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Electric racing in India - Formula E’s Mahindra Racing team leads the way

While electric mobility is a global trend, it's interesting to hear how different countries are approaching this topic. Dilbagh Gill, Team Principal of Mahindra Racing, reveals how the insights gained from developing engines for Formula E are improving quality of life in India.

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Indian vehicle manufacturing giant Mahindra has been involved in Formula E from the outset, boasting an impressive stats sheet and wins in the last three seasons following its breakthrough victory at the Berlin E-Prix in 2017.

The company’s involvement in Formula E is not simply about ensuring that its racing cars outpace their rivals on the track, but also that it stays ahead of the game in developing electric vehicle (EV) technology to achieve the Indian government’s ‘2030 Vision’ to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Once Formula E came in, we really wanted to get into it because we wanted to start understanding the technology behind electric mobility.

Dilbagh Gill, Team Principal of Mahindra Racing

“So by the time we reach 2030 we will have already been developing engines 15 to 16 times. That’s really important in terms of how we transfer this technology back onto our roads.”

Battery-powered future
Gill believes that the combination of technological advances and government regulation will inevitably cause further expansion of the electric mobility market in the years ahead.

“The developments we have seen in the last couple of years in terms of energy density and charging times are starting to make e-mobility a genuine alternative. Cars can go longer, cars can go faster, and they’re charging more quickly. At the same time, the government is seeing that this is the direction we need to go in, and once you have regulation pushing with technology that’s the perfect storm in terms of expanding the market.”

For Gill, this trend is as much bottom-up as top-down. “A lot of the fears people had about electric mobility are starting to disappear. For today’s younger generation, their whole life revolves around a battery. From the moment they wake up, they know that the battery power on their mobile phone is going to run out at some point in the day. They know that batteries need to be charged. That’s going to extend to cars as well.”

Going the last mile
Technological advances and the increasing acceptance of electrical vehicles will bring a huge increase in quality of life in India, which has some of the most polluted cities in the world. “The government has started stepping in to ensure that the last mile is ‘electric’, so when big trucks and buses come to the outskirts of the city, the last part of the journey through the city has to be electric.”

“The other part of pollution that we don’t really take into account in a country like India is noise pollution,” he explains. “We have many old vehicles on our roads, such as old diesel buses. The moment that you start replacing them with electric, the quality of life will start to improve in our densely populated cities.”

Convening power
Gill’s route into motorsport was a circuitous one. Before joining Mahindra, he had spells the IT, media and entertainment industries. “I looked after sports investment and sponsorship across the Mahindra Group. I got into organising things, pulling people together, working on timelines and deadlines.” When Mahindra decided to enter Formula E, he pounced on the opportunity. “They were surprised because I had no background in motorsport, but I convinced them I could make things happen so they entrusted me to do it.”

We Indians, we’re nerds and geeks – we need to be there!

Dilbagh Gill, Team Principal of Mahindra Racing

He is quick to play down his involvement in the cut and thrust of racing. “At the end of the day, I’m not preparing or driving the car. I’m just trying to get a bunch of people together to work effectively. You need to find people who are smarter than you. Once you find them, delegate to them. As long as you can align people, as long as you can say this is where we need to get to, let them do it.”

Growing confidence
Although keen to ensure the team’s success by bringing in the best talent from across the globe, Gill emphasises the importance of keeping the culture and soul of the subcontinent. “India is about showing emotion, being passionate, and wearing our hearts on our sleeves. I think that comes out really strongly here.”

Indians have embraced Formula E, with the country becoming one of the fastest-growing markets over the last couple of years and one of the top 10 markets for Formula E viewers. As Gill explains, his countrymen are now changing the way they view motorsport. “A lot of people want to be a part of the sport now. I recently read that 20% of the Motorsport Engineering students at Oxford Brookes University in the UK are from India. We Indians, we’re nerds and geeks – we need to be there!”

The team’s success has also inspired a new belief in Indian racing fans. “It’s been hugely aspirational because we are now competing with products that are far superior to our road offering. That’s something that’s really helped us believe in ourselves. Mahindra’s motto is the word ‘Rise’. That’s something we embody. We are here to compete. We are here to do well. And we are here to rise.”

Formula E People

Every racing driver will tell you that it takes an entire team to make sure they and their car are ready to hit the track on race day. The same is true of Formula E. We take you behind the scenes to meet the engineers, mechanics, team managers, logistics coordinators, track engineers, PR managers – and many more – who make it possible to race in over ten city circuits each season.

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