McLaren team boss Ian James in Formula E interview: "Would not accept if we were in the same place at the end of the season"
After a disappointing second half of the 2023 season, Neom McLaren has secured one of the most experienced drivers in the electric series in Sam Bird. We spoke to McLaren team principal Ian James in Valencia about Bird's signing, but also about the rookies and in particular McLaren's Taylor Barnard, as well as software development.
Ian, what is your conclusion of the first three hours of testing on Tuesday? Your rookie driver Taylor Barnard is only 19 years old, but he was really fast in 7th position.
Yes, I am very, very pleased. Of course, Taylor went through a certain amount of preparation beforehand, including in the simulator. He showed that he has the necessary maturity and I am really very happy with his performance. It was very strong. He only had a small problem with Sam Bird's seat, which hindered him a bit in the last chicane. If that hadn't been the case, I think he could have gone even a bit faster.
After Jake Hughes, who was really fast in his first season in 2023, you have now found a new talent who performs well straight away. How do you manage that?
I think we are not just lucky. We have an internal programme, which we also had at Mercedes. Through our reserve driver programme, we want to find new talent. For me, it's very important that we find talent for a possible race seat. We are working with the FIA to make sure we have a better rookie programme. This is very, very important especially for the future of Formula E. I also have to say that the main focus of the current FIA pyramid is Formula 4, Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1. We have to make sure that we find a solution for Formula E as well.
This year, apart from Jehan Daruvala, no rookie has made it into Formula E.
We don't have that many new drivers this year. But I think there will be a difference year on year. We had two rookies last year with Jake Hughes and Sacha Fenestraz. They both showed that they have the maturity and performance as rookies. I am therefore confident that we will continue to find new talent in the future. It is important that we have opportunities where we can put these talents into the car.
"The important thing is that we create a feeder series"
From your point of view, is it better to have a dedicated rookie practice or rookie test day? Or instead to have rookies and regular drivers together on the track, like here in Valencia?
Both options have advantages and disadvantages. It is an advantage that here in Valencia the rookies are on the track together with the experienced drivers. It's not a race, so you have to get a feeling for the "real performance" of the drivers. I find this possibility really advantageous.
In my opinion, we should also have a normal rookie test during the season, for example after the Berlin race. However, it is also important that we create an additional feeder series at some point. That would be ideal.
What about the issue of fast charging? From your point of view, can that finally come this season, or does the fire yesterday cause problems here?
As far as I am informed, the fire had nothing to do with fast-charging. Of course it is important that we have the opportunity to do race simulations here in Valencia. We need to make sure we know what to expect. We also need to practice the processes. If we can do the race simulations, I don't think there is any reason to do without the fast charge in season 10. So I think it's important that we can do that.
And what if the race simulations cannot be carried out after all because of the delays?
Should we not be able to do that, we have to think about how we can test it in advance so that we can make the necessary preparations here as well. It is important that we understand all the possibilities, also team-internally, to be well prepared.
The lap times in the first practice session on Tuesday were already faster than last year. What do you think is the reason for that?
We have further developments on the software side of the Gen3 powertrains, and the drivers have also had a better feeling. We have to have a look at the sector times to see if it might be due to changes in the track: We have a new asphalt, that also plays a role. We still have to analyse that in detail.
But we also always say that you always have to look closely at the meaning behind the lap times in testing, it's not like in a race or qualifying. The teams' programmes are also different. Based on the data we have collected, we will get a feeling internally after Valencia whether we are competitive or not.
You mentioned the software: How is that handled between you and Nissan? Do you use the same software or do you also develop your own?
Well, it depends: The main software package comes from Nissan. But we are developing that together in a so-called software working group. The engineers from Nissan and us sit together, discuss and prioritise their ideas. Then it is coded by a couple of software engineers from Nissan. We have some parameters that we can adjust here at the track. Then we do that internally at McLaren. But broadly speaking, the software packages at Nissan and us are identical.
What are your expectations for the coming season?
Our season 9 consisted of two halves: We had a good start, the second half of the season was weak for us. But I think we now have an understanding of why we made some mistakes. We weren't quick enough to get a feel for the Gen3 cars and the race format. But we have corrected that.
We now have a new driver in Sam Bird, who also brings different experience to the team. He is working very closely with the whole team at the moment, but also with Jake. I am positive for season 10.
How much will the balance of power change? The manufacturers are not allowed to homologate new engines for season 10.
Exactly, we have the so-called homologation freeze, which means we won't see a huge jump in the overall package. But we have the necessary ingredients to make sure we can move forward. I would not accept it if we are in the same place at the end of season 10 as we were at the end of season 9.
A final question: Who will be champion in season 10?
I think Jaguar and Porsche will still be very strong. My wish or goal is to make sure that we don't have two Jaguar teams ahead of two Porsche teams and two Stellantis teams anymore. We would like to have everything a little bit more mixed and finish further up front than we did in season 9. I think that's doable.