 

mclaren_2016
Race-wise qualifying performance of McLaren in 2016.

The delta in qualifying times was huge on tracks such as Monza, Silverstone, Baku, and Sochi which all have long straights. Performance was better at tight tracks like Monaco, and Singapore.

2017

Honda finally realized that they were getting nowhere with a radical design and thus decided to go the conventional way, and adopted a design similar to Mercedes. However, changing the approach didn’t help and their reliability slumped to its worst since the beginning of the partnership.

Non-finishes: 18

Average finishing position: 10th

 

mclaren_2017
Race-wise qualifying performance in 2017

Things didn’t improve and the delta was perhaps its biggest during the first part half of the season. There was a little improvement during the second half, but not enough to convince McLaren to keep Honda for another year. McLaren couldn’t have afforded to go into 2018 with Honda. They hadn’t been able to get a title sponsor, and their brand image was also taking a hit.

Honda just weren’t committed to making their F1 program successful. They took F1 as a research project, which would help them develop their hybrid technology. There were numerous missed deadlines for engine upgrades, performance which Alonso termed as embarrassing and had even alleged that the car was running on ‘GP2’ engines during the Japanese GP of 2015. Such was the performance deficit, the car even struggled to overtake with the help of DRS, and other cars managed to overtake it without even needing DRS.

McLaren signed with Renault for 2018, with Honda moving on to supply Toro Rosso and that marked an end to a failed partnership which offered some promise only when it was announced.

 

— Samin Batra

The 2017 Season Review

The Sun has set on another Formula One season. An epic season which saw the resurgence of Ferrari, and strengthened Mercedes’ credentials as an all-conquering team. Fittingly, the final race took place at dusk in Abu Dhabi.

It’s been a roller coaster of a season, which saw the momentum of a long awaited title battle between two legends of this generation, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, swing back and forth. Vettel led the championship for much of the year, till the Italian GP, before bad luck and poor reliability struck both him and Ferrari. Consequently, their title challenge faded quickly and Hamilton sealed the championship with 2 races remaining, in Mexico.

However, the difference in points between Ferrari and Mercedes fail to speak the truth. Ferrari have been super-quick all season, their best since the title winning season of 2008. They had the superior car at many of the tight and twisty circuits, and ran Mercedes close at many of the fast circuits. However, it ultimately came down to reliability, which Mercedes have recently become masters of.

time_delta
The qualifying performance of all teams throughout the season

As you can see, the bottom most line of the above graph is Mercedes’ fastest qualifying time throughout the season. Often, it’s accompanied by another line closely touching it, and that is Ferrari’s qualifying time throughout the season. There’s an anomaly at certain races such as in Monza, where qualifying took place in the rain and Mercedes were head and shoulders above the rest, while Ferrari struggled. The graph shows how close the two teams were in qualifying throughout the season, and they were sometimes joined by Red Bull. That happened mostly in the latter half of the season when Red Bull found some pace.

The top three teams usually had quite a gap to the mid field teams and that’s visible through a constant divide between the bottom three lines and the rest of the lines in the graph. Sauber were usually the slowest, but they managed to close the gap in the latter half of the season.

Such small has been the performance delta between the mid field teams that losing even 0.1 seconds in a qualifying lap could be the difference between 7th and 15th positions.

Intra-Team Battles

Battles between teammates often tend to bring out the best in them, while putting the team at risk, as we often saw with the Force India drivers. So risky were their battles, that they were banned from racing each other for the rest of the season.

teammate_battles.png

Intra-team battles throughout the season.

As you can see, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg enjoyed the highest advantage over his teammates, first Jolyon Palmer and then Carlos Sainz. Alonso also had a similar advantage over his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren, While, more closely matched were Ericsson and Wehrlein at Sauber. Verstappen over Ricciardo, Perez over Ocon, Hamilton over new teammate Bottas, and Vettel over Kimi Raikkonen all enjoyed considerable advantages over their teammates. Raikkonen has now been beaten by every teammate since 2014.

Difference in performance of 2017 vs 2016 cars.

qualy_difference
Average qualifying time difference between 2016 and 2017 cars.

The 2017 season saw new regulations which allowed cars to become faster than their predecessors. The question is –  how fast? Turns out it was track dependent too. Since the aerodynamic regulations underwent significant change while the power units remained the same, this year’s cars had a higher advantage at aerodynamic circuits such as Albert Park in Australia, Sakhir in Bahrain, in Spa Francorchamps where cars went flat out through some corners where you’d normally brake in a 2016 car. The anomaly is at Monza which wouldn’t have seen a large amount of difference anyway because of lack of corners, but also because qualifying took place in the rain. On average, however, cars were up to 3-4 seconds faster than their previous year’s counterparts.

Average changes in position in a race

There were a lot of races that were pretty close, and that is what Formula One needs. Having less noisy engines doesn’t particularly help, and having procession-like races makes matters even worse. Fortunately, there were many exciting races – I can think of Baku for one!

churn
Average change in position for drivers in races throughout the season.

Looking at the above graph, the data supports the nature of many circuits. Not many positions changed on average in Australia, which is traditionally a difficult track to overtake on. Shanghai saw huge changes, but it was also because it was a wet-dry race. Catalunya also saw high position changes, while they were typically low in Monaco. Hungary too saw low position changes and that confirms the fact that it’s a difficult track to overtake on, as are Suzuka and Yas Marina, which was perhaps the most boring race of the season.

Uncharacteristically, the race in Singapore saw high position changes, but that can be due to the fact that it was a wet race, and (unrelated) the scene of the infamous collision between Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen. One could say the same about the Mexico race that it is a difficult track to overtake on, but it still saw high number of position changes possibly because many drivers were serving penalties and also that Hamilton and Vettel collided and had to make their way up the grid.

Signing Off.

Analysis aside, this season was also a season of many lasts. The tumultuous McLaren Honda partnership came to an end, and McLaren are now taking Renault engines next year. (See McLaren sign Renault engines for next year.)

Felipe Massa has finally retired, after an amazing career which saw him come painfully close to winning the 2008 championship, and his epic recovery from a life threatening accident in 2009. He is surely a legend of the sport, and a very amiable guy.

So, that’s that! An analysis of the 2017 season. Hope everyone enjoyed this season, and now we look forward to 2018 where the ‘Halo’ head protection device is coming. Hope to see another close battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, with Red Bull and possibly McLaren also joining in. That would be a treat for the eyes!

 

By

Samin Batra

2017 Abu Dhabi GP: Mercedes dominate as Bottas wins the final race of the season; Massa finishes his final race in 10th place.

Valtteri Bottas won his third race of the season and career, with Hamilton coming in 2nd to score a Mercedes 1-2, which has been quite a rare sight this season. Sebastian Vettel finished in 3rd place for Ferrari, around 20 seconds behind Bottas. The fight for victory was between the two Mercedes drivers all throughout because Ferrari didn’t look to be as fast at all – their wait for a victory at Yas Marina continues.

The race was pretty uneventful with no safety cars or battles at the top. There were only two retirements, Ricciardo and Sainz. Ricciardo retired due to a hydraulic failure after his car struck one of the kerbs, while Sainz retired under bizarre circumstances after the Renault team failed to fix his front left tyre properly, which left it dangling as he trundled down the pit lane.

There were some great wheel-to-wheel battles in the mid field and the lower end of the grid, most notably between Alonso and Massa, and Grosjean and Stroll. Like Brazil, Alonso was stuck behind Massa for much of the first half of the race, but this time he managed to overtake the Williams driver who was in his final race, to take 9th place. Massa finished 10th.

Nico Hulkenberg managed to finish in 6th place for Renault and helped his team take 6th place in the constructors’ standings, and an additional $7M after Toro Rosso endured a bad day and both their drivers finished outside the points.

Hamilton and Bottas had a consistent gap through much of the first half of the race, before Hamilton started to come back and challenge his teammate. Some traffic helped Bottas keep Hamilton at bay, along with the fact that Hamilton was running in dirty air. Hamilton came quite close but locked up and went wide. After that, he never really got close and the Mercedes drivers came home to secure a 1-2 finish. Their most dominant race since the Italian GP this year when they finished 35 seconds clear of third placed Vettel. This was the first race in which Bottas had beaten Hamilton in a head-to-head fight. This certainly helps the Mercedes driver to strengthen his credentials.

Donuts followed soon after, with both Mercedes drivers and Felipe Massa entertaining the crowd.

It’s been a great season! Stay tuned for my post season analysis!

 

 

Brazilian GP 2017: Vettel wins in searing conditions; Hamilton storms from the pit lane to finish 4th

Sebastian Vettel scored his 5th win of 2017 at the Interlagos Circuit, to end Ferrari’s drought of wins in the second half of the season. He made a storming start from second place and overtook pole sitter Bottas at the first turn.

The first lap was chaotic with three cars –  Ocon, Vandoorne and Magnussen getting eliminated in separate incidents. Ocon was stuck by the erroneous Grosjean who lost the rear of his car while trying to fight the Force India. This was Ocon’s first retirement of his career, and it came after 27 races. Vandoorne was involved in a contact with Daniel Ricciardo who managed to keep going after having spun.

Ocon’s retirement triggered a safety car, which allowed several drivers to change tyres, and it also meant Hamilton caught up with the pack, having started from the pit lane after an engine change. Running on soft tyres, he set a searing pace, putting in fast laps and overtaking car after car.

By the time Vettel and Bottas pitted, Hamilton was leading the race but had yet to stop. More importantly, Vettel avoided the under cut by Bottas, when he came out right in front of the Mercedes. From then on, he managed to keep the gap at around 3 seconds.

What was evident was the fact that both Ferrari and Mercedes were evenly matched, with Ferrari holding a slight edge because the Mercs were running in the slip stream, while Vettel was in clear air.

Hamilton pitted for a set of fresh super softs, came out in 5th and went on chasing after a podium finish. He came up short, however as Kimi Raikkonen played a superb defense to keep 3rd position.

Felipe Massa finished in a fine 7th place in his final home race, just ahead of the McLaren of Alonso, who was ahead of Sergio Perez by just 0.1 second.

Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 to take the final point, ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz.

The race in Brazil is a marker for how close it can get in 2018, given the fact that the top 4 cars were separated by just 5 seconds! Ferrari and Mercedes were evenly matched. While Red Bull didn’t look to be on pace here, judging by their form in the previous races, they will be in the fight for the lead in 2018. Possibly, even McLaren when they fit Renault engines.

Stats of the day:

  1. This was Vettel’s 47th career victory and Ferrari’s first since July in Hungary this year.
  2. Max Verstappen broke the all time lap record at this circuit, with a 1:11.0. The previous record was held by Juan Pablo Montoya, set in a Williams in 2004.

2017 Brazilian Grand Prix: A Preview

Formula One returns to Brazil, the home of the legends, the late great Ayrton Senna, Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, or Interlagos as it was formerly called. Set in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, the track is quite short and narrow in width. It runs in an anti clockwise direction. The weather is unpredictable and many times, races have been held in wet conditions. However, this weekend’s race is forecast to be a dry race.

The frequent wet conditions have played a part in many title deciders over the past few years. It was the scene Vettel’s epic comeback in the rain in 2012 when he beat Alonso to the title, which incidentally was also McLaren’s last race win, and Michael Schumacher’s final goodbye to Formula One. It’s also the scene of a young Lewis Hamilton  winning his first ever world title in just his second year in Formula One, when he beat Felipe Massa by just one point in 2008. This track also witnessed Ferrari’s last drivers’ championship victory with Kimi Raikkonen, back in 2007. Jenson Button’s first and only world title was won here.. the list goes on and on.

Although this year’s title was already decided last time out in Mexico, there’s still plenty to play for. Mercedes will be trying new parts for the 2018 season, and they’re dubbing the last two races of this season as the first two races of the 2018 season. Sounds formidable.

Red Bull will be looking to capitalize on their return to form during the second half of the season. They have won 2 of the last 4 races with Max Verstappen, and will be carrying that momentum into Brazil. Verstappen had a tremendous outing here in the rain, last year when he showcased his maestro in the rain. He executed some daring overtakes and drove over driving lines that we didn’t know existed before.

While Ferrari’s season has unwound in the second half, they still have the pace to challenge for victory, as was evident in Mexico when Vettel took pole. They will also be looking to make a statement of their own and go full steam to win the final two races.

The remaining two races are the final two races of the disastrous McLaren Honda partnership. They will be breaking ties and McLaren will be running Renault engines next year, while Honda will supply Toro Rosso. While Honda still have problems with their power unit, the fans will hope that they can atleast score a decent points finish and go out on a better note.

 

2017 Mexico GP: Verstappen scores a dominant win; Hamilton wraps up the title as Vettel finishes only 4th

Max Verstappen scored a dominant third career victory at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodrigues in Mexico City, by 20 seconds from Valtteri Bottas. He forced his way through at the start of the race in typical ‘Max Verstappen’ style, damaging Vettel’s front wing in the process. Vettel was then being overtaken by Hamilton but his front wing stuck the right rear tyre of the Mercedes which resulted in a puncture on Hamilton’s car. Both title rivals had to pit as a result on the second lap. Vettel came out in 18th place, but soon caught up with the pack and executed a series of scintillating overtakes to make his way up the field. Hamilton, on the other hand was stuck behind the Renault of Carlos Sainz in 20th place for the first 30 laps.

3 of the 6 Renault powered cars suffered engine failures: Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg and Brendon Hartley. Hartley’s retirement triggered a virtual safety car period which was used as an opportunity by many drivers to make pit stops. Vettel fitted the ultra soft tyres, and Hamilton fitted the super softs. Vettel needed at least a 2nd place  finish to be able to carry the title fight to Brazil, provided Hamilton finished lower than 9th position. Vettel was able to salvage only fourth place in the end, despite driving on the limit in the latter half of the race, but the gap was just too big to the leaders. Hamilton after his second pit stop was able to make his way up the field and in the end managed to finish 9th.

There were some intriguing battles all throughout the race. Especially if you’ve got a Ferrari or a Mercedes working its way up the field, you’ll get to see a lot of overtakes. The best part was that the McLarens were actually running really well in Mexico, despite the long main straight. Fernando Alonso gave a tough time to both Vettel and Hamilton and was involved in wheel-to-wheel battles with them both. The thin air of Mexico due to the high altitude meant that it was very difficult for cars, running high downforce setups, to follow each other around the circuit.

We never really got to see Max Verstappen much in the race, because he was all on his own at the front, steadily building a gap, despite the Red Bull team having turned down his engine in order to put less stress on it, after what happened to the other Renault-powered cars. It was his third career win, and it is safe to say that it’s his time now. He is more ready than ever to fight for the world championship, and given how Red Bull have developed their car, we might as well see a three-team battle for the world championship next year.

Facts of the race:

  1. ( Or rather coincidence?) Verstappen has now won every race in which Kvyat was either demoted or dropped. In Spain 2016, Daniil Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso. In Malaysia 2017, he was replaced by Pierre Gasly at Toro Rosso, and now in Mexico, he was dropped altogether from the team.
  2. Lewis Hamilton is now a 4-time world champion, joining Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel.