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Dilbagh Gill: “The team is a happy place today”

Mahindra Racing became the talk of the town in Season 3, and the team has started Season 4 with strong pace and clear aims. We caught up with Team Principal Dilbagh Gill to review the journey the team has had and what he expects from this hard-fought season.

For the Formula E devotee who has been following the series from day one – or at least, from Season 1 – Mahindra Racing’s Season 3 campaign does not come as a surprise but rather as the well-deserved result of a long and tough journey in the fully-electric championship.

Things were not easy from the get-go for the Indian team. The Indian team had six point-scoring weekends in the first campaign, finishing the season 8th in the standings, with a total of 58 points.

Just as Season 2’s red lights went out, Nick Heidfeld put in a brilliant performance on the same streets of Beijing on which he had suffered a big crash the previous year, going on to clinch the team’s first ever podium in their Formula E history.

The team would not make it to the podium again until the first round of the London finale, but in a season that saw a major dominance from the likes of Renault and ABT, Mahindra did a tidy job, finishing 5th in the standings, scoring a total of 105 points.

For its Season 3 effort, Mahindra Racing retained Nick Heidfeld and brought in Felix Rosenqvist. Strong results did not take long to arrive, as the team left the first ever Formula E race to be held in Hong Kong with a podium finish for Heidfeld (P3) and the fastest lap record for Rosenqvist, in spite of his retirement from the race.

Fast forward nine months from the opener in Asia to the finale in Montreal, and Season 3 became a season of ‘first-times’ for the squad. First pole position, first win, and first time finishing the championship within the top 3. Team Principal Dilbagh Gill’s sums up the team’s journey:

“It’s easy to speak in hindsight now but I think we were confident [that] we’d have a good car”, comments Gill. “We knew we were going to make the full, new car in Season 3; we hired new people and, I think, from testing, we were confident we’d do well but yes, we exceeded our expectations”.

The name Felix Rosenqvist would have sounded familiar to passionate motorsports fans. The Swede is one of the most versatile drivers of his generation and has a CV that proves he can excel in formula, touring car, and sportscar racing. For a driver with such experience and versatility, his Marrakesh pole was rather expected; but for the team, it brought new sensations.

“I think the Marrakesh race where Felix was on pole, our first pole, was the biggest eye-opener for our team because he led the race for 27 laps and we realised, we did not know how to lead a race because we’ve always attacked from the back and come forward”.

June 10th 2017 is a date that will remain in the team’s history forever. At Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Rosenqvist took the squad’s maiden victory and teammate Heidfeld finished on the podium – the third consecutive podium for the German, and his fourth of the season. Gill’s face, where there is usually a expression of nervousness, happiness, or sometimes disappointment, was now full of joy. After 28 races, the team was on the top step of the podium.

The Heidfeld-Rosenqvist lineup became one of the most consistent ones in the series in terms of performance and results. “I think the best thing is that they work very well with each other. There’s no ego between both of them, both are helping move the team forward”.

“Nick is so much more experienced. In fact, when he was young, Felix had Nick’s photo on his wall”, Dilbagh explains with a smile that shows the trust he has in his drivers. “I think Nick is pushing to help the team grow, Felix is pushing to get the set-up, and both are really helping each other move forward. I think the team’s a happy place today”.

Mahindra Racing started Season 4 off on the right foot, as it took an early lead in the championship in Hong Kong. Heidfeld scored, for the third time in a row, a podium in the opening round. Rosenqvist inherited the R2 victory from a disqualified Daniel Abt.

“It’s better to be there [at the top of the standings] earlier than later”, conveys Gill honestly. The team maintained its lead after Marrakesh, a race that Rosenqvist won after a clean and outstanding overtaking move on Sébastien Buemi.

After Jean-Eric Vergne’s win in Santiago and Techeetah’s 1-2, the Chinese team is now on top of the Drivers’ Championships, with a small two-point advantage over Mahindra. However, in no way does this stop the team from being in a championship-fighting position.

“We would love to [fight for a title]! We have the opportunity with a driver like Felix and I think we will push as much as possible but this year, I think, one way it might be a bit helpful or in one way a bit challenging is there’s a lot more people who can win this year”.

Gill knows that more drivers have possibilities to win this season. “There are at least 6 teams who are very strong, I would say, who can win any day. If you look at the times of the races, it’s very close”.

“I think Audi has a very strong car. When they get everything together, their day is going to come”, Dilbagh reckons of his pitlane neighbours, who have struggled in the first four races.

“At every location we’ve gone to since Monaco last year, we’ve taken a podium and I think that’s very important for us, just to be consistent”,.he adds about the possibility of fighting for a championship. Despite not achieving a podium in Santiago, Rosenqvist went on to finish in P4, to keep Mahindra towards the top of the standings after Heidfeld’s unfortunate retirement.

There are eight rounds left in the championship, and in spite of it being too early to say who is going to win, the team looks to be one of the clear favourites. Consistency is key in motorsports and Dilbagh knows better than anyone the importance of having a consistent and clean performance throughout the season. “[It] doesn’t have to be a win every weekend, we can get a podium, we can bring points, just to keep adding to that is very important for us”.

Andrea Perilli

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