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Mahindra's Magnified Struggles in the Gen3 Era of Formula E

Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Sean McKean

Credit - Mahindra Racing

The Gen3 era of Formula E has seen a number of teams get onto the front foot and lay down a strong marker for the rest to beat. Avalanche Andretti set the marker in the season opener, before their powertrain supplier Porsche bettered the American outfit’s performance in Jeddah. From then on, the balance of power has shifted towards the likes of Envision Racing and their powertrain suppliers Jaguar, who have traded race wins ever since. DS Penske have also put themselves towards the head of the field, with Jean Eric Vergne having won a race this season.

While the quintet have been consistently racking up wins and podiums, and sit towards the head of the standings, the story hasn’t been quite the similarity for the rest of the field. While the likes of McLaren, Nissan, and Maserati MSG have shown flashes of pace this season, more so during qualifying, they haven’t been able to convert the same into strong results regularly. The trio often battle the race-winning teams at times, but haven’t quite had the pace to convert strong starting positions into wins. Maserati won out in Jakarta, becoming the first new entrant of the season to win a race.

The NIO 333 outfit has regularly challenged the top teams in qualifying, with Dan Ticktum and Sergio Sette Camara making the duels stage of qualifying on occasions. Ticktum even achieved the highest starting position in the team’s history, when he made it to the semi- finals in Berlin.

However, while many teams are going places this season, Mahindra Racing have slumped towards the bottom of the Formula E standings. The team has scored only 33 points this season from 12 outings, and are ninth in the standings. To see a team go from taking pole position in the inaugural round of the season to the penultimate position in the standings, is definitely a shock, even in a widely unpredictable series such as Formula E.

An elated Mahindra team at Mexico; Image credits - Mahindra Racing

A look at their form guide this season exemplifies their struggles. Their new star- signing Lucas Di Grassi took pole position in the season opening Mexico City E Prix, the first race of a new era. It definitely spelled positivity for the Indian outfit, with Di Grassi finishing on the podium and collecting 18 points from the weekend. A strong start for the team and driver, nonetheless.

However, that was as far as it would get for the team. The following weekend of Formula E action saw both Di Grassi and Oliver Rowland make it into the duels in race one, starting in the top eight. However, neither were any match for the Porsche-powered cars behind, as Pascal Wehrlein and Jake Dennis made it into the top two for the second race in succession. Both drivers finished outside the points when the chequered flag fell. The following day proved to be even tougher for Mahindra, with neither driver making the duels, and starting outside the top 10. Rowland was involved in an incident with ABT Cupra’s Nico Mueller. He suffered a puncture, and had to retire from the race. Di Grassi struggled to 15th.

An important race for the team was their home race, the Hyderabad E Prix. For the first time in nine seasons, Mahindra had a home race to boast of, and it would be imperative to perform well in front of their home crowd. Yet, neither driver would make the duels, Rowland starting 11th and Di Grassi 19th for the race.

Rowland drove a composed race, keeping out of action on track. He was up in fourth at one point, before an attempted overtake on Sebastian Buemi saw him lose out to Antonio Felix Da Costa’s Porsche. He finished seventh on track, but was promoted to sixth after Buemi’s post-race penalty. Di Grassi was running in the points in the late stages, but lost out after running out of energy at the end of the race.

Points at their home race; Credits - Formula E

A rear suspension issue grounded all the Mahindra-powered cars for both qualifying and the race in Cape Town. The team managed to make it onto the track in Brazil, and finished the race in 13th and 15th, making it to the finish.

Rowland managed to obtain one point in the first race at Berlin, which proved to be their only point across the double-header that weekend. Rowland and Di Grassi qualified 13th and 20th respectively at Monaco. Rowland made up plenty of positions in the opening stages of the race, being up in fifth at one point, but a crash at the Nouvelle chicane hampered his progress. The resulting discomfort in his hand caused Rowland to retire from the race. Di Grassi made it up to a respectable 12th by the chequered flag.

The Jakarta E Prix saw the departure of Rowland, after one-and-a-half seasons with the team. The Englishman’s struggles to adapt to the new GEN3 machinery, and his Monaco crash prompting a hospital visit, were thought to be the reasons for his departure. His replacement for the season, Roberto Merhi, joined the team on the eve of the Jakarta E Prix weekend. Another scoreless weekend followed, while Merhi got up to speed in both races.

Lucas Di Grassi started the Portland E Prix a strong 12th on the grid, and managed to finish seventh by the flag, netting six valuable points for the team. This helped Mahindra leapfrog NIO 333 to ninth in the championship, and they would look to end the season on a strong note.

Reasons for Mahindra’s struggles in 2023

However, this season could still be counted as a struggle for the Indian manufacturer. A look at their record this season draws a similar pattern: a tough qualifying pushes the drivers into recovery mode, as they turn their attention to salvaging something from the race. With the cars remaining almost similar in terms of performance, the impetus is on the driver to make a difference and drive his team up the grid. And barring Mexico and Jeddah, neither driver has made it to the duels stage across the season, a worrying stat indeed.

In addition, this is also Lucas Di Grassi’s first season for the Indian marquee, the Brazilian moving from the erstwhile Rokit Venturi outfit to Mahindra for the new era. As is the case for any driver, it takes time to bed into the new surroundings and the handling of the new car for the season. This has been a common pattern for drivers across the grid.

The likes of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sebastian Buemi, and Antonio Felix Da Costa have been outperformed by their teammates all season, and part of this can be attributed to switching to a new team. Getting used to newer powertrains, driving styles, and the handling of a new car is a tough task, more so in a series such as Formula E, where the driver plays an ever-important role of outperforming machinery at his disposal.

Sweeping changes have also taken place in 2023. The new Gen3 Formula E car has shown its capability of reaching a stipulated speed of 200 mph (320 km/h) as opposed to 173 mph (280 kph) by its Gen2 predecessor. More electrical power is available at the driver’s disposal, with as much as 350 kW available in qualifying, and 300 in the race, up from 250 kW for the Gen2 era. These changes have altered the handling dynamics of the car, and drivers must adapt to the speedy acceleration and braking of the cars from higher speeds.

Da Costa is one of the drivers unable to match his teammate this season; Credits - Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A trend this season has seen more experienced drivers such as Di Grassi, Buemi, and Da Costa being outscored or outperformed by their younger teammates, who have shown their adaptability to the new Gen3 car and seized the advantage, heading the driver’s championship standings. Having driven over 100 races in the series, and five seasons of the Gen2 era, the characteristics of the Gen3 car would take some getting used to, and this has been the case for former champions in the series too.

Another major change for Season Nine saw Hankook become the official tyre supplier for Formula E, taking over from Michelin. 30% of the Hankook tyre is sourced from sustainable products such as resin and natural rubber.

This made it difficult for teams to understand how the tyres work on the racetrack, and the ideal temperature window to obtain optimum performance from the tyres. In addition, the stiffness levels vary within the tyre itself, and the tyre seemed to have been harder compared to the Michelin tyres. Di Grassi himself jokingly remarked that the tyres could last “12 races” on low-grip tracks such as Rome and Monaco.

This change, coupled with the new Gen3 machinery, threw an element of jeopardy and a steep learning curve for drivers and teams in equal measure. It was an element of the unknown, and teams had plenty of homework heading into the season. With the tyres even capable of dropping off in performance, it certainly ramped up the high level of unpredictability in the series. On some occasions, drivers could even experience tyre degradation over one lap in qualifying, as Oliver Rowland did in the season opener at Mexico.

The Hankook Tyre. Image credit - Formula E

The final factor pertaining to Mahindra’s struggles this season has been their inefficient powertrain. The essence of Formula E is on developing an efficient powertrain on the car, in order to maintain a strong pace, as well as consuming less energy compared to your rivals. Right from the first race weekend, the efficiency of the Porsche powertrain was on show, as Di Grassi couldn’t hold back a charging Dennis and Wehrlein.

As the season progressed, Mahindra lost out to their rivals Jaguar, Nissan, Maserati, and so on, who improved on this front. There were instances of the Mahindra drivers losing out right at the finish line, having run out of energy, or having to concede positions and save energy, to make it to the end of the race. This has been a major area of struggle for the Indian manufacturer, and one area they’ll be looking to get right next season.

All in all, it has certainly been a tough season for a team possessing a wealth of experience. Despite an equally experienced driver, a world champion of the series, Mahindra have found it difficult to score consistently. The team would definitely be looking to correct their mistakes heading into Season ten, and would bank on Di Grassi’s experience and knowledge of the new GEN3 car to take the team up the standings.


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