Strong Formula E debut with McLaren: Yellow flag misunderstanding costs Jake Hughes 4th place
Jake Hughes and his Neom McLaren Formula E team have made a successful start to their first Formula E season, finishing in 5th place. After thrilling battle with Lucas di Grassi for third place, according to Hughes, a misunderstanding surrounding the yellow flags on the final lap meant that the rookie still lost his fourth place to Andretti driver Andre Lotterer. The second regular cockpit rookie, Sacha Fenestraz in the Nissan, also reached the duel stage of qualifying, but fell out of the points in the race.
Hughes had already hinted at the potential of the new McLaren team and Nissan powertrain with fast laps and victory in the test race. Even if the results from Valencia are only partly representative, the Briton confirmed them with a debut in the top 5. Behind this good result was not only a good starting position from the second row of the grid, because in the knockout phase of qualifying he had to admit defeat only to the eventual pole sitter Jake Dennis, but also an exciting battle that could have ended on the podium.
Because in the last 15 laps, a thrilling three-way battle had developed between Lucas di Grassi - who was trying to defend the final podium spot with less energy - Jake Hughes and Andre Lotterer. From the team, the message "Foxtrot urgent" reached Hughes several times, which probably stands for "urgent overtake" in code language. But he couldn't find a way past the Season 3 champion, which was related to balance issues and a lack of grip on the rear axle, he reported on his private social media channels.
Misunderstanding around yellow flags
In the final laps, however, Hughes had to let his gaze wander more and more often in the rearview mirror, as he came under increasing pressure from Andre Lotterer, who in turn was trying to fight for fourth position. On the last lap there was an attack in turn 7 - Lotterer went past. Hughes told 'Motorsport.com' that there had been a misunderstanding in the communication between race control, his team and him. That's because yellow flags had been waved there as recently as the previous lap, as Hughes' teammate Rene Rast had parked his car at Turn 9 after colliding with Oliver Rowland (Mahindra).
The yellow flags were waved on the final lap, however, as the car was not in the line of fire. "I didn't catch that, and the yellow light was still on at the exit of turn 6 - so I got off the gas," Hughes reported. "Andre apparently got the message, so he caught me on the last lap."
"As a team, we started the season with a solid performance," says McLaren team principal Ian James. "Jake was outstanding all weekend and showed what he can do with P3 in qualifying and P5 in the race. We've put in a lot of work and effort over the last few months to prepare for the season, and that effort has resulted in some solid points."
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A good Nissan debut for Fenestraz
But it wasn't just Jake Hughes in the customer Nissan who showed that the Japanese have taken a step forward in terms of drive technology in the new generation of cars. Sacha Fenestraz reached the duel stage in his first Formula E outing as a regular driver with a time of 1:13.502 minutes. "I really didn't expect to get into the duels in my very first qualifying session in Formula E," Fenestraz said on the Nismo Instagram channel.
"I was just a little bit short of Andre Lotterer, but that's Formula E and I have to get used to it." Indeed, the Franco-Argentinean was just 44 hundredths of a second short of the Andretti driver. In the race, Fenestraz was unable to maintain the result, dropping from position 8 to 15.
Overall, Hughes and Fenestraz put in a strong showing at the Mexico opener, setting highlights in qualifying in particular. We're looking forward to seeing how things progress for them in Saudi Arabia in two weeks' time.