There's the sound of rain falling gently from the heavens. Nothing more. Of course that hardly matters to the man strapped into the racecar that's making its way around a very wet Donington Park Circuit for the first shakedown of the Formula E car that has been delivered to Mahindra Racing. Although he admits to us that the fact that the cars are so silent, with Formula E Holdings having abandoned the idea of adding an artificially enhanced sound to the racecars, does increase the challenge of driving it around. The auditory factor, which racers do rely on to a certain extent, is now eliminated. And for the fans, you really can't hear Karun Chandhok coming around a corner in this case. You just have to wait till you see the black and red blur of the car that they call Nitro whiz past you. Welcome to the wonderful world of electric car racing. It's awfully quiet here.
Electric cars are currently perceived as rather misshapen and slow machines. It's that very perception that Mahindra wants to change
Mahindra Racing's announcement of their decision to field a Formula E team, in the inaugural championship, seemed to be a fairly logical step. After all, they do own the country's only electric car company, Mahindra Reva. And while electric cars are currently perceived as rather misshapen and slow machines, it's that very perception that Mahindra wants to change. How do they do that? Enter some sleek racing machines with speed on their side in the first ever Formula E championship. While the first year of the championship is essentially a single-make series with the cars being provided to the race teams - the electric powertrain and electronics made by McLaren, the battery by Williams, the gearboxes by Hewland and the overall integration of the car by Renault in association with Spark Racing Technologies - it is the second year onwards that things will prove to be a challenge. How so? Because Mahindra Racing will have to develop, build and race their own electric race car. If they do this successfully, then they just might be able to change the perception that they plan on setting out to change. Oh, and sell more cars along the way.
While Mahindra Racing is quite clear about the goals that they have for the first season of the championship, they plan on being one of the frontrunning teams, they have already got their eyes firmly focussed on the future. This includes building their racecar of tomorrow, and using Reva's expertise in the area of electric powertrain development for the same. While the team already has made significant progress towards this, they refuse to tell us the extent of the progress they have made. They are clear that their focus lies in developing the battery and evaluating alternative chemistries for it. And while the rules and regulations for future seasons of Formula E haven't been frozen yet, Mahindra Racing, along with the other teams, are clear that the championship must not focus on aerodynamics, and retain electric power as the central theme.
That's all very well, but who is going to pilot these cars, then? Well, rumours linking Karun Chandhok to Mahindra's Formula E team have abounded for more than just some time. And in an official press conference in Mumbai recently Mahindra Racing announced Chandhok and Bruno Senna as their drivers for the championship. Having completed one day of driving at Donington, Chandhok declared "Driving a new car is always exciting but driving something so different made it really intriguing. It was very much a systems check day and gathering information on the motor and battery but also a chance for us as drivers to get a first impression." We'll get a more accurate idea of exactly what the drivers think of the cars once the first test session, scheduled for July 3 and 4, is completed.
Former GP2 and F1 team-mates Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna now join forces once again to pilot Mahindra Racing to their Formula E goals
Mahindra is clear about one thing - their expertise lies in the business of producing electric powertrains, thanks to Reva. They aren't really in the business of racing. So what's the best way to go racing? Outsource your racing operations - something we've seen the team do in their two-wheeler racing project too. In this case, Mahindra has decided to go with Carlin Motorsport, run by the tremendously experienced Trevor Carlin, to oversee all their racing operations. The choice of Carlin was simple not only because of their experience in formula car racing, but also because of their experience with Dallara chassis, which is what the Spark SRT01 comes with.
The difference in roles played by Mahindra and Carlin are quite clear. Mahindra declares that they understand the science behind electric technology better while Carlin understands pure racing better. And it is a combination of the two that will lead them to success.
Click here to read about how team principal, Dilbagh Gill plans the way forward for the Mahindra Formula E programme