“We want to get back to the top half of the championship.”- says Dilbagh Gill ahead of 2022 Formula E season
Mahindra Racing ended the 2021 Formula E season in P9 in the Championship table, with 132 points and an epic victory in London. As we come closer to the 2022 Formula E season starting at Diriyah, we sit down with Dilbagh Gill to see how Team India is prepping up for the season ahead, the story behind their all-new livery, their internship program and lots more! Here’s how the conversation went:
Sirish Chandran: What is your aim for the season?
Dilbagh Singh: Sirish, I think in motorsport we all love to have big and bold aims. I think for us, to be honest, we want to get back to the top half of the championship, where we used to be. Now we have dropped below the top half. So our goal is to get back up there and how do we get there as a team and be consistent. We have the car, we have the equipment. We just have to bring both the cars into the points. The moment both of our cars are in the points, we should be up there. So it's not that we're missing something huge. It's largely been consistent for the last year.
SC: So, any targets for points, for championships, for a position?
DG: For me, the aim is to bring both cars to the points. One, essentially the first top five, the second can be the top 10. But now I think that the season's going to be a bit different as this season, the qualifying format is changing. Now, the better qualifiers are going to be upfront and that's going to make a bit of a difference. I think that, to a small extent, is in our favour because we have a pretty strong quantifying record. Our qualifying record has been better than our racing record, and the fact that Oliver Roland has joined us, who is one of the best qualifiers in Formula E. And if we give him the car that can reach the front, we will not drop as back as what we dropped earlier because we have improved a lot in the car. So I'm cautiously optimistic. Moreover, now the team is fully integrated. There are no more excuses for that transition from Spain to the UK. That's all done now.
SC: Talk to me about your drivers. You have a new driver on the team. Do you have a designated lead driver while the other plays a support role? How does it work?
DG: No, not in Formula E. Both of them are obviously like teammates, team members and given the same amount of equipment, same amount of opportunity. This is because, in this championship, it's such a volatile race. You don't know, you can't put your bets. Like, you can't pace yourself out of the distance. You're in a street fight the whole time. So like, we don't know which guy at one of the times is going to be there and both are seasoned drivers. So, I think my perspective is that I like to push. If someone is not in championship standing, then we will look at it at the end of the year. But till then, no.
SC: You haven't had a consistent two-driver lineup where two drivers are continuing for the season after season. Any reason for that?
DG: We had it to a small extent. We had Nick and Felix over two years ago. It was supposed to continue a bit longer than that but Felix went across to IndyCar. Pascal and Jerome were supposed to be together for two to three years, but that broke up with the Porsche thing. So I think, yes. Well, one, the question is valid that continuity has not been there. I think right now we're looking at some amount of continuity because Sims is in the second year and while Oliver comes in from another team, he's been in a championship for three years. So we have both the drivers who have been race-winners in the championship earlier.
SC: When we spoke in the past, we talked about how driving in Formula E is a little different from other series in terms of battery management, energy management, and more. What are the key things that you look for when you number one, choose your drivers. And number two, when they test on the simulator, what is it that they work on?
DG: I think when we look for drivers, I would say that the basket we are looking from is pretty small. We're looking at the pinnacle of motorsport. We are already looking at the top 30 to 40 drivers in the world. Many of them are from Formula 1 or many have won races in other top categories of motorsport. So I think that the pool is quite small from which we make choices. People come in with a certain amount of experience. And in our championship, it is always with drivers who have driven at least to an F2 and F3 level at some point in time. Like it's someone jumping from go-karts into here. What we're doing right now in the simulator is quite an advanced program. The amount of automation, the number of other bits, which is coming in terms of information to the driver while he's driving is just amazing! For example, energy management. It gives us data on where he is on energy management, what he needs to do, the adjustments you can make on the car while he's driving his car, it's quite crazy. I think some of this is going to go down through the road car programs also, in terms of where your slip ratios, your slip control, lateral slip, all of that can be controlled from the car itself. So the driver's foot and the car's behaviour, there's a slight difference between that, and the electronics do help to cover that.
SC: And you don't have control electronics, right?
DG: No. Software is open in this championship. The only thing which is sort of controlled to a small extent is the battery management system, which comes in from Formula E. But other than that, the regulation is largely open. And that's one thing that is not homologated. So we have the ability to do software updates in between races. In Formula E, hardware is homologated and software is not. That's where we perform a lot of our testing.
SC: Okay. So road cars and motorsport. What are the synergies that are being worked on? And what do you hope to work on in the future within the larger Mahindra group?
DG: At this point in time, we're working on transferable technology and we're starting to work on full car integration. Meaning, we are trying to integrate the car with the high voltage system. We are trying to find out how the whole car integrates in terms of software control, steering inputs, and so on. And I think that's what we are going to start seeing in the next generation of electric cars coming from Mahindra. Around six to seven cars have been announced by Mahindra for the next couple of years. And the good part is, this time, we are getting involved at a very early stage. My team is involved with Mahindra North America, where we have the EV platform development going on, and the design studio that Pratap Bose is putting up is actually coming up on a new campus, which is like 200 yards away from the old campus you visited.
So basically, the Race to Road story is getting integrated within the same campus. So to a small extent, this is becoming like "an electric vehicle centre of excellence". We are starting to work a little bit with MRV. Well, not too much on the electric space as at this point of time, Mahindra Electric is largely focusing on the 'Last Mile mobility' project.
So my work is more with Pankaj Sonalkar and his team who are focusing on the cars and the platforms for the next generation. And yes, some work continues with Pininfarina as well.
SC: Let's talk about the car. So from the last season to this season, what has changed? What has been developed?
DG: So the car was a two-year-old homologated car. The hardware still remains the same. So a large part of the work that we did or was summer break is software simulation. Our problem from last year is that we are overheating our rear tyres. And that becomes a vicious circle. You heat it a little bit, it slips more and you heat it a little less, you get the gist. The two circuits where we were exceptionally bad were New York and Berlin. Berlin had this unique surface in which we were not able to get our tyres in the right operating window. We spent a lot of time working on tyre sense. We have quite a new guy who's joined us for tyre management. We have also tied up with some good consultancies and they clean and help us in the tire modelling. And I think going forward, we will be able to recover the tire a bit more now. So if it gets abused, we can sort of un-abuse it slightly, so that it doesn't go out of the window so quickly. And I think Oliver is really good at time management and Sims, who loves an oversteery car, will benefit from this. We have worked on other bits as well, like our energy management, how we distribute it in a race. We did a mock race in Valencia as a part of our testing program. It was quite successful for us.
One of the weaknesses was how much energy was used during an attack mode. Now, I think we are not going to be as weak as we were in attack mode earlier. The concept with energy distribution was slightly different and having an inefficient car was not helping us. Now, that's no longer a problem. So I'm cautiously optimistic this year that some of the big problems are behind us.
SC: Could you talk to us about the livery of the car?
DG: So this is just our way of paying homage or like a salute to some of the past histories. So three years ago, we did a credit to Martini and their liveries. Last year, it was a little bit of the Marlboro thing. We also know that Audi is stepping down from the championship and we thought of taking ownership of red. We never realised that two other of our current competitors have also painted their cars red. So we said, let's just go with a simple red and focus a little bit on the branding, the new Mahindra logo, the new Born EV logo, the twin peak logo, which is kind of for electric vehicles. So the old millennial logo is no longer on the car. But on the whole, it was pretty simple.
SC: Who designed the livery?
DG: We worked with a person in Lebanon. So it was someone I found on the internet last year. A young designer who did some stuff and just put stuff out on the internet. And so we spoke to him and sat down on a Saturday morning and by the evening we did that in six iterations. So it's someone who is actually from a small town and it shows that interesting talent comes from anywhere that you don't know where the next talent is coming from. Would I have thought that the car would be designed by someone from a small town in Lebanon? Never, but yeah, that's it. And it's someone who's really good at what he was doing and we will be trying to use his services moving forward. So we do these various competitions like the "Driven by Design" competition, etc. We have a lot more interest coming in from India. So I am hoping that at some point in time, maybe we can collaborate with an Indian designer for Liberty design.
SC: Talking about India, how much have you developed upon your internship program, giving opportunities to young Indian engineers at Mahindra Racing?
DG: That's going quite well, in fact, our next internship starts on January 4, soon after the break is over. And I think he's the first intern coming in from India. He's gonna be working more on the general design aspect. So it's basically more on the CAD/CAM side. So, the last guy worked on simulation and did a very good job in terms of what the ideal distance is for maximum efficiency when you are following another car. There were instances where we were saving at the right distance from the car ahead. And this was done by an intern who came in from Bangalore, who worked on it totally in terms of the slipstream ratios for this.
So the first is the careers thing that we blasted through a couple of our channels.
And immediately, after we had done our Insta chat, we got at least a hundred-odd applicants. Post that, it is a bit of luck of the draw. So right now we have another intern who is working with us. He's actually of Spanish descent, but interestingly, his father works in India. He was a Spanish guy in India. So he identifies himself as an Indian and at the same time, he's excellent, quite intriguing and he's really doing well. And the interesting thing is that he's not due as an intern. We gave him a six months internship, we extended it by four months, and now we have offered him a permanent job. He's an example of someone who has moved from an internship to a job.
For those who wish to apply can email at firstname.lastname@example.org
SC: Formula E unplugged, is that something that you are looking forward to?
DG: I saw a couple of episodes and tomorrow I'm planning to see maybe a few more on a plane ride because it will take me 10 hours to get into India tomorrow. I look forward to it. But, I'm not much of a television guy though.
SC: What are you doing towards increasing the viewership in India for Formula E? How do you build Mahindra Racing as a community?
DG: The first part of it, I think is what we're trying to do is to get it on a prime channel like Star Sports, etc. We want to make sure that all the races are telecasted live because live viewership of the championship has increased quite a bit. We also want to get some content before the race which will be unique for our fan base in India. That's what we are working on. And I think we are also going to put an outdoor campaign to let people be aware that this is happening and that would be aided with the Passioneer campaign. So we are also looking at public race viewing. Maybe we can push an idea to come race in India, provided we build the fan base. Last but not least, we are going to be engaging quite a bit on fan boost. We were going to link Fan Boost to some of our social causes so that people can see the benefit we are bringing to the planet and hopefully, this will add to the people feeling more involved in our cause. But the main thing is the consistency of telecasts which we have to get in India.
SC: With Mercedes, Audi, and BMW pulling out, does that affect the championship in any way? And does it also benefit you?
DG: It has definitely had an impact on the championship. But at the same time, I think in the long run, there are some new brands coming in. There should be a few announcements happening in the next few days and weeks, in terms of what's happening. I think from our perspective, we look at ourselves as a racing team rather than a manufacturer, because that's how we sort of operate more as a team. I think it's going to be pretty strong because we're still going to have some good racing. Moreover, now we might be going to get into a regime where we might have a customer team. As only six manufacturers are left, some of us might start supplying powertrains to other entrants and those are some conversations that we are in. And that's also quite interesting to have our technology picked up by some of our competitors. I think that's also pretty strong. This would also prove that some of our competitors believe in our product.
SC: Can you elaborate on the customer angle?
DG: Yeah, because see, like, there are 12 teams, right? Under six manufacturers, the other six are customer teams. The other teams will need a drivetrain, like how Virgin was running a powertrain from Audi or Venturi with Mercedes. So now some of those teams need suppliers and we are only like six left. So there are conversations happening where they will come to us and ask and they will be running Mahindra homologated engines. So essentially, there could be four cars running a Mahindra powertrain and that would mean that we would have a lot more data to work with and that would also be advantageous from an engineering perspective on how we build up with the extra information. So season eight, all of us are already homologated and our relationships have been fixed, but from season nine onwards, we will open up for potential relationships and that decision will have to be made by January 15.
SC: Would you like to talk about your extended relationships with your partner ZF and Shell?
DG: So ZF and Shell are two partnerships that will continue for years to come. So that's really cool because we're really working on some interesting stuff with Shell in terms of lubricants and greases, which are going to be used for road cars worldwide. Not only for Mahindra but also for the other manufacturers. ZF is very committed to powertrain development and that's been quite good. We are also looking at how some of the learnings from here can be used within the organisation and somewhere else. We are going to be on the cusp of announcing two more partnerships in the next month, before the first race. Both are not large engineering companies and are relatively new. Like now, we are starting to see the constraints being lifted in terms of partnership when compared to our season in 2021. And yeah, we are just waiting for evo India magazine to step up and start sponsoring us.
2022 Formula E will start on January 28 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. Stay tuned to evo India for more updates on Mahindra Racing and Formula E!