TEAMMATES: NEOM McLaren's new pairing on one another, expectations and their team

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TEAMMATES: NEOM McLaren's new pairing on one another, expectations and their team

We sat down with NEOM McLaren's Jake Hughes and new signing Sam Bird for a chat in Valencia, on all things McLaren, Season 9 thoughts, Season 10 hopes and expectations and how the fresh pairing can get the best out of one-another and their car.

NEOM McLaren's Sam Bird and Jake Hughes Season 10 Formula E

Jake, you’re fresh out of your rookie season and Sam, you’ve been there and done it in Formula E. Good combo?

Jake: From my side, I’m not a rookie anymore. My Formula E career’s still in its infancy and I’ve got a lot to learn – you’re always learning, especially in a championship like this.

Having someone like Sam alongside me is perfect; I can be a sponge and learn as much as possible. He’s been at some successful teams, too, and it’ll help push us forward and improve – it’s a good match.

READ MORE: NEOM McLaren's Season 10 line-up

Sam: I’ve got a very quick teammate next to me, somebody that really proved themselves last year. This team’s a fantastic place to be. We’ll not be necessarily fighting right at the front straight away, but we’ve got the capability of scoring good points from the get-go. We’ll see how we go.

It’s every young racer’s dream to drive for a team like McLaren isn’t it?

Sam: You look at that logo and it’s such an iconic brand, with such history. You walk through the boulevard at the McLaren Technology Centre and there are hundreds upon hundreds of world championship trophies and legendary cars just sat there. It’s inspiring and we aspire to add to that collection.

Jake Hughes in the McLaren cockpit Season 10 Formula E

Jake: Yeah, I come at it from the same storyline. McLaren is world famous and I got into motorsport quite late. When I started watching it was Lews Hamilton in the McLaren winning races and world championships and that just got me hooked on the sport in general.

I’ve been a fan of the team since that period and it coming full circle a decade and a bit later, driving for McLaren in a McLaren racing car is so, so special.

Sometimes you sort of feel like you’re getting used to it and just sitting in the pit lane, looking over, seeing the McLaren logo on the garage walls you pinch yourself a little bit and remember who you’re driving for – it’s so cool and such a privilege.

How did the move come about, Sam?

Sam: I’ve known Zak (Brown) for a while now and we spent many a day on a golf course talking about this move. He called in the middle of the year to let me know there’s a possibility and we got the deal done within 36 hours. It was a no brainer for me and I was super excited to get here.

READ MORE: Everything you may have missed from the Valencia test

We finished in London and 24 hours later, I was at HQ talking about what we can do in Season 10. I want us to improve this year and McLaren to be further up the grid still for Season 11.

TESTING REVIEW: Everything you need to know from Valencia

WATCH: What we learned at testing in Valencia

How’ve you welcomed Sam into the fold, Jake? What can he expect?

Jake: Sam knows what he’s doing in Formula E, obviously. He knows a few faces here like his race engineer, and there are a few new faces for him.

He’ll tell you himself, already, that the work ethic in this team is mega and the processes that we go through are meticulous. We have a certain way of doing things and I think it’s a very, very successful way of doing things.

Sam needs to come at it from his own side of things and he’s got a lot he can teach us as a team, myself included. He’ll have his own ideas and his own way of working.

Sam: Yeh, I’m hoping to impart little elements. The team doesn’t need much anyway in order to be right at the front. It proved that it can run right at the front. It’s minor little details now. If I can bring those, it can be the difference between 10th and the podium.

Sam Bird on track in the Season 10 2023 2024 Formula E NEOM McLaren GEN3 car

Have you noticed changes already?

Sam: We’re already seeing some small changes, which is great. There’s a lot of positivity coursing through the team at the moment.

We go into Mexico regardless of the running we do in testing with some new weaponry that wasn’t on show last year in terms of our strategies and how we go about things. I’m excited to see how we do.

Our goal as employees of NEOM McLaren is to score as many points collectively as possible and get the team as high up the grid as we can. We are working together and need to. Jake and I have a good relationship both on and off track.

A word on Jake’s time in Formula E so far…

Sam: He impressed me very much last season. I saw Jake while he was reserve at Mercedes-EQ for a few years but when he joined McLaren, I didn’t know too much about his driving.

He had a difficult time through the ranks for budget reasons in single seaters. He’d always get drives but there’d be people with a lot of money and better drives, and you can’t do anything about that. He has clearly always had the talent.

I didn’t know how he’d fare in Formula E right away but straight from the off in testing in Season 9 and in both Mexico and Diriyah, with that pole, he was right there.

Jake Hughes NEOM McLaren Formula E Season 10

How would you rate your Season 9?

Jake: I was definitely happy with my rookie season. It’s such a sink or swim championship if you don’t warm up to it right away.

There are many drivers who’ve come into Formula E with loads of experience in other series and think they’re going to walk it and make it look easy and they sometimes struggle. Formula E is on its own planet in that respect, you need to learn it.

I was very happy in general. We had a better first half of the season than second half and there are plenty of reasons for that. Actually, while the results sort of say we struggled in the second half, the actual pace was there more often than not – we just didn’t put it together in qualifying. If you don’t do that, you’re going to struggle to get onto the podium. That’s where we need to improve, and there are two or three key areas where we know we fell short.

It was a voyage into the unknown last offseason [with GEN3] and it worked as soon as we put it on track. Others then catch up and improve and we maybe went in the wrong direction for a period of time, and it takes a month of off-season analysis to sort of see where that went. We’re coming into Season 10 motivated to build on our good start to Season 9.


Sam: I’m massively motivated. Last year, there was no question in terms of speed for me. There were just too many mistakes. I topped the groups in qualifying more than anyone else, but that didn’t translate.

I didn’t finish many races as I’d like, and I got disqualified from a lead, too. So the aim this year is more consistency. If that means a seventh place finish, then it’s a seventh place finish – you don’t always need to get on the podium.

Consistency is key, as is scoring every weekend. There’ll be times where you can get on the podium and maybe go for the win but there are also times where all you can do is finish ninth and you’ve got to be happy with that. I need to get back to that mentality; not just winning is everything.

Do you get that sense early in a weekend that maybe your weekend has limitations to it?

Sam: I don’t think you ever get that sense. You never know what’s going to happen in the race.

In Portland, for example, we were nowhere in actual push running. We understood why and then in the race, it was looking like I could go on and challenge for the win – until I was told I couldn’t.

Races in this championship can be very, very different to how it might appear on outright pace – and you get chances you might not have expected.

Jake Hughes McLaren Formula E

Jake:  I remember in Monaco, on the Saturday morning practice, I was absolutely nowhere. I was so far off the pace and uncomfortable with the car, then we went out in qualifying and I got it on pole, once it all shook out.

We dived into data. We flushed out what I was experiencing in the car and the engineers say what they see in data and we came to a plan and it worked.

That’s the thing about Formula E. The weekend is so fluid. In the morning when the track is colder , the tyre needs a different preparation than it does in qualifying two hours later. Then you can think you’ve cracked it in quali and go into a race scenario and things are different again.

You just can’t rest, and you also can’t get too defeatist. You’re never really putting a limit on what you can achieve as the margins are so tight.

Expectations for Season 10?

Sam: I’d love to be fighting the Porsche-powered cars and the Jaguars. That’s where we as a group would like to be but I don’t want to put any expectations on anything yet.

A perfect start to the year would be both cars scoring in Mexico and competing to get the season up and running.

Jake: It’s fair to say there was a trend of the Jaguar and Porsche-powered cars performing over the course of the season. They’re everybody’s benchmark in that respect.

But, it’s a new season and the cars were new last year – there’s a lot people will have learned in the off-season and we want to be the one to make the biggest step and take the fight to those guys.

As a bare minimum, we want to improve and take a step. Fighting for consistent double points finishes and podiums every other weekend.

Any tips for one-another ahead of the new season?

Sam: I don’t need to give Jake any tips. He’s already a top, top driver. When one of us is maybe behind the other in regards pace, we’ll speak to each other, share data and work with some of the best engineers in the business to get results. Jake’s got the driving to a tee.

Jake: As I said, what Sam doesn’t know about Formula E isn’t worth knowing. I’ll just say to him enjoy it again. I’m sure he’s super motivated to be here with us so just get down to enjoying racing.