“We’re not a racing team. We are a technology company that just happens to race,” declares Dilbagh Gill.
With Mahindra Racing having finished the last three seasons of Formula E fifth, third and fourth respectively in the championships standings, Gill, who is the CEO and Team Principal, may be stretching it a tad bit.
But what Gill is referring to, is their relative experience in motorsports — Formula E is Mahindra’s first foray into international single-seater racing — when compared to the manufacturers they are brushing shoulders with, like BMW, Jaguar, Audi, Nissan, and Citroen.
“As one of the only teams without any previous racing experience in motorsport, we are the only disruptor in this series,” adds Gill.
A few days earlier, Formula E’s chief executive Alejandro Agag declared Season 5 of the race — which will see the faster Gen2 cars make their debut — as a ‘moment of truth’ for the racing championship.
The Gen2 cars have double the battery range, so drivers will no longer have to swap vehicles mid-way through the race when their machine ran out of battery. The season will also debut a new rule, called Attack Mode or Hyperboost, which lets cars take a slight detour than following the optimal racing line, in order to gain extra energy. What will make the season more exciting, is that teams will be made aware of the Hyperboost permutations only an hour before each race, which will make the teams strategy more interesting. From Mahindra Racing’s perspective, the team will have two new drivers behind the wheel in the form of Jerome d’Ambrosio and Pascal Wehrlein, who had a seat with Sauber until recently, and was one of the drivers touted to get Nico Rosberg’s seat alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes when the world champion retired.
Chairman of Mahindra Racing, Dr Pawan Goenka, didn’t shy away from saying that the team would be going into the new season with very high expectations. “It’s a new series. Almost,” Goenka says.
Gill, though, refused to consider Season 5 — which starts on Saturday with a race at Saudi Arabia’s Ad Diriyah — as Mahindra Racing’s ‘moment of truth’.
“For the past two years, whenever we have started the season, we would have liked to go for the title. We have reached a stage where we want to. We don’t hope to, we want to! It’s no more a hope. Season 3 was our breakout year,” he says.
“When we started, we said we’re allowed to make mistakes. Second year was to correct those. The journey in the first year was to figure out what was going on, just put the car on the track, and make sure it goes on. Second year we said let’s make sure both drivers finish among points. We were finishing in the bottom half: seventh or 10th with a few podiums in between. We wanted to get laps. We were the only team to get every lap in every race in Season 2.
“But by Season 3, our confidence went up considerably. Because it was a revolutionary car we designed. We had 10 podiums in that year. One of our drivers was on the podium at every race. The next year we evolved that car: from a revolution we went to having an evolution. We started strong out of the gates: first three races, we had two wins. But then disaster struck.”
Disaster is putting it mildly in racing context.
Gill elaborates. “Twice, our cars were leading the race. Comfortably. But then we ran out of battery and we had to stop on track!
“In Season 3, we learnt how to win races. By Season 4, we knew how to win races. But we didn’t reach the level of maturity to know how to clinch a championship. We were a sprinter, not a marathon runner. That’s something we have looked at for Season 5. Our focus in the upcoming season is on the whole championship, not race to race. Our formula to a certain extent is the same: one experienced racer (in Jerome) and one fast charger (in Wehrlein),” says Gill before adding, “We’ll go for the championship. It’ll take us a race or two to figure out where we stand at the moment. There are too many unknowns right now. The car is new, the racing format is new. But we’ll be a credible player this season.”
In their four seasons in the championship, Mahindra Racing have slowly accumulated 15 podiums and three wins from their 45 races. This year, there will be more, if d’Ambrosio is to be believed. Ask him what attracted him to Force India and he says, “I like what the team has done, after coming into this series with zero motorsport experience. They started from scratch, but to become the team that they are today is remarkable.
“We have all the ingredients to perform. It’s just a matter of how well you can put it all together.”
The team has already established itself as a contender finishing the last three seasons among the top 5 teams. Can they rack up wins with more frequency?
“The last bit is the most difficult to achieve. In terms of motorsport experience, we’re fighting with monsters!” says d’Ambrosio.
If they do match wits with ‘monsters’ this season, maybe Gill can stop introducing the team as a ‘technology company that just happens to race’.
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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2018 21:46:06 IST