Mahindra moving in the right direction?

Shocking, frustrating, disappointing, inadequate – there are too many words to mention when trying to describe Mahindra Racing’s inaugural season in the FIA Formula E Championship says Peter Santamaria-Woods.

Mahindra moving in the right direction?
Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing
Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing
Jacques Villeneuve, Venturi
Nicolas Prost, Renault e.Dams
Nick Heidfeld, Mahindra Racing
Bruno Senna, Mahindra Racing and Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt, ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport

The aim going into the first season will have been to win the title, but unfortunately, the Indian squad, slumped to a lowly eighth place in the teams’ championship. This was mainly due to going in the wrong direction with set-up early on, and not making the gains required to catch up.

Thankfully, this becomes irrelevant for season two as the cars are a completely different animal. Previous set-ups are no longer valid because teams are now able to pursue their own in-house innovations within the powertrain department (specifically the cooling system, e-motor, inverter and the gearbox), which changes the car drastically.

Team Aguri are the exception to this as they have chosen to stick with the McLaren powertrain used in the opening season.

A new start

A complete overhaul at Mahindra sees a change in the day-to-day management of the team, as well as the replacement of Karun Chandhok with Nick Heidfeld. While it is disappointing to see no Indian driver at Mahindra, it is an understandable decision.

In a similar approach to Sahara Force India in F1, the team need to go with the strongest drivers possible in order to triumph. Indian fans, of course, wish Chandhok the very best of luck in his future endeavours, but for Mahindra Racing, it is time to look forward, not back.

First pre-season test

The first two days of official pre-season testing was completed at Donington Park and fans of the Indian team should be encouraged by the results. The first day saw Senna & Heidfeld sixth and seventh respectively.

What was key about this result is that with a 3.104s gap between Salvador Duran in fifth and Senna, it was quite clear that Mahindra topped the timesheets for the cars looking solely at race pace.

On day two, Heidfeld was fourth & Senna sixth, although the lap times are skewed due to traffic experienced by both drivers.

A critical factor at this stage of the season is data. Teams need to do as many laps as possible in order to prove the robustness of their car and analyse data trends relating to a whole host of parameters such as optimal tyre temperature windows, suspension stiffness and how to maximise energy conservation but to name a few.

Over the two days, Mahindra managed 140 laps, a total that was only bettered by the current champions, Renault e.dams.

Testing conclusion

The main conclusion to come out of the two days at Donington is that results in season two will be track dependent, on a considerable scale.

One major difference in the season two cars is the number of gears that each team is carrying. The McLaren powertrain used in season one has five gears, however, teams have gone in different directions with their own innovations.

Mahindra have dropped to four gears as has Venturi, but other teams including NEXTEV TCR and DS Virgin Racing have gone with a direct drive solution, which is essentially a one gear configuration. There is an array of solutions up and down the grid, and most designs will have strong races.

The advantage of the direct drive solution is that no time is lost changing gear. A gear change takes approximately 0.05s, and in that time there is a lack of power being delivered to the car. Consider the amount of gear changes during a race and it can be concluded that the direct drive solution could save well over a second per lap.

On the other hand, the direct drive solution means that you have just one set level of acceleration whereas with a four or five gear solution, the ratios between each gear can be adjusted. This provides more scope to change the acceleration profile of the car, dependent on the characteristics of the track.

On a track with long straights like Puerto Madero, it is more desirable to hit terminal velocity earlier in order to carry the speed down the straight. However, on a twisty track such as Tempelhof Airport, top speed is not as important as downforce, so reaching terminal velocity early will not necessarily be the optimal solution.

The assortment of solutions that have been thought up by engineers is intriguing. It demonstrates just how challenging season two will be, but it is sure to make great viewing for the fans.

As things stand, Mahindra are due for a good season, and if they have lady luck on their side, it may well be the season they bring wins – and a title – to India.

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