Late NEOM McLaren call-up left Barnard ‘no time for nerves’

Imagine: You’re making your debut in a top level racing series — at Monaco — replacing a big-name driver who’s one of the most experienced of all-time, driving for one of the most iconic names in the business. It’s a big moment, one that’ll need a heck of a lot of preparation.

“It was about 10 minutes before FP2, so it was very last minute,” Taylor Barnard tells RACER of the call he got to make his Formula E debut for NEOM McLaren in place of Sam Bird after the 119-time Formula E starter and 12-time race winner broke his hand in the opening practice of the Monaco E-Prix.

Barnard’s no stranger to Formula E or McLaren. He’s been the team’s nominated reserve all season, and was quickest of all during the rookie-only practice session at the Misano E-Prix in April, so it wasn’t quite the baptism of fire it might seem.


“I’ve been comfortable with the team for a while,” he says. “I’ve been reserve driver for a while so I’ve been to a few races already before. I think that is why I could jump in and do a fairly decent job straight away.

“There was definitely no time for nerves — it was suit on, jump in the car and go,” he adds. “So I think I’m thankful that I had no time to be nervous because that could have changed things a little bit. But it would’ve been nice to have a bit more preparation.

The Formula 2 driver finished 14th, but crucially two spots ahead of highly rated teammate Jake Hughes, who’s been racing for the team since last season. He remained in the seat for the following two races in Berlin, as Bird looked on from the garage while his recovery continued. And that afforded him more of that sought-after preparation time ahead of the trip to the German capital.

Barnard’s usually a key part of McLaren’s race weekend build-up, but his transition from reserve to race driver, even if it’s only a temporary one, meant that his pre-weekend routine switched up.

“As a reserve driver, I’m the first one in the simulator so I try to get it prepared for the race drivers, and it’s more about figuring things out whereas as a race driver it’s already prepared and you need to actually fill out the sequences,” Barnard explains. “Like quali, what you’re doing in terms of out- and push-laps, you can go through a full free practice run and a full quali run. So it’s a little bit more in detail, whereas as a reserve driver it’s more trying to make sure that your target energy’s more or less in the ballpark and the setup for your quali is more or less in the ballpark. It’s more about bringing things into the window then as a race driver you push the limit.

“There’s a bit of pressure that you have to get it right for the race drivers.”

Barnard showed immediate strength for NEOM McLaren. Andrew Ferraro/Motorsport Images

Barnard admits that he went into Berlin behind more experienced drivers, but was able to progress to a point where he arrived at the Tempelhof Airport track — which was in a new configuration this year — feeling on par with the others.

“I’ve been able to progress with the track conditions and the other drivers at the same rate,” he says. “I progressed at the same rate as everyone else, maybe a bit quicker because I was behind, but I think being in it from the very first lap and progressing at the same rate as everyone makes a difference.”

Barnard was able to qualify ahead of Hughes for the first race of the weekend, a result he describes as “not too bad.” He then progressed from that 14th spot on the grid to take his maiden points finish with 10th — becoming Formula E’s youngest points finisher in the process, the 19-year-old having already broken the record for youngest starter. A slip to 19th in qualifying on Sunday didn’t dampen things, either, as he played the peloton game to perfection to climb up to eighth by the race’s end.

He might’ve been new, but the progress wasn’t entirely unexpected, with Barnard pointing to reigning champion Jake Dennis’ frequent qualifying struggles but stellar race results all season as an example of what can be done.

“I think if you look up and down the grid — like Jake Dennis, if you go a couple of weeks back, he’s at the front, even in Misano he qualified at the back but finished on the podium twice. Everyone’s capable of doing pole and winning the race but you have to have everything go to plan.”

Naturally whenever a young rookie comes into a race series as a stand-in, there’s talk of it being an audition for a more permanent role in the future. Barnard acknowledges that, saying he’s “had this question a couple of times,” but the mature head on this youngster’s shoulders is ensuring he isn’t getting too ahead of himself yet.

“I’m 19 and I’m still building myself as a driver,” he insists. “I’m still working on myself, so whether I want to spend the next 10 years in Formula E or if I want to keep building, I still don’t know, to be honest.

“I’ve still got half a year left in F2 and I honestly don’t know what the plan is for next year. Obviously I hope it’s a high-level race series of some sort, and I’ll do my best in whatever I’m given, but for me to be able to tell you if I see a long future in Formula E or any other series, is difficult to tell at the moment.”

Story originally appeared on Racer