What could have been: Mahindra's search for a champion substitute

When injury ruled Nick Heidfeld out of the 2015 Punta del Este E-Prix in Uruguay, one week before Christmas, Mahindra boss Dilbagh Gill sought to replace him with a promising up-and-comer who had won a title that year. That gave him with four primary candidates, and an improbable introduction to the team's new 2021-22 signing

What could have been: Mahindra's search for a champion substitute

The roll call of junior single-seater champions was in rude health come the winter of 2015. Stoffel Vandoorne waltzed to an emphatic GP2 Series title, Esteban Ocon was top of the GP3 tree, Felix Rosenqvist added Macau Grand Prix success to his European Formula 3 crown and Oliver Rowland snared the Formula Renault 3.5 spoils.

All four were on Mahindra Racing boss Dilbagh Gill’s shortlist when he wanted a headline-grabbing cameo to replace his injured Formula E driver Nick Heidfeld in Punta del Este in December. The German was recovering form minor ligament surgery in his left wrist, the consequence of the steering wheel snapping out of his hand in the Putrajaya E-Prix.

“It was quite interesting because we knew there would be at least one race to give to a driver while Nick recovered,” recalls Gill. “I thought we should go and reward a champion.”

Vandoorne’s electric debut would have to wait until 2018-19 with HWA, as he was busy collecting his third RACB Belgian Driver of the Year Award. Meanwhile Rosenqvist - who Gill later signed for the 2016-17 season to partner Heidfeld - slipped down the order when his response to the phone call, says Gill, was ‘What is Formula E?’.

As for Ocon, Gill continues: “I did speak to Fred Vasseur [his ART Grand Prix co-founding boss], I remember, to get in touch. He was interested but wasn’t available.”

That left Rowland, who offered Gill a pleasing “emotional connect” in that the Brit was a driver coach for current Formula 2 race-winner Jehan Daruvala.

Rowland got the nod when Vandoorne and Ocon were unavailable

Rowland got the nod when Vandoorne and Ocon were unavailable

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Gill adds: “I said, ‘OK, Oliver, you’re doing nothing all Christmas. Come over to Punta’ and he jumped in the car. This was the middle of December. All the championships were over, it was good to move for someone who had a won a championship for a one-off drive.”

Rowland hot-footed it over to the Mahindra simulator and turned up in Uruguay, qualified 16th before climbing three places at the flag. Team-mate Bruno Senna meanwhile retired with damage.

Rowland would gain a Formula E TV pundit gig off the back of his one-off outing before turning his hand to GP2 for MP Motorsport in 2016. He finished ninth that year, improving to third in 2017 with DAMS as the closest challenger to champion Charles Leclerc for much of the year.

He and Gill kept in touch, exchanging pleasantries over text, before Rowland made his eventual full-time Formula E switch in 2018-19 with Nissan e.dams. That ongoing healthy rapport has paved the way for a move to Mahindra, fully reuniting with Gill for the 2022 campaign, in place of London E-Prix winner Alex Lynn.

But perhaps in their no-love-lost rivalry, Ocon might just have pipped Pierre Gasly to a first Formula E substitute appearance prior to the AlphaTauri winner turning up at New York in 2017 to fill in for a fixture-tied Sebastien Buemi.

Mahindra driver Alexander Sims leads Nissan e.dams' Oliver Rowland in Berlin. The two will be team-mates next year

Mahindra driver Alexander Sims leads Nissan e.dams' Oliver Rowland in Berlin. The two will be team-mates next year

Photo by: Motorsport Images

shares
comments

Related video

Ticktum looking to IndyCar, DTM and Formula E for 2022
Previous article

Ticktum looking to IndyCar, DTM and Formula E for 2022

Next article

DTM would be di Grassi's "first choice" if he exits Formula E

DTM would be di Grassi's "first choice" if he exits Formula E
How Jaguar got its teeth into Formula E's Gen3 development race Plus

How Jaguar got its teeth into Formula E's Gen3 development race

With Mercedes gone and DS moving teams, Jaguar has a big opportunity at the start of Formula E's Gen3 era. The technical challenges in understanding the new car have been vast, with senior figures James Barclay and Phil Charles outlining to Autosport the pitfalls along the way

Formula E
Dec 1, 2022
The top 10 Formula E drivers of 2021-22 Plus

The top 10 Formula E drivers of 2021-22

After a wild 2020-21 season, this year's Formula E campaign had a much stronger narrative to it, but ended with the same result as a driver from the Silver Arrows squad triumphed. Here's our guide to those who shone brightest during the campaign

Formula E
Oct 1, 2022
The trait Vandoorne rediscovered to claim Formula E's era-ending title Plus

The trait Vandoorne rediscovered to claim Formula E's era-ending title

After Nyck de Vries was crowned Formula E champion in 2021, his Mercedes team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne stepped forward this season as the Gen2 era and his team bowed out. As he did on the way to the GP2 crown in 2015, the Belgian achieved a peerless level of consistency and was only outside the points once, with his sole win in Monaco sufficient to head off a chasing pack headed by Mitch Evans

Formula E
Sep 19, 2022
Why Bird can bounce back after a tough 2021-22 Formula E season Plus

Why Bird can bounce back after a tough 2021-22 Formula E season

With his winning streak coming to an end this season, the 2021-22 Formula E season was tumultuous for Sam Bird, failing to gather momentum as Jaguar generally struggled. But the long-term favourite looks forward to bouncing back next season as the championship enters its new era

Formula E
Aug 30, 2022
What Formula E needs next after saying goodbye to Gen2 Plus

What Formula E needs next after saying goodbye to Gen2

The 2021-2022 Formula E season finale brought the curtain down on the Gen2 era of the all-electric world championship. It elevated FE to new heights, fulfilling its intended directive. While it is a good launching pad for the impending Gen3 cycle, there are certain aspects the series must tackle for the new era to have the same impact as its predecessor

Formula E
Aug 16, 2022
The traits behind Vandoorne's triumphant Formula E title charge Plus

The traits behind Vandoorne's triumphant Formula E title charge

The odds were heavily stacked in Stoffel Vandoorne’s favour to capture the Formula E crown at the Seoul finale, but chief rival Mitch Evans applied maximum pressure with victory in the first race. It meant Vandoorne had to show his resolve to reproduce the key qualities he held all season to complete his march to the title

Formula E
Aug 15, 2022
Can anyone beat Stoffel Vandoorne to the Formula E title? Plus

Can anyone beat Stoffel Vandoorne to the Formula E title?

Stoffel Vandoorne is on the brink of the Formula E title with a commanding lead ahead of the Seoul finale, but both rivals and unknowns still stand in his way. Here’s a run through of what Vandoorne must overcome to clinch the championship and how his competition will look to pull off the biggest of shocks

Formula E
Aug 10, 2022
How Formula E's most underrated driver is taming his Dragon Plus

How Formula E's most underrated driver is taming his Dragon

It might not look like the most glittering of Formula E campaigns, but Dragon Penske’s youngster has caught the eye of those who count despite his future remaining unclear. Regardless of the distortion, Sergio Sette Camara has a clear vision of what he’s focused on and how to get there

Formula E
Aug 4, 2022