Siddharth returns from the New York ePrix convinced that Mahindra’s success in Formula E will catapult the manufacturer into the future.
Was I simply happy to be at my very first Formula E race? Or was it because I was getting the chance to do it from the pit garage of an Indian team? Perhaps the real reason for my joy was because the race was being held in one of my favourite cities in the world – New York!
Well, I have to admit that it was all three reasons. But my first Formula E race weekend was indeed memorable. Adding meaning to the special occasion for me was the chance to see first hand a clever young team truly battle the ups and downs of racing. Mahindra Racing stormed into qualifying at the top of the heap with the two best times from practice. But a disastrous qualifying saw the two cars placed 6th and 17th on the starting grid. A fabulous first half saw them come up to 3rd and 5th when the drivers pitted to change cars. But then more disaster – from the certainty of points and possible podiums, both cars ended the race terribly. That was the Saturday race. Yes, New York (like Berlin and Montreal this season) was a double-header. On Sunday, the two drivers and the team went back at it like the professionals that they are, and came out with excellent results – ending up with two podiums. And now Mahindra has a shot at closing season three of the Formula E Championship in second position.
Stepping out for the grid walk at the start of the race, it was particularly gratifying to see the other team managers chatting with Mahindra Racing’s Team Principal Dilbagh Gill. The ribbing and joking – and sheer acceptance of this team as one of ‘them’ is not something I could have even imagined just 5 years ago. Sure, we’ve had Force India in Formula One, but this is different. This is about sheer competence, and being Indian has neither added an exotic layer, nor provided an excuse for failure. That the TV cameras were in the team garage and kept cutting to Dilbagh during the day, and seeking his comments at the end of both races, and that Mahindra is seen as one of the stronger teams – which the likes of Jaguar, BMW (newer to Formula E no doubt) have to catch up to – is the real story for me.
So how did this small upstart team get here? Sure, like every success story, this one too involves lots of hard work. But at the heart of it is also being able to understand and recognise the right opportunity – and Mahindra has done just that. Whether it’s the backing from Group Chairman Anand Mahindra, the willingness to find money for the project from Auto biz boss Pawan Goenka – or indeed trusting an unknown leader to run this team. Yes, Dilbagh Gill is not a seasoned motorsport professional. But he too trusts the people he works with, as he works side-by-side with co-manager Joan Orus. Vinit Patel and Garth Harradine also bring their years of motorsport experience from F1 and other formats into the team as its engineers. And then you have the drivers – ‘Fast Felix’ and ‘Quick Nick’ as the team likes to call them!
Germany’s Nick Heidfeld needs no introduction, and his experience and temperament is the perfect foil to the young and impetuous Swede Felix Rosenqvist – who is in the top three of the drivers’ championship this year. Heidfeld is at sixth position. While the two drivers do indeed compete with each other, it’s great to see them working as a team too – in the truest sense possible. Rosenqvist relies on Heidfeld’s judgement and seeks his opinion, while Heidfeld is happy to make way for his partner for the greater good of the team. While that may not be uncommon, it is certainly not always the case within a successful team. That they’re both very passionate only helps their commitment to the team’s prospects.
Mahindra may be playing for 2nd this year, but with its M4Electro already done and ready for the next season, the team is already setting its sights on season five. While next year is indeed expected to bring in better cars, better batteries and some new regulations, it’ll also have given Mahindra the chance to play the role of a senior team for yet another season. It will also be a supplier of powertrains to other teams by then, with the number of manufacturers in the competition being restricted by next year. This gives Mahindra the chance to play with the big boys on a level playing field – something only possible with Formula E, and indeed electric cars. Anand Mahindra sums it up best, and really drives home the point of why it’s important for Mahindra to invest in electric technology, and also how big a deal it becomes for an Indian company to be doing this, when he says, “Formula E is timed well, because of the shift to electric mobility. Formula E is one of the enablers of that revolution because it makes electric mobility aspirational and glamourous. It’s having an effect way beyond what you may imagine. This is a revolution. I don’t think even Formula One has the direct connect between technology in the races and streetcars. Whereas what you see here is our technology laboratory for (our) future of e-mobility. Whatever we do here, the kind of experiments we do with batteries, with the chassis – all of that is giving us direct feedback for our products. And you can bet it’s doing that for everyone else. Which is why BMW announced it’s going to be here, why Jaguar came in, (and) why Audi is here.”
And that is why I’ll be watching Mahindra Racing keenly. Not just for the results and the trophies it may garner, but because it could well catapult Mahindra into a different orbit as a manufacturer of clean, electric mobility solutions – both in the passenger car and ride sharing spaces.