Di Grassi gives Mahindra important points in Portland, team principle Bertrand plans return to success in 2025
With a strong seventh place, Lucas di Grassi scored his first points since the season opener in Mexico City at the Formula E race in Portland. His teammate Roberto Merhi, on the other hand, retired after just a few laps with a technical faillure. Meanwhile, team boss Frederic Bertrand is planning extensive changes to get the team back on the winning track in the future, where it once was.
Lucas di Grassi, who had qualified for the final two rows of the grid seven times in the last ten rounds of the season, started the race in Portland from 13th place. Due to the unusual nature of the race, the Brazilian always remained within reach of the front positions, and at times he was in fourth place. In the closing stages, the Season 3 champion even managed to keep the Porsche of Pascal Wehrlein at bay, who, however, also had a problem with a tear-off visor.
"We had a good weekend in Portland," di Grassi finds. "It was a very difficult, strategic race, but we finished 7th and scored six points. I'm very happy with the team's progress, which made us more competitive in this race."
For Roberto Merhi, on the other hand, the race was over early. The Spaniard parked his Mahindra on the side of the track after three laps with no drive. "I'm very sad because it was a super opportunity for me," he described. "We are still analyzing the problem. But I was happy with my pace and pretty close to Lucas."
Thanks to the six points from the U.S., Mahindra moved past Nio 333 into ninth place in the teams' standings, even though the Chinese/British team actually has the better powertrain this season. However, with a 21-point gap to Nissan, no more seems at all achievable for the Indian manufacturer, which would repeat the worst results in team's history from 2020 and 2021.
Team boss Bertrand: "Big surprise that the mood was so bad"
However, Mahindra was once a contender for victory in the second half of the Gen1 era: between October 2016 and January 2018, the team took 13 podiums in 15 consecutive races and led the teams' standings after the 2018 Marrakech E-Prix. Mahindra driver Felix Rosenqvist was also at the top of the drivers' standings. But those days are long gone. The team's last win came at the 2021 London E-Prix by Alex Lynn. Before that, Jerome d'Ambrosio was last victorious at the 2019 Marrakesh E-Prix.
To bring the team back to the top, team principle Frederic Bertrand has launched a 3-year plan. The former FIA director of Formula E, who joined the team before the season as Dilbagh Gill's successor, faces major challenges after just a few months. "In some ways it's difficult because everyone is impatient and would like to see a good result," Bertrand described to Motorsport.com. "But motorsport is difficult, and Formula E especially so."
He sees a significant part of his task in re-establishing a winning mentality among his employees. The years in the rear midfield of Formula E have left their mark on the team. "It was a big surprise for me that the atmosphere was so bad. We need to develop a positive attitude - bring the fighting spirit back to the team," says the Frenchman.
That's not all, however, he says: "The second weakness is probably the structure of the team itself," Bertrand continued. "The team was designed only as a team, not as a manufacturer. There was too little emphasis on preparing for the future. Continuous development and a sustained push of ideas are needed."
No hope for current powertrain: "In seasons 11 & 12 we want to deliver"
In terms of technical development, Mahindra currently collaborates with ZF, while most other manufacturers develop their own powertrains. To what extent this collaboration will be affected by the structural adjustments Bertrand is planning is currently unclear. However, they are expected to take effect from next season onwards. "Season 10 is the year we consolidate everything we've learned and changed into a more consistent approach and a better structure," Bertrand says.
This sounds like cautious optimism, but not a firm belief in the current powertrain, which will still have to be used in 2024. Bertrand is therefore eyeing the second half of the Gen3 era: "Seasons 11 and 12 will be the years where we want to deliver - probably with some technical changes and restructuring that took place in Season 10. The bottom line is that we should then see the result of all this work."
To implement his plan, Bertrand is drawing on the financial and technical resources of the Mahindra Group. Here, the first structural change has already taken place: the racing team is now part of the group's automotive sector and no longer part of the corporate communications division.