Written by Vyas Ponnuri
A blockbuster announcement has seen two familiar faces move to the Indian-origin, Banbury-based constructor for 2024. Yes, Nyck de Vries and Edoardo Mortara have opted to sign multi-year deals with Mahindra Racing, commencing from 2024.
The announcement came just a day after stalwart Lucas Di Grassi opted to leave the Indian outfit, after a tough 2023 season, one that saw the Brazilian score only 32 points across the season. Despite a pole position and podium finish in the season opener at Mexico, the thirty nine year-old could manage only a further 14 points in the rest of the season, his next best finishes being sixth at London and seventh at Portland.
The team had to deal with the sudden departure of Oliver Rowland after the Monaco E Prix, the Briton having broken an arm following a crash during the race. He was replaced by the team's reserve Roberto Merhi, who failed to score during the final seven rounds of the season.
In addition, the team couldn't introduce young reserve driver Jehan Daruvala into the series due to his Formula 2 commitments in the year.
Throughout the season, the Mahindra powertrain failed to match the efficiency of their fellow powertrain manufacturers Porsche, Jaguar, Penske, Nissan, or NIO 333, consistently finding themselves towards the rear of the grid, and eliminated in the group stage of qualifying. Teams powered by Mahindra found themselves towards the rear of the grid in 2023, the works Mahindra team finishing tenth, and the returning ABT Cupra finishing dead last.
Despite a tough 2023, what has induced two big names to sign the dotted line, and believe in the project?
de Vries and Mortara are two racers possessing plenty of experience in the series, and looking for redemption, after a rough 2023 for both racers. De Vries looked to have finally achieved a much-awaited dream of racing in Formula One. Sadly, that dream would not go as expected, as the Dutchman was axed after only 10 races at AlphaTauri.
On the other hand, Mortara endured a podium-less season for Maserati, his lowest points haul in a full season since the truncated 2019-20 season. The Swiss racer could only manage a best finish of fourth, in a chaotic Rome E Prix weekend, while his next best of fifth also came at a chaotic race one in London's season finale.
Mortara was comfortably outscored by new teammate Max Gunther, who stays on at Maserati for another year. Gunther took Maserati's first win in single seaters since way back, in 1957, and made three other appearances on the rostrum all season, as he went on to finish well inside the top ten.
With both drivers looking to redeem themselves, they will aim to push the Mahindra team up the standings, using their collective wealth of Formula E experience to take the Indian manufacturer back up the Formula E standings, and finish on the podium and win races regularly.
Both drivers have race-winning experience in the past, with de Vries a Formula E champion himself, back in 2021. Mortara has proven to be a solid force for Venturi in the past, and is no stranger to mounting a championship challenge, as he did back in 2022.
In addition, Mahindra themselves are looking to move up the ladder. Team principal Frederic Bertrand took over at the Banbury headquarters last season, and has been formulating plans, and making bigger statements in only a single year of taking over at the Indian manufacturer.
Bertrand is looking to expand the company's operations at Banbury, and hire more staff as part of his expansion plans. Bertrand has a three-year plan in the works to help transform Mahindra's Formula E fortunes, and has quickly realised problems run deeper in the team's structure, and the inefficient powertrain was just one teething issues requiring sorting.
The team's CEO also reiterated that success doesn't come easily in the series, and has demonstrated the same to the parent company back in India. The team will also tap into funding and technical know-how from the parent organisation at Mahindra, to grow and expand in the series.
Bertrand's three-year plan revolves around two fronts — The first involves Improving employee morale, and ensuring employees keep faith in the team, ensuring their hard work isn't going in vain. The mindset will play an important role, with greater employee morale going a long way towards success.
The second front involves the structural weakness present in the organisation, and Bertrand's focus is on developing for the future, and for permanent success, than to look for success now. He says they had grown as a team, and not as a manufacturer. The team hadn't anticipated the future, and permanently pushed on its ideas.
With part one of three completed, Bertrand has embarked on the next step — to bring two strong drivers into the team, capable of tapping into the resources and machinery possessed by the team. In season ten, the Mahindra Racing CEO says the team has to consolidate their learnings from season nine, and change their approach and build a more consistent structure. It will also involve competing for points more often, which graduates into regular podium-contention by seasons 11 and 12.
Getting back to the sharp end is no easy route, and Bertrand will bank on his, and Mahindra's experience to transform into a front-runner one day. It is no coincidence that de Vries, Mortara, and Mahindra are coming off struggles in 2023, and will be eyeing a much brighter future, even if it involves some challenges for the short term.
The Curious Case of Jehan Daruvala to Maserati
Daruvala was Mahindra Racing's reserve driver in 2023, and according to multiple sources, expected to step up to a race seat at the team for 2024. An Indian driver at an Indian team would've also made for a strong marketing prospect, along with a brilliant opportunity for Daruvala to showcase his skills. So, why has the Indian racer headed over to the Italian manufacturer for season ten?
According to the 24 year-old, moving to Maserati proved to be the best option for him, despite strong ties with Mahindra Racing. Maserati showcased a strong turn of pace in 2023, going on to even record a win at Jakarta, their first in over six decades. It also provides a strong base for Daruvala to learn the Formula E machine, and make use of the facilities and the car provided by the Trident in 2024.
Mahindra had experienced a tough season nine, finishing tenth out of 11 teams, and according to CEO Bertrand's three-year plan, looking towards signing two experienced names who could get the best out of a developing car, and provide valuable feedback and insights to the team. It wouldn't have been the ideal platform for a rookie to flourish, and Maserati would've proven a better option for the current MP Motorsport racer, in 2024.
The Indian racer was quoted saying:
"We got this opportunity from Maserati MSG Racing, and it was huge for me. They’re a huge brand. There’s a lot of heritage and I can’t wait to represent the Trident and put my best efforts on the track,”
Daruvala also possesses valuable experience of testing a Gen3 Formula E car, and said he "got used to the car pretty quickly" something that caught the eye of team principal James Rossiter:
"He definitely caught my attention in the morning of the rookie test where he was the third fastest in a Mahindra, which I don’t think was the most competitive car last season. He ended up seventh overall in that rookie test and that was a very clear indication to me that he has the right skill set to succeed in Formula E" as quoted by Rossiter.
While the Indian racer currently sits 12th in Formula 2 in 2023, he has shown plenty of talent throughout his motorsport career, and his adaptability adds to, in the words of team principal Rossiter, "The right skill set to succeed in Formula E". Daruvala has also been putting in simulator work at the team's base in Monaco, and will be looking to showcase this skill set come season ten.
This move would certainly be a win-win for both parties, and both drivers and teams get their desired result, and will be looking forward to season ten, looking to improve on their showings from the inaugural season of the Gen3 era.