A day with Mahindra Racing on the 2022 Formula E season
In 2021, Mahindra Racing completed its seven seasons in Formula E and six of them as constructors. Last season, the Indian side finished ninth in the constructor’s championship with 132 points which included a victory at London. Drivers Alex Lynn and Alexander Sims were at the forefront of Mahindra Racing’s spearhead and even though they had a rocky start to the season, they ended up turning the ship around in the final stages. For Season 8, Mahindra Racing has announced a new driver line-up with Ex Nissan E.Dams driver Oliver Rowland replacing Alex Lynn while teaming up with Sims. With that announcement made, our editor Sirish Chandran sat down with the drivers and team principal Dilbagh Gill to get an insight into Mahindra Racing’s road to the 2022 Formula E season.
Sirish Chandran: Hi Dilbagh, congratulations on the new driver signing. Obvious question, why aren’t you continuing with your last year’s line-up?
Dilbagh Gill: I was expecting that question and I don’t know if I have a very good answer for it to be honest. But I think for us, we’re looking to build for the future. And Oliver Rowland is one of the best qualifiers in Formula E. When you look at him historically, he has sort of benchmarked himself against maybe the best driver in Formula E, which is Sebastian Buemi and I think Oliver has really come strong over the three years where he progressed. We have some history together, positive history. What you’re looking at is Oliver’s skills in qualifying and his robustness in racing. You and I are slightly older in motorsport, we all love a Mansel, don’t we?
I think we have to go forward now and I think we have to stake our claim in the ground. And I think between Alexander Sims and Oliver, we are not going to be conceding any inch going forward and I think that is something really important because, in Formula E, it is pretty hectic and gets very frantic in the race. So we have to maintain position and I think we have a car we know that qualifies upfront, so from there we have to maintain the progress. And I am really pleased with what we have right now in terms of strengths between both the drivers.
Sirish Chandran: Are drivers developing certain specific and unique skill sets for Formula E? For instance, you could have picked a driver from say Formula 2 or any of the combustion engine championships, but you have picked a driver from Formula E itself. Are these drivers or skill sets unique to Formula E and you might not find it in another racing series? If yes, then what are those?
Dilbagh Gill: Well actually I am gonna pass this (question) on after I start to one of these two guys (drivers). But I definitely think yes, there are skills that the drivers are picking up on Formula E which are pretty unique to what they have done earlier. Because whenever we have got a driver from outside Formula E coming into the championship, there was a little bit of unlearning for the driver to do. For example, how they use the pedals in the car is very different from anywhere else in terms of overlap and stuff like that. And again, the ‘lift and coast’ phenomenon which they have learnt in Formula E is quite unique as well. I think from a driving perspective, understanding software controls, which is very important in Formula E, takes a little bit of time. And I think that has also been proven. Like any driver coming from outside the championship, it takes some time (for them) to be successful. On a single lap, yes, a driver can come in from outside the championship, maybe F2 now or an F1 driver can be on pole. But then for him to complete that race, it takes at least half a season before they sort of get onto base to start understanding how the racing goes. Because even while the race is pretty short with 45 mins plus one lap, it takes a lot of mental capacity to drive these. I don’t know if Oliver or Sims want to add something to this, because every time they start speaking, their salary goes up.
Oliver Rowland: Yeah, I think for me the biggest difference in Formula E is in order to drive, you have to manage a lot of things within the car and the only way to really affect that is experience. I remember coming in season 5 and it was like a baptism of fire. I was trying my best to be as consistent and be as fast as I could during races, but there were so many other things to manage and I think it's just practice to manage those types of things. And I think that's why experience is kind of key in Formula E. Some of the younger guys can come in and show they are faster in one lap but, I think now especially, there are the two of us and we have to lead a whole team of people and there are many people working towards one car and goal. I think you need the experience of what works and hasn’t worked in order to build that structure and that team around you. I think that it takes a long time to gain experience as well.
Alexander Sims: Umm, I think Oliver encapsulated it pretty well. Yeah, Formula E, it's so complex. So many different aspects to getting a clean, well-executed race weekend. So, when you start from scratch I remember my first year in Formula E, you just faced new situations so frequently throughout the season and you can get some of them right, shine at times. But to execute a good season throughout, it's pretty difficult. But I think we’re in a pretty good position when it comes to driver experience levels, racecraft and everything that goes with it.
Sirish Chandran: And now, if you were to move to an internal combustion series, like F2 or F3, would you have to unlearn a lot of things you picked up in Formula E?
Alexander Sims: Honestly, not a huge amount. The fundamental driving of the car, I don’t think is so much different honestly. But it's the stuff around the driving, to allow you to get in and not be distracted by all the other things because it is so easy that your mental capacity to be used up by worrying about the energy management, about the different software in the car, the things on the car, the different settings, fine-tuning them as the tyres warm up. Or as during the end of the race, you’re gaining energy through the regen on a slope. You know there are so many different aspects to executing a good Formula E qualifying lap and race. But it is more when you come to Formula E fresh, that’s the big challenge. When you jump back in a combustion engine car, you know I went straight to Le Mans after the Berlin race, you just find yourself driving around with nothing new to do. I find myself speaking on the radio saying what information do you (race engineer) need from me, and you drive for an hour without really talking much. You just drive. So it’s come into Formula E and it’s a big challenge.
Sirish Chandran: So Dilbagh one last question to you, what avenues are open for you to develop? This season, you spoke about a homologated powertrain, so I am assuming that you can’t (develop) on that. So what areas can you actually work on and develop to make your car faster and have you started working on the next season’s car? How much resource are you putting into the coming season and the next season?
Dilbagh Gill: There is a lot that we are planning to do in Season 8. A lot of it is around software controls and I think that’s becoming a real aspect. Over Season 7 itself, we improved the car by nearly 1 to 1.5 per cent in terms of efficiency and we see there is still a bit more coming in. Now we are starting to fine-tune the car and start setting it up through software interestingly for the qualifying and the races. Like how do we exit corners better, how do we ensure that the slipping of the tyres is managed because at the end of the day, the rear tyres on these cars get reasonably challenged depending on the circuit. So, in terms of thermal efficiency, and in driving efficiency, how can we improve? I think there are a lot of tricks which are coming up and I think the way we are doing with ZF and ourselves as we actually created a fork at Mahindra Racing where there is a group of people focusing on Season 8. That is mainly the control software guys but our technical team has already graduated to Gen 3 as we call it. They are pretty well advanced – like our designs have been done. Some components are already on the dyno right now because it’s less than six months when you’re going to have the car and start it to run. So certain components are already running on the dyno and that program is going on pretty intensely. It’s something that we are really excited about also because we have discovered a new product which is going to give us a reasonable amount of a jump looking into Gen 3. But at the same time also, there is a bit of a challenge over the two-year homologation side. We are literally up to cycles, like two-three years in advance because that’s when the car finishes the homologation cycle. So in terms of planning and some of the chips and stuff like that is quite challenging because that’s where the efficiency coming in from: the inverter and now from Silicon Carbide, there are new products that are coming out. As we know where the silicon industry is right now, that’s the longest lead item that we have in our list of materials. And it takes a year or so to get it.
Sirish Chandran: Thank you and all the best guys.
The 2022 Formula E season is scheduled to start on January 28 at Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. The season is scheduled to have 16 races on its calendar with the last race being on August 14 in Seoul, South Korea. Mahindra Racing has big aspirations for Season 8 and with the momentum on their side from Season 7, the Indian team might just bring themselves back to the top of the table. Now, all we can do is wait for the lights to go green in Diriyah.