Best Formula E result for Hughes, Bird back to his old strength: McLaren celebrates 4th places in Diriyah
At the Diriyah E-Prix, McLaren built on last year's successes and set the first highlights of the 2024 Formula E season. Sam Bird narrowly missed the podium with fourth place on Friday, but retired on Saturday in a promising position due to a driving error. Instead of him, Jake Hughes confirmed fourth place and celebrated his best Formula E result to date.
Diriyah - a circuit that Neom McLaren regards as a home race thanks to its Saudi title sponsor - has also proved to be a good venue for the team in 2024. After Rene Rast even finished on the podium last season, the team has two fourth places to its name after the first double-header of the tenth season.
After the free practice sessions and qualifying on Saturday, this was not necessarily foreseeable. "We were already frustrated that we narrowly missed out on the duel phase with both cars," says team principal Ian James. "That's why we wanted to finish the race in the points and give the cars in front of us a good fight."
McLaren certainly achieved that. Sam Bird went from 9th to 4th place on Friday - his first points for the team. "Sam drove an absolutely great race. That's a real testament to the work he's done with the team since Mexico City," praised James.
Hughes failed to break out of the midfield in the first race and was stuck behind Max Günther, Pascal Wehrlein and Sergio Sette Camara. In the end, 11th place was a sobering result for him: "I was tenth and tried to overtake. That didn't work out and I dropped out of the points," said Hughes.
What it means to get our best result in almost a year. ? pic.twitter.com/X36QOkrdvu- NEOM McLaren FE (@McLarenFE) January 26, 2024
McLaren's fate "completely reversed" on Saturday
On Saturday, the four Nissan-powered cars were suddenly in a particularly good position. Hughes made it into the quarter-finals of qualifying, as desired by his team principal, but was then beaten by Nick Cassidy. From 6th place, he managed to overtake Jehan Daruvala and Stoffel Vandoorne in the race. With 4th place, the Brit achieved his best result to date in Formula E.
"I'm over the moon," says Hughes. "This is a track that I really enjoy and I'm glad that I was able to confirm Sam's fourth place from yesterday." He also praised the pace of the car: "There are always things that could have gone better - like the race yesterday (Friday). But the whole team did a fantastic job this weekend. I had good pace today and was able to manage my energy."
McLaren confirms driving error that forced Bird to retire
Bird was also able to benefit from this pace. From 12th on the grid, he started an impressive race to catch up to 7th place in the first half of the race. Then everything happened very quickly: one second he was still battling with Sacha Fenestraz for 6th place, the next he dropped down the rankings. When asked by e-Formula.news, a team spokesperson confirmed that Bird had touched the wall away from the TV cameras after a self-inflicted driving error. The resulting damage to the car was too great to continue.
"Fate has completely changed today," says James. "Jake brought home a very solid fourth place. Sam also had good pace. Unfortunately, he hit the wall and damaged the car. Overall, we made a significant step forward compared to last season, especially in terms of energy management." In the overall standings, McLaren is in sixth place after three races - one ahead of its own powertrain supplier Nissan.