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Inside Mahindra's three-year plan to become a Formula E frontrunner again

Once a potent force in the all-electric Formula E series, Mahindra Racing has largely been reduced to a tailender in the Gen3 era. But with former FIA man Frederic Bertrand now at the helm, a three-year revival plan is in place to take the Indian manufacturer back to the sharp end of the grid.

Lucas di Grassi, Mahindra Racing

With five wins, 10 pole positions and 24 podium finishes, Mahindra Racing can claim to be one of the more successful teams in Formula E. Present since the championship's inception in 2014, it had time and again proved its credentials by taking the fight to some of the best in the business.

However, the Indian manufacturer has been on a downward trajectory over the last few years and the 2023 season has marked a new low for the team in the series. Scoring points in just four of the 12 races, Mahindra languishes ninth in the teams' championship and only overhauled FE’s perennial backmarker NIO 333 courtesy of Lucas di Grassi's run to seventh at Portland. Its customer team Abt Cupra brings up the rear, both teams having to miss the inaugural Cape Town round after rear suspension issues surfaced

Amid the turmoil, the team split with Oliver Rowland who only joined for the 2021-22 season. Series newcomer Roberto Merhi has yet to score since replacing the Briton, whose best result had been a sixth in Hyderabad. Di Grassi's pole position and third place in the Mexico season opener sits firmly as an outlier against the rest of Mahindra's season.

It’s a sharp contrast to the team’s peak in 2016-17 when it was on the podium at nearly every race, including a famous 1-3 result at Berlin in 2017 with Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld, or the start of the Gen2 era leading up the halfway stage of the 2018-19 championship with Jerome d'Ambrosio. To put its decline into context, Mahindra has racked up just a single Formula E victory in the past 53 months courtesy of Alex Lynn’s impressive drive in London in 2021 and has only occasionally troubled the podium finishers.

It is this drop in form that makes reviving Mahindra a huge challenge, but it’s a task its new CEO Frederic Bertrand is prepared for. Catapulted into the seat at the end of the Gen2 era following the team’s shock split with Dilbagh Gill, the FIA’s former director of Formula E has been working behind the scenes on an overhaul to get Mahindra fighting at the front on a consistent basis again.

Given his background and Mahindra’s previous success, one would expect his work to yield immediate dividends, especially now that Mahindra also has a home race in Hyderabad. But Bertrand wants to take a more methodical approach and gradually rebuild the team after years of underperformance.

“In a way, it's difficult because everybody is impatient and would like to see a result like this and I'm the first one who would love to,” Bertrand tells Autosport. “But motorsport is difficult and Formula E in particular.”

Lynn's Battersea victory in 2021 was the most recent for Mahindra in FE, as the team has endured a disappointing stretch of results

Lynn's Battersea victory in 2021 was the most recent for Mahindra in FE, as the team has endured a disappointing stretch of results

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

It may have been possible for Mahindra to bounce back quickly if its issues were merely restricted to an underdeveloped powertrain. But having now spent the best part of a year running the team, Bertrand has found that its problems run much deeper. A mentality change was needed to ensure its employees kept their faith in the team.

Asked if his role has proved to be tougher than he originally anticipated, Bertrand says: “Maybe a bit tougher, but not for the reason I was expecting. I was aware that the development was coming late into play. What has been tougher is making sure that everybody believes what we are doing is something which is long-term, which is structured, and is backed 100% by Mahindra.

“It means a lot of discussions internally in the team itself to convince everyone and make everyone back into the idea that we can be confident, we can trust what is going on and we can get into a positive mindset so we are pushing every time.

He adds: “Be very positive, constructive and then bring the fighting spirit into the team. And this idea that we can do it and we will do it. So that's the thing which was a big surprise, it was maybe that low, and it took a bit of additional time to put everyone back to this [positive] state of mind.”

"It's not because you put two very strong drivers in the car and it will happen. It's a global project where you need to make sure that it is not done not only in one shot but in a consistent way" Frederic Bertrand

Bertrand didn’t merely have to convince the employees working at Brackley to believe that the work they are putting in will deliver the desired results. He also visited the top brass at Mahindra in India to explain why success in Formula E doesn’t come easily.

“The second part in the understanding of Mahindra is to make sure people understand that to compete at the level Formula E is right now, it's not something that can happen because you just say 'I decide and it will happen',” he explains.

“It's not because you put two very strong drivers in the car and it will happen. It's a global project where you need to make sure that it is not done not only in one shot but in a consistent way so that's why we try to build the plan in three years more or less.”

Long-term plans often tend to pay off in motorsport and Bertrand has spent a lot of effort devising a three-year roadmap to bring Mahindra back to its glory days. Apart from the change in mindset, Bertrand is also working on structural changes.

Bertrand has set a three-year plan in motion and urges patience as Mahindra recovers lost ground

Bertrand has set a three-year plan in motion and urges patience as Mahindra recovers lost ground

Photo by: Spacesuit Media / Lou Johnson

“The second weakness is probably the structure itself, the team has been developed as a team and not enough as a manufacturer,” he explains. “Because of that, you end up being quite competitive on track for many years, being able to win races, but the most difficult part has been to be consistent.

“So sometimes you have started the season well and then slowly in the season [the performance is] decreasing because the support behind was not there. It's permanent development, permanent push on the ideas [that is required]. Preparing the future was not anticipated enough.”

So how will this three-year plan play out?

“[Season] nine being the year we try to recover and bring back the car at the level it should be,” he replies. “10 will be the year where we consolidate all that we learned, all that we changed into something which is in a more consistent approach and better structure. Then 11/12 will be the year where we want to deliver, probably with some changes technically, with some reorganisation which has happened in season 10 - and consolidated we should get the outcome of all this work.

“When you look at the way the championship is done, step one will be to regularly go through the group to the duel and to be able to be regularly in the top eight positions. And from there be able to finish more regularly in the points, slowly. Probably [season] 10 and 11 start to be closer to podiums.

“But 11, 12 we definitely need to consistently be around that area. That's what we target.”

To execute the three-year plan, Bertrand is tapping into the financial and technical resources of parent company Mahindra Group, which has recently moved its racing team from its corporate communication department to its auto division.

He also believes with the right ingredients in place, there is nothing stopping Mahindra from becoming a team that can target race wins and even the championship in the long term.

Structural changes to Mahindra are in Bertrand's sights as he seeks to get the team back to the sharp end

Structural changes to Mahindra are in Bertrand's sights as he seeks to get the team back to the sharp end

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

“On the strengths, I think the first one is having Mahindra because people underestimate the group,” he says. “It's huge and in the group, you now have some very strong expertise in EV cars. You have a strong enthusiasm behind the project and it's now even getting stronger because the project is moving into the auto business.

“The second strength that I like is that it's a project where we can do everything now. Everything is possible, no one is expecting us so much and I tend to like that. We are making things in the right order, that for me is the biggest strength at the moment, cumulated with the enthusiasm and the level of understanding of the Mahindra Group of what can be the outcome of such a project.

“Now we need to make sure that we succeed.”

Only time will tell if Bertrand’s transition plan will be successful or not. But a potential resurgence of Mahindra can only be good for a championship that is trying to go back to its old glory days itself.

Mahindra leading the pack has been a preciously rare sight in the Gen3 era since Di Grassi's Mexico exploits, but Bertrand is confident of its prospects

Mahindra leading the pack has been a preciously rare sight in the Gen3 era since Di Grassi's Mexico exploits, but Bertrand is confident of its prospects

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

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