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What we’ve learned from the start of electric racing in 2023

McLaren’s expanded electric adventure is underway, here’s what we’ve discovered so far

We’ve been no stranger to innovation and trying new things in the motorsport realm over the years, and the 2023 season is no different.

Alongside our Formula 1, INDYCAR, and esports efforts, for the first time in our history, we’re contesting not one, but two electric motorsport championships.

We’re halfway through our inaugural Formula E campaign, while the Extreme E championship also got underway in March with a double-header event in NEOM, serving as a de facto home race for NEOM McLaren Electric Racing.

With both seasons now in full swing, here’s a look at the key takeaways from each so far…

Gen3 Formula E is the best yet

We certainly arrived in Formula E at the best time, as our joining the series coincided with the introduction of the Gen3 Formula E car.

Gen3 brings with it a power output of 350kW at the rear axle, which is a massive 100kW increase on the previous car. In addition to that power for acceleration, there's an additional 250kW available for regeneration at the front axle too. All of this makes the Gen3 Formula E car not only the most powerful all-electric single seater ever made, but the most efficient too.

But it’s not just about the numbers. Formula E has always been ultra-competitive, and that remains the case with six different winners from the first nine races – something that is a bit of a trend in electric racing…

Point 1

The Extreme E field is closer than it’s ever been

Like Formula E, Extreme E has one of the most competitive fields in world motorsport, with 10 closely-matched teams competing in equal machinery.

The series’ competitive nature was reflected in the timesheets by the end of the first weekend of the season. The gap between the fastest team in the Round 2 final, and the slowest team in the Round 2 Redemption Race was a mere 3.73 seconds – something that may seem like a huge gap in traditional circuit racing, but on a 3.4km off road course with challenges to contend with such as dust and multiple surfaces, it’s mightily impressive.

In fact, at the same stage of last year’s Saudi Arabian race (which took place at a different location), the fastest and slowest teams were just under one minute, 16s apart, showing just how close the entire field has become since our debut a year ago.

There have been two different winners so far, both being first-time victors in the series. Can we make it three next time out?

Point 4

Rookie Jake Hughes is rapid

He might have started this season as a rookie in Formula E, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by looking at his performances on track.

At his debut in Mexico City, the Brit starred in qualifying to take third on the grid, and went one better at Round 2 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. It was an upwards trend with just one more place to go: first – and he took that maiden pole in Round 3, beating Jaguar's Mitch Evans in the final Duel (a feat he has since repeated in Monaco), having also topped the open first part of qualifying for the second event in a row.

An early pass from Evans spoiled his hopes of converting the pole into a win, but there’s no denying that Hughes is one of the fastest drivers in Formula E.

Point 2

There’s race-winning potential in Extreme E

While we didn’t make either final in NEOM, we did show well in the two Redemption Races, which are effectively B finals for the five teams that don’t progress to the Grand Final through the qualifying heats.

In Round 1, Tanner and Emma brought home their Odyssey 21 after it survived a bruising four-lap contest that was halted by a red flag midway through, to win by 5.552s. The following day, our drivers fought back to finish second in the Redemption Race, leaving Saudi Arabia seventh in the Teams’ standings.

Although we didn’t bring any trophies back in our hand luggage, with the field being as closely matched as it is, our strong Redemption Race form definitely bodes well.

Point 5

It didn’t take long for our first Formula E podium

Last year we claimed our first Extreme E podium in the final round of the season in Uruguay, but when it came to Formula E, the wait was significantly shorter, with René Rast finishing third in the third race of the season in Saudi Arabia.

That came after top-five finishes for both Jake Hughes and René in the opening two races and consistent top five qualifying performances.

Rast started the race third on the grid and shadowed Hughes into Turn 1 as Mitch Evans got the leap into the lead, but a nicely-timed Attack Mode on Lap 11 allowed him to undercut the Jaguar driver and move to the fore.

However, having helped Rast earlier in the race, Attack Mode then went on to benefit both eventual winner Pascal Wehrlein and Jake Dennis in the fight for victory. That set up a tense fight with Sam Bird, who locked up after briefly getting by on Lap 33 of 39. By the end of the race, Rast’s useable energy was all but exhausted, but he fought on to lock in our first Formula E podium.

"What a fantastic day! It wasn’t an easy race, however I did lead some laps, which was pretty cool,” Rast said afterwards. “I had to manage quite a bit of my energy during the race, which was tricky. I knew the other drivers around me had more energy, and at the end I was battling with Sam [Bird], who had more energy than me. It was a fight until the very last corner. We can be very proud of what the team has achieved this week.”

Point 3

The new XE format is tough, but we're up for the challenge

Last year, Extreme E qualifying was split into two sessions – one of single car runs, and one of multi-car races with the grids decided by the earlier session. This year, those single car runs are gone, replaced with another round of racing. That, along with the new double header format that effectively means two weekends in one at every event, makes every race weekend much more intense.

“We always expected it to be busy with three five-car races a day in the new race format for this season,” said Gary Paffett after Round 1, adding that it “wasn’t an easy task” to get the car re-prepped after every session.

The ‘extreme’ nature of Extreme E was reflected in our first Redemption Race where, after a red flag for a roll for the Andretti car, we were one of only two cars to finish. What’s more, one of those that retired, the Abt Cupra car, did so after rolling over the top of the papaya Odyssey 21 race vehicle.

The team repaired the damage from that encounter and went again the following day. Things started well with a strong start in Q1, but a Switch Zone speeding penalty set the team back. Another roll for Andretti collected our car in Q2 and ended any hopes of a Final appearance, but the team made good on the Redemption Race’s name by rallying back to second in an ultra-competitive race.

While navigating the trails that makes Extreme E one of the toughest series on the planet, the team’s ability to get the car ready under immense pressure, plus the constant work on its setup over the Desert X Prix weekend, leaves us in a good place going to our home event, the Hydro X Prix in Scotland.

“Considering where we were at the start of the weekend, and the progress we had to make, I think we did really well,” said Emma Gilmour. “As a team, we work together really strongly. “Next, we race in Scotland in May, which I can’t wait for!”

Point 6

The McLaren support is as strong as ever

The thrilling world of EV racing isn’t only new for us, it’s new for many of you as well! We’ve been delighted to see you dive headfirst into the sport and immerse yourselves within it, as we’ve seen see huge amounts of support from our papaya fans

We’ve loved seeing you at each of the Formula E races so far, while the messages of love and support have also kept us hugely motivated in Extreme E as we’ve headed to the most remote race locations in the world.

We’ve had a strong start, and there’s more to come, so make sure you stick with us!

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