Mahindra Racing have been a Formula E stalwart since the start – and a consistent early-season threat for two years now. Frustrating European stints have pushed the team to make bigger changes and be hungrier now than ever, six years into their Formula E programme.
Mahindra are not yet a household name in the US or Europe but they are one of the biggest – if not the biggest, depending on which metric you look at, automakers in the world. But outside the Grand Prix radius and Japan, established constructors have rarely looked to the challenge of motorsport as a public development lab.
For a company that’s committed to electrification (the company styles itself as the pioneer of electric mobility in India and its electric division has a quarter-century of history) Formula E is a natural choice – but not a kind environment for a developmental foray.
Like the series, though, Mahindra – led by the inimitable Dilbagh Gill – have proven a challenger through a lightning-quick ability to adapt and snatch chances where they can. And if that fails, what seems like sheer force of will – if you didn’t know just how efficient the team has to be to realise their ambitions.
We spoke to them at their Season 6 car launch, last month at the Hockenheimring, where Dilbagh told us more about a summer where the team made massive decisions to try and compete with the larger-budget constructors.
The first big change is that Mahindra have ditched Campos as their engineering team – a huge difference in the garage that Dilbagh was still getting used to: “I think this was a rough summer for us because we had a lot to do.
“We decided to rebuild our team, so we were putting our whole team together in England and we’ve spent a lot of time on that, recruiting folk and we’re going to have a lot of new faces in the team this year. And that, for me, causes a little bit of discomfort because you get so used to having the same people in the team, we had a very consistent team at Mahindra but that’s changing and I think it’s a change for the better because we need to get a bit more efficient going forwards.
“The car’s coming along quite well – we’ve done the maximum testing we’ve ever done in the car, on this one and we’ve still got more days to do.”
Formula E manufacturers are allowed 15 days of private testing per year, with this year some of those being allowed after pre-season collective testing, so long as only homologated hardware is used. Or in other words, so long as the only thing being tested is what programmes the car’s modes – a hugely important part of Formula E, amid the raw physicality of wrestling a nearly-tonne car around small streets.
In terms of the new engineering team bedding in, Gill said “A lot of the communication happens during the pre-race simulation when the drivers come in and spend a week with us before the race. That’s when we try and go through all these scenarios and essentially we’re trying to minimise radio communication during the race because as you know everyone monitors this so we want to look at every scenario.
“And I think that’s something we’ve learned from Techeetah, they do it really well and they’re just amazing at it – them and Envision Virgin, I think they just do a lot of scenario analysis and it comes out in their processes and that’s an area Mahindra need to improve on.”
Formula E has always depended – without telemetry – on a driver’s ability to read a race. But a return to energy management is something Mahindra welcome, Dilbagh told us.
“Well I think this year we have a pretty revolutionary change. Last year we had two constants and one variable. Earlier, distance was a constant and time was a variable – and energy was a constant, in generation one. Then it changed over to where time was a constant, energy was a constant and distance became the variable.
“Energy is variable, distance is variable and time is the only constant. That’s going to be more fun for us, strategically.”
Mahindra put their new team to the test on Friday 22nd November, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.Become a Patron!