Mahindra Racing’s chief engineer Vinit Patel reflects on a double points finish in Long Beach and contemplates on the ill-timely appearance of the safety car.
After showing promising pace in practice at Long Beach, both drivers Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna finished in the top five getting Mahindra's fourth double point result in six races.
The Indian squad strengthens its hold at fifth in the standings with 61 points, 16 points behind DS Virgin, with four rounds to go.
In an exclusive debrief with Motorsport.com, Patel elaborates on the race weekend, how they came close to claim its second podium of the season and looks ahead to exploring unchartered waters in Paris ePrix.
What were your expectations heading into the race? Did you think double points were possible?
Vinit Patel: Yes. We obviously have had a lot of double point finishes and we came up with a strong one in Long Beach. I still think we’ve got more to come.
If it wasn’t for the safety car I have a very strong feeling that Nick would have been on the podium, which would have been fantastic. We were catching Daniel Abt over a second a lap until the safety car came out and he was within half a second.
Unfortunately, the safety car took away our advantage because of our strategy change but we were always confident of getting a strong finish at Long Beach and it came out.
Did you think the M2Electro had the pace to make into Super Pole in Long Beach? Or was it a case of track evolving and Heidfeld being lucky to be in the fourth qualifying group?
VP: I think there’s a few of those factors that played [a role]. Track evolution helps a lot, for sure. We had strong one-lap pace from earlier in FP2 session and Long Beach is a very difficult circuit because if you are within the right side of half a tenth, you jump three or four places and if you are on the wrong side of half a tenth, you’ll be back three or four places.
So, there’s an element of luck, there’s an element of track evolution. But at the same time Nick did a fantastic job and hooked the lap up when it was necessary to finish third in the general qualifying.
And I think by his own admission he made a mistake in the last corner of super pole. Otherwise, we would have been second or third in the Super Pole session as well.
What was the strategy going into the race?
VP: Strategically the race went according to plan. We were aiming with Nick to finish on the podium and Bruno was inside the top 10. So we were aiming for top six positions with Bruno.
From practice we knew we were quite strong on the energy conservation front. So, as you saw from our strategy we were able to maintain good pace in stint one whilst making stint two a lap shorter than everybody else which allowed us to push.
That was the plan from the beginning.
Senna has been struggling a tad bit in qualifying, especially in comparison to Heidfeld. What is the reason behind his lack of performance?
VP: Bruno’s always raced strongly throughout season one and season two. His energy efficiency is possibly the best on the grid.
We’ve always worked on Bruno’s qualifying performance and we’ve come up with a few solutions for him to be more comfortable with the one-lap pace.
Both he and Nick are trying them and I think what you saw in Long Beach was Bruno maximising some of those improvements we’ve tried to make. So, he’s always got the pace.
Closing the lap is probably the biggest issue he faces. But we’ve put changes in place to make him more confident with the car over one-lap for the qualifying session so we’ll see stronger performances going forward.
After six races, how does the pecking order look like?
VP: Lucas [di Grassi] and Abt are exceptionally strong. [Sebastien] Buemi and Renault have been strong throughout but unfortunately they’ve had a few issues, maybe few mistakes that have cost them good points, but it makes the championship very close.
I think it will be down to those two drivers to win the championship but it’s going to be a very exciting end to the season. Then behind those two, yes Dragon are very strong with Jerome [D'Ambrosio] and Loic [Duval] bringing in good performances.
But we’ve also got to remember Virgin. Sam Bird has been very strong in recent races. I think you'll see further strong performances from them going forward.
Mahindra are racing with Dragon and Virgin at the moment. Andretti and Robin Frijns is also giving some superb performances for season one technology.
So, there’s a good fight between ourselves, Virgin, Dragon and Andretti going forward for the rest of the year.
Can we expect something new from Mahindra in the remaining races? Or has the team shifted its entire focus towards season three?
VP: We have a high focus on season three for sure. But we are constantly involving in season two. The championship regulations prevent us from evolving the hardware but we are allowed to evolve our software.
We are continually refining various strategies to do with energy management. To do with how we can perform in the pit stops, how we can extract most power out of the car. And how we can extract most regenerative energy from the systems.
So, we are constantly evolving those systems. Every race weekend we have an evolution. In Long Beach it has culminated in a great result.
I think our benchmark needs to be to have those kind of double points finishes every race and then we’ve got a pretty good chance of challenging for fourth in the championship.
How are the preparations going on for the Paris ePrix?
VP: Our simulation begun on Monday. We try and do it as close to the race as possible so mind is fresh with the information for both the engineering teams and the drivers. So far, all we know it’s going to be a relatively challenging circuit.
Obviously the biggest thing we won’t know until we get there is how bumpy it is. Simulated tracks don’t give us that information because they can’t take the information while the roads are public highways. But for me that’s a great challenge.
It’s not a perfect engineering formula like Formula 1. There’s some imperfection which allows driver to show their skills and engineers to show their relative speed about adoption when they get to the event.
What do you expect? Who might be strong?
VP: I think you’ll see the usual higher quality drivers and teams who will be nearer the front of the pace from the beginning.
It comes down to preparation. I expect strong drivers will get strong result. I expect the usual suspects to perform strongly at the new track.
Interview by Darshan Chokhani