At Formula E’s most recent round in Rome, former Sauber, Ferrari and Williams Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa paid a visit to the electric championship.
The 11-time grand prix winner hinted that he would “perhaps” be racing in FE next season before touring the team garages and the grid ahead of the race, which was won by DS Virgin’s Sam Bird.
Massa stated his desire to move to FE before his F1 retirement was confirmed last year, but later explained he would only make the switch when felt he could be competitive.
Part of his thinking was that he needed to “find the right car and the right team” before committing to FE – and there is one squad that fits his aims perfectly: Mahindra Racing.
Of the nine manufacturer teams that took part in the recent Gen2 closed group tests, Audi, Nissan and BMW have their own factory drivers to call on – plus experienced incumbent FE racers.
Venturi and NIO, in its current guise, have yet to win a race and Penske (Dragon) has not taken a FE triumph since season two.
Massa had tested for Jaguar, but it already has a proven FE race winner in inaugural champion Nelson Piquet Jr – plus Mitch Evans, who has shown stunning pace this year and is currently leading the team’s charge to the podium.
Nick Heidfeld does not have a contract at Mahindra beyond the end of this campaign and the squad, which formally opened a new workshop in Banbury ahead of this weekend’s Paris ePrix, has won two races in the 2017/18 championship with Felix Rosenqvist.
In Rosenqvist, arguably FE’s fastest driver based on current form, Massa would have an exceptional benchmark to measure himself against. He would also join a team that has had just three regular drivers since the end of the opening season, which suggests he would be given time to settle in and get up to speed.
Until it was overhauled by DS Virgin in Rome, Mahindra was FE’s top manufacturer squad in the teams’ championship, and it has scored three wins and six poles in the last one-and-a-half seasons.
But while Mahindra makes sense on paper, its team boss Dilbagh Gill – understandably – insists any talk of Massa joining his team is premature.
“We haven’t considered drivers yet – our focus is still on what we have,” he tells Motorsport.com.
“[But] I am reasonably confident our seat is one of the wanted seats, so we should be able to get a good driver when are ready to look for a driver, if we need to look for a driver.”
“At this moment in time we haven’t made any decisions yet. Our focus is honestly for season four.”
Porsche and Mercedes, which powered Massa’s cars in the final 77 races of his F1 career, are joining FE for the 2019/20 season. But each has a host of factory drivers to call upon, especially after the conclusion of the former’s LMP1 programme and the latter will have its DTM racers eying an FE switch when it leaves the touring car series at the end of this year.
Mahindra – with or without Massa – is not being intimidated but FE’s major OEM influx.
“We’re looking forward to it,” says Gill. “I don’t want to use the word ‘underdog’ in the any way – we’ve been here, by the time we get to season five, for four years [and] there’s a certain amount of experience that you pick up.
“I think we have a product that is going to be pretty strong – so from that perspective I really feel that [we’d] love to have a go at anyone who comes into this championship.
“I never think that we’re behind – I don’t think we are, I think we are at the same level as everybody.”
Gill explains that the Banbury base is the latest step in Mahindra’s “catch up” programme to expand its FE facilities as it works on its M5 Electro season five car.
“We’re slowly starting to step up and our investment is largely going to be around software and simulation,” he says.
“I don’t think we’re really going to be investing a lot in hardware, in terms of rigs and dynos and stuff like that. We will be looking at external companies to help us on that.
“Between here and Barcelona [where its race team in based] now we have two sims and can have a little bit more work going on – on the energy side.”
Mahindra may not have the motorsport lineage of some of its manufacturer rivals, but as the FE silly season gets underway, its commitment and speed would make it the perfect home for Massa.
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