"Scoring points in both races will be a good target" says Lucas di Grassi, Mahindra Racing’s driver ahead of the Jakarta e-Prix
We had the opportunity of engage in a conversation with Lucas di Grassi, the driver representing Mahindra Racing. In this interview, di Grassi shares his insights, experiences, and excitement surrounding the upcoming Jakarta e-Prix race, providing a glimpse into the world of Formula E and the electrifying journey that lies ahead for Mahindra Racing.
Q: Lucas, the season started with the podium in Mexico but it's been tough since then. Just talk us through your season.
A: In Mexico, we took advantage of the fact that when pretty much all other teams were setting up their foot with the new generation car and tyres. We managed to have a consistent car because we were late with the development because of the pandemic, and a series of issues. So we didn't do as much testing as the other teams. So when we arrived in Mexico, we were not as prepared. So I took a very conservative approach, we said let’s do the basics, not try to reinvent the wheel because we don't know this car so well. So we did the basics, which worked very well. And since then, people have evolved the car. Also, the energy got reduced. Mexico was the only race where we had 41kWh, now we have 36. So they are taking energy out, which makes the sensitivity to be more efficient higher. So in Mexico, even with a non-optimized car, the number of laps also in the race was a bit conservative from the FIA side, because it was the first race, and nobody knew how the car was going to behave, about the temperature, and so on. So we took advantage of that. It was a bit of a miracle to do a pole and finish on the podium. But we did the job. And since then, the other teams have developed faster than us. We are developing the car, making the car better. But everybody is making the car better. Hopefully, none of the developments are linear, they reach a certain stage, where it becomes more difficult to gain. So hopefully, we can now start to catch up, we are entering this phase where we might catch up with them. But yes, so far it has been very hard. I finished every race of the season, I did pretty good races. But always 11 or 12, just outside of the points. And I'm one of the few drivers that finished every race. So if we get the car slightly better we will be able to score points consistently. And I think that's not something not feasible. But then to make it into a winning car, I think we need more time. And we need to do the testing at the end of the year as well to make sure that the car also improves more and we need to hire more people, we need to make the team more structured. So it is a long-term, medium-long-term vision. But to score points, I think we can do it. The package we have still has a lot of potential to take out of it.
Q: What's your take on where the car is lacking compared to your rivals?
A: It's a bit everywhere. The powertrain is good, but it’s not the best. The weight of the car, it's good, but it's not the best. The systems are good, but not the best. It's not one thing, it's a combination of factors.
Q: So It's more about optimisation everywhere?
A: If you get ten improvements, and the sum of them gains you 1/100th in one corner. So 1/1000s of a second per improvement per corner, that's enough for going from P20 to P10,or P10 to P3. It’s so tight. So we are talking about very small things. In Monaco, we were two-tenths away from the qualifying groups. In some of the races, we were always there in the top ten in free practice and also in the fast laps. So, we're talking about very minute details because the field is so compressed, it's not like F1, that you have like three seconds, four seconds between the leader and the last one. Here, between the first and the last is like four-tenths maybe. In Monaco, I think it was half a second and in Berlin, it was maybe three and a half tenths. So it's very tight, and we're talking about minute details.
Q: You were talking about the improvements you've made from race 1 to now; could you walk us through some of the ones that remain?
A: I can give you numerous examples. However, there are numerous critical ones, for example, understanding tyres has given us a much better understanding of what we require from our tyres. Systems like power control of the motor, because it's very hard to understand. Because the limit is, let’s say, 300kW, staying at 299.99 all the time is difficult due to bumps, the wheel, and other factors. As a result, now we are much better at controlling power. Previously, we had to accept a larger margin. Now we have a better understanding of the braking system, what temperatures the brakes must be at, how to break with the front and with the rear, the regen that you have in the front, and the regen you have in the rear. How do you divide that? How to be more precise? So, a lot of different upgrades. But the biggest improvements in this car are in the systems and software. The controls are, indeed, extremely complicated. There is a lot of noise, so you must replicate the sensors so that they are in the correct window. Controlling the mode in the simulator, for example, is extremely simple. If there are no bumps, simply go to 299.99, and it's flat, no tyre deflection, nothing. But then you get to the track, and you have the tyre deflecting, the bumps, the drive shaft deflecting, the sensors not sending precise enough signals, and many other things that you have to work around. That is the difficulty of taking all of these measurements precisely. And we're talking milliseconds; if there's a millisecond of delay or processing capacity lag, your car is already performing below par. Some of them can be solved with software, while others require hardware changes, but you can’t do that because they are homologated every two years. In Cape Town, for example, we had a suspension issue. That was a simple fix. But we didn't realise it until we got to Cape. So there are many things that the team has gotten much better at during this time, but it's not just for us; it's for everyone. So, if you look at the progression, everyone has caught up since Mexico. So, hopefully, there is a little less gain for others at the moment, and we can catch up a little more, and then we'll become competitive. But I believe that with this equipment, we can still score consistently and be much better than we are now. So there is still a lot of work to be done.
Q: How is the team's morale at this point in the season?
A: To be completely honest, morale isn't as high as it could be because we're working hard and making progress, but we're not winning, which is a fact. But I have to say that the amount of hours and the extent to which the engineers work is pleasantly surprising. Everyone seems to be pushing very hard now, Fred, as the team principal now is making the necessary changes. So there is a bit of a shake-up in the short term because Fred is coming up with new stuff and making the team better and changing teammates and you know there is a shake-up in the team which is a good thing. And morale could have been much worse, it could have been that we are dying but that's not the spirit, it is that we are fighting, so we are not celebrating victories but we are fighting and we can see that the progression is coming there. It's a nice feeling to see that people are still fighting. The fire is still burning in them rather than giving up because it's very easy to say look season is over and give up. No. The guys are pretty good and I’m very happy with the crew I have and the guys on the team. They are pretty strong.
Q: What is your realistic target for this weekend?
A: Points. We've been on the edge of scoring points in every race. And sometimes because the safety car was against us, sometimes because there was a failure or a problem or a reliability issue here or there, but we're always on the edge of scoring points. So scoring points in both races will be a good target.