“This is the sixth time we’re making a Formula E car, so we’ve learnt a fair bit”
Dilbagh Gill, Team Principal, Mahindra Racing, along with Mahindra Racing drivers Alexander Sims and Alex Lynn addressed the automotive media about the changes and preparations in store for the upcoming Formula E season. Here’s what we learnt
On the team’s target for season 7
Dilbagh Gill (DG) – In terms of targets, we would like to get back to where we used to be in seasons 3, 4 and 5; consistently being on the podium. I believe we have to capability to get back to that level. So for me, not being among the top three teams by the end of this year would be a disappointment, considering the amount of work that has gone in.
On why the team didn’t retain its drivers
DG – First and foremost, our drivers aren’t new to Formula E. [Alexander] Simms has done two years with , and [Alex] Lynn has done one full season with Virgin racing, before moving to Jaguar, and was a part of our team for the race in Berlin. What is interesting is that we have two drivers that have raced with other teams in the championship, so there are new ideas coming to us; otherwise we were very insular in terms of talent. In terms of powertrain, ZF has been in Formula E. They were a supplier for Venturi for the last few years and have won a few pole positions. And then, when you just look at the powertrain, and compare it to what we have seen last year, there’s a significant improvement. Also, they’ve really gone all-out and done some great work on the gearbox. For example, and we all know in Formula E, that is the least efficient part, as it is still a mechanical part in a largely electronic product, which is inherently more efficient. Overall, this is our seventh year, and the sixth time we’re making a car, so we have also learnt a fair bit.
On the changes in the new powertrain
DG – In terms of the powertrain, it’s the motor, the inverter, the gearbox. Those are the three main components. With the ZF motor, we’ve gone for an interesting thing; we’ve lowered the rpm from 26,000 to about 18,000. But it now has a lot more torque. What we also realised over the last year was we weren’t the strongest at the lowest speeds, and that was where we got caught out in Season 6 in terms of ‘efficiency’ and race pace. In Qualifying, we were no doubt among the best, irrespective of the track or the driver. After introspection, we have lowered outright speed, from 120 to 116kmph, to get more efficiency out. The inverter, too, had us doing some interesting work with ABB, who have developed some bespoke power modules for us, which usually takes the longest to acquire. A silicon-carbide one, for instance, takes about 18-24 months to order one, while we got ours in about eight weeks, courtesy a prototype lab in Zurich. Lastly, everyone who knows ZF also knows their sister brand Sachs. We got a complete suspension package from them in terms of the dampers, and this will be the first season we’ll be entering with two different types of dampers: the regular ones, and lightweight non-adjustable ones for the circuits like Mexico where we don’t want to change the settings. These ones also reduce 3kg of weight from the car. So we’ve looked at every nut and bolt, and in terms of suspension even used exotic materials, like titanium, all to reduce weight.
On strategies to maintain momentum during the championship
DG – Earlier we were spread between Barcelona and Banbury, so we brought the whole team to one location to ease communication. Secondly, we have hired more people, so the team has grown considerably. Lastly we did quite a bit more with regards to software simulations, especially during the pandemic time. So we actually did quite well in the second half of the sixth season; we weren’t that strong in the first five races, but post Berlin, we started to see some improvement. So largely it is the knowledge we have grown in-house, the increase in data capacity and the tools we have invested in, for instance we now have multiple simulators, which has no doubt added to our bandwidth. Simultaneously, the input we have got from Alexander, Alex, and other colleagues have helped immensely.
On whether Formula E is more a scientific effort than an overall motorsport championship
Alex Lynn (AL) – Personally, i feel it has two responsibilities: developing sustainable cars, and then developing the powertrains that go with that. But it still must show off the sustainable or electric motorsport is cool. And I believe it does both quite well.
On concerns of the championship's possible pollution-related implications
Alexander Simms (AS) – To spread a positive message, we need to first go out there and do something. Formula E represents a global movement towards electrification in the global automotive industry as a fun way to raise awareness. I think the championship and everybody involved are trying to have as positive an impact as possible whilst competing. It’s a process of change that takes time and incremental improvements in both the technology involved, as well as the message conveyed.
On possible parallels with Formula 1, which itself is moving towards eco-friendly alternatives
DG – I see it more as an ‘and’ than an ‘or.’ Both F1 and Formula E are equally relevant, and we have to remember that both are sport. There are also other factors to consider, such as the entertainment to the audience, and overall we stay hopeful. Of course we don’t see them merging in the future, but they both have a separate identity, and that is an important thing to consider. That said, synthetic fuels, which we might see on the road cars of the future, are of course an interesting prospect.
On the performance gained by the M7 Electro over the M6 Electro
AL – There have been substantial gains. It’s a lot more energy-efficient, no doubt faster, it has more torque. But in terms of on=paper gains, we will only be able to see that post the first race at Santiago.
On the importance of starting the season with the new powertrain
DG – It was really important for us, as we didn’t have a good enough powertrain at the ed of last year. Also, our supply chain has improved tremendously, working through the pandemic and coming up with a product. Similarly, our colleagues in India as well as Germany have worked very hard on it. Hence, it would be irresponsible for us if we didn’t convert it to a racecar and get it homologated.
On what to expect for the first night race in Formula E
DG – We’re not really too sure of how the calendar may pan out. At the moment, Formula E is doing a 90-day or three month cycle for all announcements. Personally, I’m more excited about the indoor/outdoor race (London) which was originally planned for the 2020 season.
On the importance of the new powertrain that will last two season, and whether Mahindra Racing expects other teams to follow the same strategy
DG – This decision was reached after an intensive evaluation, regarding what would happen if we delayed homologation for a certain number of weeks or what can come out of the car. Ultimately we decided this was the right way to go. So, while the components are homologated for a two-year cycle, the regulations allow us to refresh the parts in the mean while. So we’ll not actually be racing the components over the two-year period, which is unfortunate as most of our product was designed with a certain amount of mileage in mind. Going forward though, in seasons 9 or 10, the components will have to last over the entire period. Besides, the pace at which the software design goes, it won’t be out of place to see the software running the entire duration without any issues. Besides, this has been a strategy for quite a few teams which have used and even won using the same powertrain for more than a season.