I count myself incredibly lucky to have worked for a Formula One team and gone into the last day of a season with the chance of my driver emerging as World Champion, on three separate occasions.
On one of those memorable days, with Kimi in 2003, we went in as underdogs with only a slim chance of the outcome we so desperately wanted, similar to Nico Rosberg and his Mercedes crew in Abu Dhabi.
We needed, on that occasion, for our rivals to slip up, together with a great result for us, but sadly it wasn’t to be and Michael Schumacher, took the coveted crown.
In 2007, as a team we found ourselves in the rare but currently familiar situation of going into the last day of the campaign knowing either of our two drivers, Alonso and Hamilton, could be victorious with the right results. On that day however, a third man, the underdog in Kimi Raikkonen and his shiny new red Ferrari, would emerge as the new champion and we painfully missed out again.
2008 saw one of the sports most memorable finishes in Brazil and as a team, we once more walked into the circuit that day knowing we had an amazing opportunity, but once more felt the weight of expectation of millions of fans around the world, the heavy British Media presence and not least, the pressure we piled onto ourselves.
The reason for recalling these very special occasions is to try and describe my feelings on the day and in the days building up. To give some insight into the way the guys and girls at Mercedes might be feeling this weekend as they approach, what will be for many, the biggest day of their professional careers.
The thing to note about these situations is that it’s like the holy grail for a Formula One team. Just as a driver has dreamt of becoming World Champion since the first day he jumped into a junior racing car, the mechanics, engineers, designers, support crew and everyone inside the team are equally as passionate and dedicated about what they do and that title means just as much to them.
For me, that weekend in 2003 meant everything. We were a close-knit crew on Kimi’s car, had shared wonderful highs like our first win together in the Malaysian Grand Prix and suffered heart breaking lows like engine failure whilst comfortably leading the European GP.
Our chances on the day were statistically slim to say the least, but that didn’t matter to me, we had a chance and I was incredibly proud of that alone.
As it turned out, we did all we could, but the results will forever show that Michael scored two more points than we did and was Formula One World Champion. I was heartbroken.
Most people would say that Schumacher and Ferrari deserved the title that year, he had after all won six races to our one, just as Lewis has ten victories to Nico’s five today.
But to me eleven years ago, just as it’ll feel to the crew on Nico’s side of the garage in Abu Dhabi, it’s just the guy with most points at the end that deserves the title, not the manner in which they collected them.
The opportunity to even fight for a world championship is incredibly hard to achieve, so if and when that chance comes around, it means the world to those involved.
2007 was different. As a team we hadn’t won a championship since 1999 with Mika and if I’m honest it showed.
The internal fighting between teammates is well documented, but from a team point of view we allowed our focus to stray from the big picture of team success to concentrating too much on beating the other side of our own garage and not giving anything away to the ‘enemy’.
There was an odd atmosphere inside the team, a feeling of paranoia wherever you looked, both in terms of second guessing what the other half might do, but also that on this most important of days, the slightest mistake by any member of the team could swing the title either way.
We had the current World Champion in Fernando, who’s entire nation already hated the brits and blamed the team for his political difficulties that year, on one side.
On the other, Ron’s prodigy, the new poster boy of British sport with the my own nation willing him to win, in Lewis.
The individual pressure to succeed as a mechanic on days like this is big, but the pressure not to fail is far, far greater.
I remember feeling terrified that we’d missed something all the way through Sunday morning, something I’d never normally feel, as I was experienced, confident in my own ability. I’d prepared cars and guided young teams of mechanics through countless high pressure race days before, yet this one felt different.
We should’ve had a feeling of pride amongst the whole team, a morning of both sides of the garage wishing the other luck with team management doing the same.
Instead, when management did give their Sunday morning speech to the assembled crews, it had a feeling of the referee calling two fighters into the middle of a boxing ring to lay down the laws of the bout, before both sides retreated to their corners for a team huddle.
Of course that’s an exaggeration, but the sentiment’s the same. Instead of approaching the race weekend as we should, like any other, we raised the tension ourselves, led by our own two feuding drivers.
It’s when you begin to do anything differently to normal, that mistakes can creep in. We were all highly skilled, more than capable of doing our jobs, of preparing the cars, working with the drivers and engineers, delivering perfect pitstops and race strategy.
On a normal Sunday morning there would’ve been no doubt, we’d be relaxed, the car would be ready and we’d be watching the GP2 race on the garage screens ahead of the Grand Prix.
On this day however, there was fear throughout the team, I could see it on the faces of my team mates, I could see it in their behaviour, I could feel it myself.
When you get your car onto the grid on days like this, the job should be all but done. But as a mechanic, you look around the car, sat there with cooling fans in and tyre blankets on, computers plugged in etc and desperately look for a missing bolt or loose nut that you might have forgotten. If anything does go wrong today, more than anything you don’t want it to be your fault.
Experience gets you through these things, but for the younger guys at Mercedes, who’ve perhaps never been in this situation, it’s incredibly daunting.
Despite my extensive experience in 2008, by which time I was no longer working on the cars, but overseeing the guys who were, the pressure again was formidable.
We had only one driver to focus on this time around, but again we made strategic mistakes by approaching the race looking for the fifth place we needed for the title, rather than going out to win as we normally would.
As a result we came perilously close to letting it slip away and the emotional roller coaster we all went on that day I will never forget.
I’ve no doubt they will be trying to do just this, but Mercedes need to go into Abu Dhabi like they’ve gone into every other weekend of the year.
Focussing too much on each other, or on desperately making sure both get the same equal treatment, could mean the things they can normally do with their eyes closed, get overlooked.
Whatever happens may the best man, and his crew, win the title on Sunday, but the whole team should all be incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved.
What exactly drives a Formula E car if it has no internal combustion engine? We know it’s battery powered, but what kind of battery? What does it look like? Where is it in the car and how does it compare to the batteries we know from around our homes?
I recently spent a morning with the clever folk of Williams Advanced Engineering, the division of the Williams Group that we all know and love for their Williams Formula One Team, that take knowledge and technology gained through F1 and develop it for use in other markets.
Williams is an impressive company. They, together with my old team McLaren, have led the way in diversifying from their core Formula One businesses and putting their impressive skills, knowledge base and competitive natures, together with the ‘can-do’ attitude prevalent in the very top level of open wheeled motorsport, to use across a variety of sectors.
Through five years of developing high end battery technology for Formula One’s KERS and now ERS programs, Williams Advanced Engineering were well placed to extend that know-how into meeting the unique demands of a fully electric race car battery.
The company was approached late in the day when another partner pulled out of the project after getting nervous of the tight timescales involved. The Williams Group however, are very used to dealing in impossibly tight and immovable deadlines and reacted quickly to design, develop and produce the forty car batteries, plus a number of spares to deliver to the teams
The Spark-Renault SRT_01E Formula E car was already well under way when Williams got the call and so the battery had to be designed to fit into a structural box, designed by chassis manufacturers, Dallara, and meeting the energy, power, weight and safety requirements mandated by the FIA.
The battery box, a large carbon fibre structure with bolt on lid, sits in the space most single seater racing cars use for the engine and fuel cell, just behind the driver.
It’s what’s known as a ‘stressed member’ of the car and that means it bolts structurally directly to the back of the chassis or monocoque and transmits all of the torsional, or twisting, forces from front to rear and vice versa as the car’s on track. The electric motor housing and gearbox casing bolt directly to the back of the battery box, continuing the structural nature of the car’s main assemblies.
This is common practice and is the same basic layout as a Formula One car, just swapping the engine and clutch housing for the electric drive components in Formula E.
The reason racing cars are designed this way is to avoid the excess weight of having a separate chassis frame, where the engine (or battery box) would drop in, much like a road car, but also to maximise the stiffness and structural integrity of the car.
This means designers are able to more efficiently control and utilise the loads going through the vehicle with suspension design, rather than having a flexible chassis, that twists and contorts over bumps and through corners, giving an unpredictable feel to the driver at racing speeds.
The FE battery box contains over 150 individual lithium-ion cells, each one roughly between the size of an iPad and an A4 padded envelope and stacked upright in rows.
Lithium-ion batteries are nothing new, they’re what we all have in the back of our mobile phones and laptops, but whilst all part of the lithium-ion family of batteries, the cell chemistry is designed specifically for the needs of each application and that’s a closely guarded secret at Williams. With all those cells connected together in series, the FE battery is capable of delivering 200kw, or around 270hp.
An innovative cooling system is integrated into the battery box to help maintain stable temperatures across the entire unit.
A non-conductive fluid, known as a dielectric, is pumped around the inside of the battery case and around each cell, before being circulated through a traditional style, sidepod mounted, cooling radiator and back into the box.
As energy is transferred from the battery into the car’s electric motor at varying levels, depending on the driver controlled, steering wheel mounted map switch position and of course the accelerator pedal demand, the chemical reaction in the battery cells generates a considerable amount of heat.
Equally, during the rapid charging process with the cars in the garage, the reverse chemical reaction, transferring lithium ions in the opposite direction between one side of the cell and the other, also heats up the battery considerably.
With the car stationary inside the garage, powerful blowers and dry ice are used to cool the radiators and consequently the battery while it’s recharged, a process which takes around 45 minutes, but one that can only begin once the unit has been pre-conditioned, or brought into the optimum temperature window by the team.
Batteries have to be strictly maintained and their cell temperatures are carefully monitored at all times by a sophisticated battery management system (BMS), sitting inside the box on top of the cell modules. The system has the ability to shut down cells if required, or switch to a reduced power failsafe mode if things get a little too hot.
Williams have given detailed guidelines to the teams on how to operate the battery within its performance parameters, but are well aware that the competitive nature of motorsport means that they’ll always be looking to find ways to gain advantages through areas like the car’s regenerative system, or ‘regen’, over each race weekend.
Pushing too hard lap after lap will overheat cells, so efficient and strategic deployment of the energy available is absolutely crucial to performance in Formula E.
More than one driver in Beijing hit temperature limits, resulting in the system reducing power until normal levels were reached, so teams will be well aware that the high ambient temps in Malaysia need to be respected.
Williams engineers have also programmed new, slightly reduced, limits for the amounts of energy regenerated by the motor/generator unit under braking, that can be fed back into the battery whilst the cars are on track for the Putrajaya race. The reduction won’t cause any noticeable difference in the spectacle, but is simply an extra measure to make sure batteries maintain their performance under these tough conditions.
Looking towards the coming years of Formula E, it’s hoped competition will drive innovation, particularly in battery technology and electric motors as technical regulations are opened up to manufacturers.
Williams Advanced Engineering are already assessing a number of options, including the possibility of becoming an electric motor supplier, again utilising their expertise gained in F1 with ERS.
There are various battery development paths the series could take, ranging from increased power or energy density, to rapid charging or even battery swap technology, all of which will help to accelerate progress in the key areas of electrical energy storage and deployment, something Williams hope to be able to benefit from as they look to transfer their own learning into the automotive world and beyond.
Whilst it may be easy for the cynics to criticise the shortcomings of battery technology today, the opposing view and the one I hold, is that the battery we’re using in Formula E is already an incredibly advanced piece of kit, but the competitive nature of motorsport should help to push forward development much faster than in the ‘real world’.
I hope we might look back in a few years, using today as a benchmark and marvel at how the technology’s progressed, citing the fact that if Formula E and Williams Advanced Engineering hadn’t taken the plunge in 2014, we might never have got there at all.
You can catch me on this weekend’s ITV4 Formula E show, starting at 5am on Saturday, with highlights on the same day at 6pm.
Formula E burst into the spotlight recently with its inaugural race in Beijing, grabbing headlines around the world, at least partly due to the spectacular last lap crash between Nick Heidfeld and Nico Prost. I was privileged to be there in my broadcasting role for ITV and it felt like an important occasion, a significant event to be part of and an event worthy of its global coverage.
In truth though, the headlines were already being made long before the race even got underway and that was the result of a very deliberate and orchestrated marketing and media strategy by the series promoters, Formula E Holdings (FEH).
In the year building up to the first event, FEH drip fed the media with news, announcements of drivers and teams, venues and its plans for the fan experience.
Many of those deals were done long before they were released into the public domain, but the carefully staggered updates kept the new sport in the pages of the motorsport press and consequently in the minds of those who read such material.
As we approached Beijing, naturally hype grew and taking full advantage of Formula One’s enforced mid-season shutdown, FEH upped their media presence at a time when the biggest players in the traditional market were quietly sunning themselves on beaches, with F1 at the very back of their minds.
A new global marketing campaign was launched, entitled “Drive to the Future” and centred around a brand new television commercial; driver announcements and international broadcasting announcements; each accompanied by a host of ‘appearances’ and well placed social media interactions. News and footage of a full Formula E race simulation, including race start, appeared and one last official test day, open and free to the public, took place with an impressive and inquisitive attendance.
Formula E played a good game off track and despite not having turned a competitive wheel on it, built an ever growing wave of intrigue around the new championship.
By the time we headed out to China for Round One, it was almost impossible, whether a motorsport fan or otherwise, not to have at least heard of Formula E.
Alejandro Agag, CEO of series promotor FEH, spent a relentless few weeks on the campaign trail, a world he has experience of from a past life as a European MP. He appeared on news shows, technology shows, children’s shows, environmental shows and at business conferences, speaking enthusiastically and insightfully about his own show and some of the driving forces behind it.
He built a purposeful picture of interactive entertainment that would have kids enthralled; new age technology, with the promise of watching it morph before our very eyes into something life changing for us all; close, exciting racing in iconic and glamorous locations and all underpinned by an ambitious mission to save the planet. Who wouldn’t buy into that?
Formula E has a unique platform on which to sell itself. Credentials come from the motorsport world, already hugely familiar with global marketing, but specifically now the disruptive technology and sustainability elements to the project are opening a number of very interesting doors into new markets.
The variety of the company’s targeted approach to different media fields shows the spectrum of intended appeal of Formula E and the equally varied spectrum of channels in which to promote it.
From a business and marketing sense, a new audience means a entirely new world of opportunities and as promoters, FEH have done a pretty good job here, attracting relevant partners and sizeable investment.
What’s disappointed me and perhaps surprised me most, is that almost all the teams, bar one, maybe two, missed the chance to steal the moment, to build on the propitious foundations laid by the organisers and differentiate themselves from the field.
Most Formula E outfits are being run by existing race teams, of varying success in other disciplines. They’re used to competing in established championships like GP2, GP3 and Formula 3 etc, where drivers pay the bills and as such don’t have much, if any, bias towards a marketing strategy.
What the new formula offers everyone involved is a level playing field. A blank canvass on which to draw up a set of plans. There’s a huge opportunity to establish a brand, create a new identity and forge strategic B2B partnerships enabling vested parties to grow into something instantly recognisable. All on a platform fixed upon by the world’s eyes, yet still too infant-like to have divided itself up into the major players and the also-rans.
The teams will all say they had too much on their plates in just being ready on a practical level for the first race, but surely it simply boils down to a matter of priorities?
If you’re the team that ends up as champions, then there’s your ticket, there’s a big part of your marketing plan written for you out on track. But only one team can capitalise on that and it’s a risky strategy that has to wait for race results before being put into action. If everyone takes that approach with prospective sponsors, nine out of the ten teams in Formula E will fail to deliver on their promises of success and likely fail to secure much investment in their futures.
The more shrewd tactic is to take advantage of the level playing field before the ‘on track’ winners are created.
With FEH having created such intrigue and excitement, on so many different channels, the chance for teams to create partnerships that would benefit them in a number of ways is huge.
Whilst none of the teams could target investors claiming to be the most successful Formula E team on the grid, or site their winning car as the premium advertising space ahead of Beijing, there are a number of other ways to successfully sell themselves.
In a field of ten new teams; close to identical in size and structure; in a new championship; with a new audience demographic on a global scale; the race to be number one, should’ve started long before cars hit the streets.
Formula E offers exposure in the traditional sense of large numbers of television consumers across many territories, it offers advertising opportunities to brands on the sides of race cars, drivers overalls, trackside billboards and everything that comes along with that. But with this project comes a new level of exposure on top of the traditional, an exposure that could be far more relevant and beneficial to the modern business world if utilised well.
FE teams have much more control at the moment over the amounts and type of content they release through their own digital channels, with fewer restrictions on audio and video based media and an embracement of platforms like Vine and Instagram. Social media isn’t just a bolt-on for Formula E, it’s an integral part of the strategy, something that the series has been built around and intends to thrive upon.
When almost every other motorsport discipline was created, social media didn’t even exist, so they’re having to try and integrate it into an already established model, something that some are finding easier than others.
Like it or not we now live in a social media generation. Formula E’s younger audience have grown up with it, businesses, both large and small, are finding invaluable ways to make it work for them and it’s something that, together with mobile technologies, gives direct access to the palms of consumers hands.
Establish yourself as the most visible; the most active and interactive; the most customer centric Formula E team straight out of the box and you’re instantly the most recognisable brand emerging from an otherwise confusingly bland array of competitors. A brand that those looking for direction in who to follow on this exciting new journey, will feel naturally connected to and supportive of. A brand that wrestles market share away from the rest without even turning a wheel and there are clearly a variety of ways in which to monetise and capitalise if you’re the market leaders. It’s a strategy that’s self perpetuating in its success, yet one that costs little more than a creative mind to initiate.
Sell that prospect, that ‘opportunity’ to a big and deliberately targeted ‘title sponsor’ and tap into their infrastructure, their expertise in marketing, their relevant technologies and their own network of consumers to benefit them and the team alike.
Form a partnership that can benefit both parties, allow the team to focus more on the racing and let the creative marketing experts do what they do best. Share and transfer knowledge in both directions and use the numerous channels Formula E offers, to shout from the rooftops about the excitement of the racing; the personalities and profiles of the drivers; the cutting edge technology and how its development will benefit us all in our road cars. Capitalise on the environmental benefits and the health benefits in city centres, there can’t be too many companies today that wouldn’t love to have that string to their bow.
Most of all, be creative, be inventive, do something that no-one’s done before and offer consumers a new experience. Make them feel part of the team and make your team stand out in the crowd. Use social media to create and share the type of content that Formula One isn’t able to offer because of its restrictive model.
Build a loyal fan base.
Whatever people think of FanBoost in Formula E, the idea that fans vote for their favourite drivers online, giving the most popular three a short power boost in the race, it’s a opportunity for teams to gain a performance advantage for free and, according to Agag, it’s here to stay.
F1 teams spend millions looking for ways to shave off a tenth of a second a lap with their cars, yet FE teams have the chance of a significant speed differentiator and all they have to do to get it is campaign in whatever ingenious ways they can dream up for public support.
It’s surprising then, that very few have have taken up this new challenge to any significant degree.
Some teams were naturally more successful than others on track in Beijing, but it’s just as interesting to me how the correlation between Round One results, column inches and social media interactions don’t necessarily follow suit.
If we assume most teams are looking to be in this for the medium to long term, modern tradition would suggest success in the business sense, off track, is more likely to help secure success on it in the end and that looks like never being more true a sentiment than right now in Formula E.
Car unreliability in Formula One can be caused by a number of different things.
Poor, or fragile initial design can obviously lead to a higher risk of component failure on the cars during their often extreme duty cycles in racing conditions.
Manufacturing faults, or the use of imperfect materials can equally be at the heart of mechanical breakdowns on the race track, where parts simply can’t cope with the stresses and strains thrust upon them on a Sunday afternoon.
Operational misuse is another common area for failure. Pushing parts of the car too far, pushing the people operating the car too far, or trying to do too much with the technology to hand is more common than many might realise and stems largely from the highly competitive nature of those people involved in our sport.
Of course with all of the sophistication, technology and analytical tools in Formula One, failures are far rarer than we’ve seen in years gone by, but one thing that can be very difficult to mitigate against, is the inevitable human element of the process and the occasional costly ‘mistakes’ that that can bring with it. No matter how professional a team is, no one’s immune to a very occasional slip-up.
Often these kind of errors, whether they’re bad strategic decisions, driver mistakes, detrimental setup choices, or ‘finger trouble’ from mechanics or system engineers, will often be explained away as technical failures by the team, but the reality is often that, while many would love to engineer F1 into an exact science, there are humans involved in all procedures…and humans make mistakes.
The 2014 season began with many predicting a disastrous race of attrition at the season opener in Australia. The vastly new technology was incredibly complex and difficult to package effectively, let alone to learn how to best use it for a performance advantage.
Pre-season testing had seen huge numbers of cars either stopping on circuit or being confined to the garages while solutions were sought for the technical issues being encountered. Some even openly questioned race director Charlie Whiting on exactly what he would do, should so many cars fail to finish in Australia that there weren’t enough competitors left to fill all of the points scoring positions.
The doomsayers were proved to be far from accurate with their pessimistic predictions and the first season of Formula One’s hybrid era has provided some wonderful entertainment. More than that though, the teams in F1’s pitlane should be highly commended for their adaptation and integration of the new technology under some pretty intense timescales and unimaginable pressure to succeed. Some difficult decisions had to be taken ahead of that first race in order to balance risk against reward, both for the individual teams themselves and for the good of the overall sport and its public perception.
Over half of the field breaking down in Australia would’ve done little to impress the watching millions, it would’ve done nothing to highlight the advantages of motor manufacturers being involved in our sport and showcasing their products and it would’ve done nothing but harm the championship ambitions of those taking part. Consequently, a number of teams had to reign back their performance in order to ensure adequate cooling, drivability, or longevity of their preciously fragile power units throughout the early races.
It’s perhaps a little surprising then, that the one team with such a dominant performance advantage over everyone else also has one of the most catastrophic reliability records.
Mercedes have come up with a car and power unit package that stands head and shoulders above all others, even up to 2 seconds a lap at some circuits. That’s meant they haven’t had to develop to the same level as some of their rivals and they’ve even been able to hold back on a number of upgrades throughout the season, simply because they haven’t needed them.
One might naturally think, that if a huge team with the resources of Mercedes was in the fortunate position of having a car that didn’t need to go much faster, they’d be diverting considerable chunks of time and budget into making it virtually ‘bullet proof’ in terms of reliability.
The truth is that they are. The team have stressed repeatedly that giving their two championship contenders tools to do their jobs is at the very top of their priority list right now and has been all year. There’s a ‘Reliability Team’ at Brackley, who’s sole purpose is to ensure quality control, designers will undoubtedly have a risk averse approach to new parts and updates and those working with the car in the field must be bordering on paranoia, wondering if the next failure will be down to them.
Surely getting through each race untroubled is on everyone’s minds right now and despite all of that, Nico Rosberg’s car failed disastrously in Singapore, because someone in the wider team at Mercedes didn’t do their job properly.
It wasn’t that a part broke, that its design was flawed or that it was being pushed beyond its normal limits. It wasn’t the result of Nico mistreating his car or that it had been in service for too long, it was simply that someone, most likely either in the electronics department or beyond that, the inspection department, had slipped up.
The official line is that “the steering column electronic circuits were contaminated with a foreign substance”, but what that almost certainly means is that whoever last took the column apart to inspect and service it, failed to clean it properly, or re-assemble it carefully enough afterwards. The substance could’ve been any number of cleaning sprays or substances, perhaps they were using one that, when left in contact for prolonged periods (ie. not cleaned off) eroded wiring or electronic components. Perhaps there had been some work done to the column itself and carbon fibre dust or particles were present, forming a conductive build up around components?
We don’t know exactly, but what’s certain is that, with the minuscule size of the circuit terminals and wiring in those areas of the car, it wouldn’t take very much at all to cause an intermittent short circuit like the one we saw in Singapore.
What’s almost unbelievable, but in truth just incredibly bad luck, is that by the time the problem manifested itself, it was too late to be able to do anything at all about it.
Whilst the team have been refreshingly open about the issue, providing at least some reasonable explanation of why Nico suffered the excruciating trauma we all watched him go through last week, they naturally haven’t gone as far as to apportion blame.
The reality is that there’ll be someone inside the factory at Brackley who’s feeling pretty low, knowing that they simply slipped up, but that that slip up proved very costly indeed.
Given that the perceived unreliability issues have somewhat evened themselves out between Hamilton and Rosberg and points are almost all square with five races to go, the pressure’s not only on the two guys in the driving seats. The entire team will be increasingly nervous that the forthcoming ‘five race Formula One World Championship’ could just as easily be decided by a simple oversight from any one of them, as it could by the outstanding talents of Lewis or Nico. Let’s hope not.
Originally published at http://www.f1times.co.uk
The Belgian GP at Spa Francorchamps has always produced some thrilling races, overtaking moves and talking points, but this time around the post race media frenzy has reached staggering new levels.
A truly brilliant win for underdog, Daniel Ricciardo, has been hugely overshadowed by the events at Mercedes, but I suspect he, along with his Red Bull team, might be more than happy to take a back seat whilst the world focuses on the apparent impending self destruction of the World Champions elect.
It’s a situation I’m not unfamiliar with myself, having been in the McLaren garage during the tumultuous year of 2007, when relations between then teammates, Hamilton and Alonso, broke down completely during a season in which we enjoyed the rare luxury of having the dominant F1 car of the field.
Then, as now, the season began with smiles and mutual appreciation between the two, until it became clear that both drivers were equally matched in the car and both looked in with a genuine shout of the coveted Formula One World Championship title.
That title is the holy grail for F1 drivers, it’s the life long dream and something that the opportunity to grasp, presents itself to very few and on extremely rare occasions. It’s inevitable that, given a sniff of a chance, they’ll chase it with everything they have and won’t let go until they’ve got it. It’s probably the same philosophy that got most of them into F1 in the first place, but something that has very different implications in the sport’s premiere category.
In Formula Ford, Formula 3, GP2 or 3, or whatever else, the drivers are solely out for themselves and it’s the accepted way of the world. The cars, no matter if they’re from the same team or not, are all painted in individual liveries with their own personal sponsors and branding. The driver’s sole goal is to further his or her own career and more often than not, make it to F1. There is no such thing as a team order.
Effectively, in these lower categories, the race teams are being employed by the driver to provide them with a race winning car. That driver, their dad, or their sponsor (often their dad’s company or an associate) are paying the team huge sums of money, often their sole source of income, and as a result, teams are often left in a difficult position when it comes to imposing instructions on their drivers. They know they need to keep drivers happy, or the money disappears.
In F1, in the most part anyway, it works the other way. The teams hold many of the cards. At the front of the grid, they employ drivers on huge salaries, multi-year contracts tie them into global marketing campaigns and they become the next bit-part players in the sport’s Goliath-style heavyweight players. Many of the teams hold huge historical importance within F1 and are often owned by some of the worlds largest companies…the feeling is that no driver is bigger than the team and that they should essentially do as they’re told.
At the back end of the field, although a different financial situation, we still end up with the teams in the driving seat, so to speak.
Even though they may not have the wealth to pay huge wages, the historical success, or the corporate might enjoyed by some, they do still have a trump card to hold over the drivers in their cars. The F1 dream can only be realised if an opportunity to actually get into one of the 22 cars on the grid comes up. With hundreds of hopefuls working their way through the lower formulae trying to get there, the Marussia’s and Caterham’s of this F1 world, still have a large queue of youngsters desperate to do whatever is asked of them to get the chance. They may have to bring huge sponsorship packages with them, but they know if they don’t impress the team, there’s someone else waiting to pay for their seat.
The upshot of all this, is that the role of being a racing driver changes dramatically when you finally make it to Formula One, even though the determination, passion and desire for personal success doesn’t.
Every driver wants to win, no one wants to settle for second, although in this sport that’s exactly what can be asked of you by your team in certain circumstances.
As a driver, if you see a gap, even half a gap that might give you a chance of a win, or even more so, a World Championship, you want to be able to go for it, no matter who it’s against.
As a Formula One team however, the very last thing you want to see is your two drivers crashing into each other in a race. It goes against everything the hundreds of people within that team have worked towards, destroys your constructors championship challenge and can have huge negative impacts on the team’s marketing strategy. So you give clear instructions to your drivers to race hard and fair, but under no circumstances hit each other.
Nico Rosberg undoubtedly made an error of judgement in Spa that went down as a racing incident by the stewards. There aren’t many neutrals who would’ve liked to see either driver punished, least of all Lewis, but it would have surely been better for Nico if he’d just accepted he got it wrong, albeit in a racing incident and that he was just showing the sort of determination that Lewis has shown on so many occasions before.
When Hamilton drove through the field in Germany, colliding with three cars on the way in optimistic overtaking lunges, he and his rivals all escaped with minimal damage, but only through luck, way more than any form of considered judgement.
Some say the difference here is that it was team mates that crashed into each other, but the truth is that for both Lewis and Nico, they are no longer ‘team mates’, neither has even the slightest concern for the other’s fortunes and they’re the fiercest of all rivals out on track. There’s only one person most likely to stop either becoming World Champion and that’s the other one, so why would you not want to get past, wether it be lap 2 or lap 44?
The team, like in 2007, have a very difficult situation to deal with and they’d do well to remember that then, as now, there’s a guy not too far back, just waiting to steal the crown from the two squabbling ‘team mates’.
With my interest and fascination in EV’s having soared over the last year, largely due to the inaugural season of the FIA Formula E Championship drawing ever closer, I felt it was crazy I hadn’t yet actually driven such a car. The kind people at revolutionary American car company, Tesla, recently threw one my way for a couple of days to take to Donington Park’s Formula E test in July.
Tesla didn’t just give me any old car either. I turned up to their West London showroom, nestled inconspicuously amongst the boutique clothing and swanky underwear stores of the Westfield Shopping Centre and drove away in the all-singing-all-dancing, top-of-the-range Model S P85+.
I’d heard all manor of things about driving electric cars, not least from the elite field of Formula E racers themselves, but really felt I should try it for myself in order to be able to comment accurately about the technical side of the new sport.
Formula One too, with their hybrid cars of 2014, have changed the experience of those behind the wheel in terms of energy recovery and deployment and I hoped the Tesla might help me explain exactly what’s involved.
The P85+ has the biggest motor in the company’s range, at 350kw, (the FE motor is rated as 200kw) offering the equivalent of over 450bhp and yet still has the capability to keep going for 300 miles on a single charge of its 85kwh battery (FE battery rated as 30kwh). The 0-60 figure is 4.2 seconds and of course all this is done without any harmful emissions from the tailpipe…in fact it doesn’t even have a tailpipe (nor does the FE car).
The stats are pretty impressive, but as ever, don’t quite tell the entire story. After all, history books show Michael Schumacher winning 7 F1 world titles, but is he really 7 x better a driver than John Surtees, Nigel Mansell or Lewis Hamilton, each with just one to their names?
The first thing to say is this car looks great. It oozes class from every angle, but certainly doesn’t feel the need to shout out loud about it.
The one I was given did have every single bell and whistle the company could throw at it, totalling something in the region of a staggering £30,000 just for the optional extras, but even without the spangly 21” wheels, panoramic glass roof and fancy paintwork, the entry level version still turns heads through its design alone.
We all know through motorsport, just how important the weight distribution, centre of gravity (CofG) and layout of a car is to its performance and because of the unusual way this car’s propelled, it’s designers were able to throw away the old rule book in that regard.
The hugely powerful electric motor and inverter/generator unit sit in-between the rear wheels and don’t take up much space, whilst the impressive batteries, heavy though they are, fill the entire aluminium floorpan across the footprint of the car.
Can you imagine the delight to an F1 design team if they could, all of a sudden, spread their big and heavy engine and fuel cell, currently sat high up behind the driver, across the entire floor of the car? Imagine the huge chunk of lap time that would bring them? Imagine how stable it would be through the corners without the higher CofG? Imagine the aerodynamic benefits of being able to design a car without the space restrictions of the bulky engine and gearbox?
That’s exactly what the guys sketching out the original Model S had to play with. As a result they’ve delivered a car that has most of its weight no higher than the top of the tyres and handles accordingly. The lightweight aluminium chassis forms an aero-efficient shape, but instead of screaming “Quirky electric car!”, as many of the other sustainably powered vehicles on the market seem to like to do, it just glides inconspicuously by like a confident and classy power-dresser.
Inside the car there’s space. Lots of space. The missing engine and gearbox mean everything can be reconfigured inside and no matter in which of the seven seats (yes SEVEN) you sit, none feel cramped for what they’re intended. The extra two fold down child seats in the back don’t come as a trade off for luggage space either, as the traditional ‘engine bay’ can hold a number of decent sized bags or a set of golf clubs.
Aside from its Tardis-like feel, the interior’s dominated by the impressively huge, central touchscreen display from which all-things-electronic are almost infinitely configurable. Like any high end racing car, the control systems can all be tailored and tweaked to optimise performance, drivability, comfort and here of course, energy management.
The car’s operating system is permanently ‘connected’ through 3G networks and Tesla can send out software updates, much like you get on your iPhone, to add new features and functionality at no extra cost.
In the F1 of a few years back, if the car needed some new settings or new ECU code for example, to make it perform better or more efficiently, it could be added whenever required, transmitted with no need to return the car to the pits. Same with this. If you buy a new Mercedes, Jaguar or BMW for example, the car is what it is on the day you hand over your money and will be forever more, not here, it’s a constantly evolving product…much like a racing car I guess.
In both Formula One and now Formula E, the use of available electrical power’s crucial to getting the most from the car. In the Tesla, like it’s racing cousins, the way the energy’s both harvested and deployed can be manipulated to suit your needs. We’ll hear more and more about the term ‘Regen’ as the FIA Formula E Championship gets going, but it’s the rate at which the motor/generator unit (MGU) harvests electrical energy and feeds it back into the battery when the car’s not powering forward or, ‘on throttle’. By adjusting the switch on the steering wheels of the racing cars or on the touchscreen in the Tesla, battery life can be greatly extended.
Setting the ‘regen’ to its standard rate, means the moment you lift off the accelerator, the car slows more aggressively than I’m used to, but not uncomfortably so, as the motor switches to its generator mode. There’s something very satisfying about seeing the energy usage gauge go from orange into green and from a driving perspective it means you barely need to use the brakes on a normal journey. In F1 this year, cars now have much smaller rear brakes on the car with their hybrid systems onboard and this is exactly why. In the Tesla it means brakes should last a very long time indeed.
The graphical display on the Model S constantly gives a stream of data to show the efficiency of your driving style and it makes a surprising difference to the way you end up using the vehicle. If you want to have fun in this car, it won’t disappoint as the acceleration, particularly off the line, is genuinely phenomenal, but if you want to go in comfort for over 300 miles before recharging it, the tools are all there at your disposal to do that too.
Both F1 and FE drivers, along with their teams, are putting a lot of work in to learning the intricacies of optimising the way they generate energy, at which points in the race and indeed at which points around each lap, they use the various ‘regen’ settings available. In motorsport it could mean the difference between staying out for a crucial extra lap before pitting in the race, opening up different strategic options, so could well be a big differentiator. In the case of the Model S, ‘regen’ and the subsequent deployment of that energy can make a massive difference to range before needing a recharge.
The last time I drove an EV was actually when I worked at McLaren. Before we moved into the big shiny MTC building, the company was sprawled out across an industrial estate in Woking in the UK and we used a battered old electric milk float to cart things around the site. The instant torque from the motor was evident then too, jolting it immediately forward like a dodgem car when you hit the throttle, but instead of peaking at 5mph, the Tesla and the Formula E cars just keep on going at staggering speeds. When I first got into the Model S and put my foot down, I was genuinely stunned, the acceleration is a seriously mind blowing experience.
This car has everything you’d expect from a luxury, executive class vehicle, but so much more too. It’s probably the fastest thing I’ve ever driven from 0-40mph, yet it costs virtually nothing to run, both of which made me giggle a bit every time I got in it.
It’s not cheap, ranging from around £50k to the all singing, all dancing, £95k version I had, but equally not outrageous for what you get. If you’re in the market for that level of car, the Model S is a genuine alternative to the industry’s established big players and sets a new benchmark in many areas of car design, electric or otherwise.
The range and acceleration of the Tesla are truly impressive and most people can have loads of fun in it and still go nowhere near emptying the battery in a day before plugging it back in at night. Some other electric cars are far more modest in their stats, meaning they are only suitable as small ‘runarounds’, but what F1 and now Formula E are hoping to do by placing the technology into a highly competitive sporting arena, is accelerate the development of electric motors, electronic control systems and crucially, battery technology to a far more advanced level. If this happens as expected, the idea of ‘range anxiety’ could be a thing of the past and we could all benefit as EV’s move more towards the norm in city centres.
Tesla too, recently took a huge decision for the good of us all, by releasing all of its technology patents to the wider world. They hope by doing so, the electric vehicle market as a whole will benefit, taking the groundbreaking tech from the Model S and associated ancillaries like the company’s Superchargers and developing it further without the commercial and legal restrictions they’d otherwise face.
The Model S is a great car, not just a great electric car. Along with the Spark-Renault Formula E, it could be one of the most important cars for the future of sustainable mobility and one we might look back on one day as representing a turning point in changing people’s minds.
Formula E last night hosted an evening entitled the Global Launch Event, for the fast approaching FIA sanctioned, fully electric race series and I was privileged to attend.
As a motorsport fan and someone with history and a vested interest in Formula One, I’m intrigued and excited by the sporting aspect of the project. Racing around city centres in almost anything should provide a thrilling spectacle, so I can’t wait for that first day in Beijing, when all twenty drivers are unleashed at once in the new machinery.
I’m of course fascinated by the technology. The cars are a collaboration of contributions from some highly respected and well known players in both the motorsport and wider technological world and what they’ve all managed to achieve in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable.
In fact ‘remarkable’ is a great word to describe many of the achievements of Formula E to date. The initial deal between the FIA and Alejandro Agag’s newly formed company, Formula E Holdings, was only signed in August of 2012 and yet yesterday, at The Roundhouse in London, we were surrounded by a full fleet of teams, their cars, partners and some major players from sport, business and politics.
Formula E’s operational headquarters, based here in the UK at Donington Park, sprung out of the ground and moved in its occupants in a mere fifteen weeks, which is impressive in itself. A seven figure sum’s been invested in the 44,000 square feet of space to house all ten teams, their cars and equipment, along with FE staff, and upwards of 50 million euros has been secured in investment in the project so far.
The fact that The Roundhouse was packed to the rafters for the event was testament enough to the interest being generated around the new championship, but the fact it was packed full of some of the biggest and most prestigious players from the automotive industry, British government and Formula One, holds testament to it’s growing momentum as a serious enterprise and pioneering British export.
There were a host of announcements at the launch event. A second female racer; a support vehicle partnership with BMW; a fantastic initiative to get school children involved in EV engineering and the unveiling of Battersea Park as the London race venue, amongst others. All great assets to the series, I don’t think anyone could disagree.
What a lot of people do seem to disagree with already, even before it’s been given a chance, is Formula E’s much talked about FanBoost system.
I’ve been a big fan and supporter of FE from the very beginning, seeing the positives associated with the project and the huge benefits it could bring us all in the future. My most obvious area of expertise is technical and operational, but I also work a lot in the business and corporate sector today, talking to different industries about what they might learn from F1 and its methods.
More and more I’m seeing trends where actually in certain areas, namely online and digital, many of these companies I’m supposed to be inspiring are light years ahead of F1, not the other way round…awkward.
As a result I’ve had to look for new examples of my industry leading the way in an experimental digital world that I can share with others and so, as a result, I’ve turned to Formula E as it’s doing exactly that.
Who knows if FanBoost will be a success or not, not even the organisers know that right now? But how about we applaud them for trying to use social media and engage with a young and enthusiastic audience and let’s just see how it goes?
Because my world largely exists around Formula One, the direct feedback I’ve seen has mainly been from F1 fans and it’s not all been that great. That’s not really a surprise. Apart from the fact that F1 fans and insiders alike, seem to be caught up in an era of publicly complaining about their own sport, despite attempts from the organisers to try and address issues that have arisen, they’re almost all looking at FE through their F1 conditioned eyes.
The tag line of Formula E, you might have noticed is “The Future is Electric”, it’s not The Future Of Motorsport is Electric. Motor racing is merely the chosen vehicle, excuse the pun, to help promote the technology and the message that sustainable and emission free motoring is the way forward.
Organisers hope to push that message to the teenagers of today and their families, because they know that they’re the ones who’s minds they need to change over the next couple of years before they buy their first cars. If they’re excited by FE, if they engage with it, feel involved and enjoy it, electric cars become cool. Those kids are not necessarily F1 fans in general, mainly because F1’s ignored them for so long and done little to reach out to them through their chosen channels.
The Formula E city centre event, or TV show, however we choose to take it in, looks like being a thoroughly entertaining experience for people of all ages. It’s not aimed specifically at F1 fans, but there should be no reason at all they shouldn’t enjoy it along with everyone else.
The first thing they need to do for that to happen though, is look at this like a new form of groundbreaking entertainment, which happens to have a personal connection to them through motorsport. Look at it with an open mind, give ideas like FanBoost a chance and see how it all unfolds.
Try not to be negative, but be positive about something that, if it does indeed succeed, could not only make a brilliant and entertaining spectacle, but benefit us all in the long run.