How years in Mercedes’ F1 simulator are “bearing fruit” for Formula E rookie Hughes


Posted on

| Written by

Jake Hughes distinguished himself on his Formula E debut by taking third place on the grid and fifth at the chequered flag following a race-long scrap with a series champion Lucas di Grassi.

That was well beyond the performance he expected after his McLaren team tested Formula E’s new ‘Gen3’ car for the first time in Spain last year.

“Valencia obviously went pretty well but Valencia is not really in Formula E terms a representative place,” Hughes told RaceFans from Diriyah, where the championship’s second round is taking place.

“That being said, you can definitely draw a lot of positives from Valencia going into Mexico, and that’s what we did. But I don’t think we had any idea how we would fare in Mexico, both from a one-lap point of view and an energy management point of view, how the powertrain is with our supplier Nissan. We had no idea of any of that.”

Hughes exceeded his expectations on his debut
He arrived in Mexico with a “minimum soft goal” of scoring points. “So obviously to qualify third and then come away with fifth – which could have quite easily been a podium on a different day – was a pretty strong result.”

However he didn’t feel that way the instant he climbed out of the car, having lost fourth place to Andre Lotterer. “For the first 20 minutes after the race, I didn’t quite see it that way. Typical racing driver, always wanting more. But I think once once the dust had settled I was pretty happy with my performance.”

Hughes spent much of the race trying to prise third place from the grasp of 2016-17 champion di Grassi. “I was pretty much thrown into a sink-or-swim situation in that race with Lucas ahead of me and Andre behind,” he said. “Two very experienced guys in motorsport in general, let alone Formula E, and can be quite aggressive on the day.

“So having to watch ahead, trying to get a position ahead, and then watch behind, I had to manage that pretty well. But it was a good first FE race to be racing at the front, to learn how it needs to be done.”

Having probed Di Grassi’s defences repeatedly, Hughes only succumbed to Lotterer’s attack on the final lap as his car’s energy levels began to dip.

“I definitely learned some things in terms of how to manage the energy in small pockets of the race a little bit better,” he admitted, “because most of the race I was in a good place on energy compared to Lucas ahead of me.

“But then, for example, trying to get the place over a period of about four or five laps, we ended up using all of that advantage we had. So that was a lesson that I took from the race in terms of it can be easily taken away from you either positive or negative direction in terms of the energy management. So you have to be on top of your game for the whole race.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

McLaren’s competitive showing from the off with its Nissan e-4ORCE 04 bodes well for this weekend’s two races at Diriyah and the rest of the season, said Hughes. “Considering we haven’t had a lot of time with the car I think we’ve put the car quite quickly into a good baseline set-up.

Fourth place got away from Hughes on the last lap in Mexico
“Obviously there are directions you need to go in track-to-track, but I think the underlying baseline set-up that we have must be in a decent window to be able to go to Valencia and then to Mexico and sort of continue that performance. I think coming here it’s a complete reset again. It’s a proper street track in terms of Formula E level.”

Hughes arrived in FE following a season in Formula 2 and a lengthy spell in Formula 3. But his years helping Mercedes develop the Formula 1 car raced by Lewis Hamilton and his team mates are also paying dividends.

“Over the last three years I would say I’ve done hundreds if not thousands of laps at each circuit,” he said. “I’ve been pretty buried into a simulator role for the last two or three years and obviously now coming in as a race driver I think that’s bearing fruit from a rookie point of view. But it’s clearly a different kettle of fish coming in as the race driver now.”

But while Formula E races at the same Mexico City venue as F1 – albeit a largely different layout – their only other shared venue is Monaco. Nonetheless, Hughes feels Mexico was “a good place for me to have my debut” for other reasons.

“There’s a bit more room for error in the corners, in the track layout there’s less walls in general,” he pointed out. “It’s a bit more of a normal race track that’s had walls put in.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“Whereas here in Diriyah, I’ve just done the shakedown now and it’s much more in line with a normal street track reality or expectation. I think if I was to come here from Valencia into Diriyah right now I’m pretty sure I could do a good job but I was definitely happy that I got all those initial lessons out of the way in a track like Mexico.”

The 2023 Formula E schedule is largely new to Hughes
Many of those lessons have revolved around adapting to the different driving dynamics of the electric single-seaters.

“It’s clearly very different,” Hughes explains. “Formula 2 is very much aerodynamically driven whereas Formula E is very much mechanically driven. And then on top of that, you have a lot more software and systems that, if set-up right, can aid you and can help you find a little bit more up-side. But the challenge is to be able to feel the car well enough that you can give enough direction to the engineers and performance engineers to sort of put that in a better window.”

While some of his rivals such as Stoffel Vandoorne see potential for FE cars to better showcase the drivers’ abilities, Hughes says they are livelier than the machines he was driving last year.

“When you drive a car like Formula 2 car with a lot of aerodynamic grip, the car is always sliding to be able to deliver the lap time. But at the limit the car looks almost on rails sometimes, if you see certain pole position laps and things like that.

“Whereas here the car is biased a lot more to mechanical grip. The tyre itself is quite a stiff tyre so the car moves around a lot more on the limit. So it has quite a progressive limit to the car.

“So you probably noticed in Mexico, and you’ll notice here as well, that the cars are moving a lot. But at least in my perspective, I feel like I have a lot of confidence with the car at the limit just because it feels a little bit more progressive, basically.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

But despite making a strong start to his Formula E debut, and despite all drivers starting afresh with the new ‘Gen3′ car, Hughes is under no illusions that he faces a stiff challenge against the series’ more experienced competitors over the remainder of the year.

“There’s no advantage to me coming in at all as a rookie in Formula E,” he says. “There’s just probably a bit less disadvantage in terms of coming in at a time when Formula E has reset.

“So I think it’s fair to say that at various points in the season the experienced drivers will have certain knowledge or experience that will help them over me and it’s whether I can overcome that quickly to deliver the results.”

Bringing the F1 news from the source

RaceFans strives to bring its readers news directly from the key players in Formula 1. We are able to do this thanks in part to the generous backing of our RaceFans Supporters.

By contributing £1 per month or £12 per year (or the equivalent in other currencies) you can help cover the costs involved in producing original journalism: Travelling, writing, creating, hosting, contacting and developing.

We have been proudly supported by our readers for over 10 years. If you enjoy our independent coverage, please consider becoming a RaceFans Supporter today. As a bonus, all our Supporters can also browse the site ad-free. Sign up or find out more via the links below:

Formula E

Browse all Formula E articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.