Green Signal for Formula E


Green Signal for Formula E

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

Earlier this month, the Indian team at the Berlin ePrix exceeded all expectations when, on Day One, their drivers placed first and third on the podium. Actress and automobile junkie, Gul Panag, who has followed Team Mahindra’s journey closely, caught up with Arré about their accomplishments, Formula E, and the future of electric mobility.

So why Formula E of all sports?
Well, I’m a Delhi girl, which means I’m constantly aware of how emissions in the city are killing us. You have got to make a start somewhere, no matter how small a start it is.  So in 2015, I bought the Mahindra e2o. That year was also the first season of Formula E, and obviously being a racing enthusiast I was very excited. I was delighted that there was a race because motorsport in electric mobility means that this technology will come to my car quicker.

In the past few years, I’ve become a permanent fixture at the garage of the Mahindra team, somewhat like an unofficial mascot. There’s the brown Mahindra bear and then there’s me, cheering louder than anyone else.  

So give us a peek into your Berlin Diaries…
Berlin is a city I enjoy every bit of. The Tempelhof airport, the venue of the ePrix, was constructed in the 1920s. Back then it was considered to be way ahead of its time, and was actually operational until 2008. The massive hangars allow you to board during rain, hail, or snow. Today, it is a cultural centre and home to refugees who reside in its long-abandoned buildings.

The practice sessions are the only time the competitors have access to 200 kW of power, while in the actual race you only have 170 kW of power at your disposal. This is because the track is a pop-up, so it doesn’t have the run-off areas like a conventional racetrack.

Since this is a street race, the track is narrower, making the scope for overtaking less. Hence, it takes tremendous genius to take over the cars that are ahead of you. It’s unlikely those positions will change, unless there’s a crash, and a safety car comes in and slows the whole race down. So in the end, it’s actually the five fastest drivers competing for the pole position.

In my opinion, there are two ways one can truly enjoy the race. You could sit at the lounge and sip champagne, watching the race play out on a screen, or you could be down where all the action is, with the team.

Give us one memory from your time at Formula E.
After the first race, when both the Mahindra drivers came first and third, the national anthem played (although far from a perfect rendition). It was a very emotional and poignant moment for me, seeing the jubilation of the team in the garage was unbelievable. To have two of your drivers stand at the podium is usually something experienced by big teams like Renault and Audi. It was incredible. 

What is the atmosphere like at the pit?
Each garage opens into the pit lane, where there’s a barricade that divides the lane from the rest of the circle. During the race, the pit is a very charged environment. There’s an FIA martial outside every garage who ensures that no unauthorised personnel approaches the space. Even the team manager cannot enter the garage during this period. It’s interesting to observe how one minute it’s a high stress, formal atmosphere, and then as soon as the race ends, it transforms into a very relaxed space.  

What advantages does Mahindra have over the other teams?
The two other teams which are ahead of it are giants, and Mahindra which came out of nowhere is now at number 3. Which is a reminder that you can have a great car, you could have excellent drivers, and you can have a great mechanical engineering team. But ultimately, it all needs to come together cohesively to give a great result.

In Formula E, the cars are pretty standard. In Season 1 they all had the same car. But in Season 2 and 3, certain modifications were allowed.

What makes the Mahindra team most remarkable is the passion with which they operate. They don’t have the kind of funding that other big companies do. They’re also just a happy bunch of people! They have great leadership in the team principal, Dilbagh Gill.

Sometimes I pause and wonder, what reasons these guys could possibly have for working as hard as they do. There are none. What drives them is an immense passion for the job, and an inherent desire to win.

So, where can we catch all the action of the Berlin ePrix?
Well, you can watch the full video on Arré, tomorrow.