"Structure of a Premier League team, not a third-tier team" - Mahindra boss lays out plan for return to success
With a new driver pairing, new engineering personnel and renewed ambition, Formula E's current backmarker team, Mahindra Racing, wants to find its way back to success. In an exclusive interview with e-Formula.news, team boss Frederic Bertrand explains his detailed vision for the team, which wants to be back fighting for victories with Nyck de Vries and Edoardo Mortara within five years at the latest.
It was not as if he had found a shambles at Mahindra. And yet, in the summer of 2022, when he took over the reins of the team, Frederic Bertrand felt the need to turn his racing team on its head: "We have a roadmap in front of us," he tells e-Formula.news of his vision. "For me the question is: How can I take as many shortcuts as possible? And how can I minimise my risk?"
No swap deal with Maserati for Mortara & Daruvala
As part of that roadmap, Mahindra recently landed a veritable transfer market coup: Nyck de Vries is making his comeback to the Red and Whites in 2024, with Edoardo Mortara moving up alongside him. The Swiss driver's Maserati seat will in turn be taken by former Mahindra reserve Jehan Daruvala. A swap deal between the two teams? That has not taken place, Bertrand asserts. "We don't have a mercato system like in football yet! It all happened like a normal driver change." Mortara himself also commented on the rumours last week: "You speculate too much!"
With the new driver duo, Mahindra wants to find its way back to old glory. Long gone are the days of Jerome d'Ambrosio, Nick Heidfeld or Pascal Wehrlein, who regularly celebrated podiums or even victories with Mahindra. But just two new drivers or a lot of budget, as Bertrand also knows, are not enough when it comes to rebuilding the racing team. "Some people think that with bigger budgets come better results. But that is not the case in Formula E. You need time to build assets, experience and structures."
Time, Management & Structure: Bertrand's Three-Point Plan for Formula E
Bertrand continued: "The second point is management: I had to understand how the team works. Where are the weaknesses? Where are the strengths? Where are the opportunities and threats? I wanted to perceive 100 per cent understanding and support for our shared vision from the Mahindra Group. Then I had to make sure that the team didn't see me as 'the new guy' who comes in and says, 'Okay, we'll kick everyone out and put in a new team.' I'm not that kind of guy, but there would also have been no reason for that. There are a lot of highly motivated, committed people here, but some of them didn't work with the right frame of reference."
The Frenchman draws on a parable from football for the structural change within the team. Sometimes it feels "like you can win the Premier League even though you are in the second or third division. Then you can win a big game, but not the championship. But that's what I need: I need to structure a Premier League team, not a third-tier team."
The comparison can certainly be understood as a dig, albeit unintentional, at his predecessor Dilbagh Gill. The Indian surprisingly left Mahindra after the eight years in summer 2022, but is planning his return to electric motorsport soon: For the ACE Championship, which he manages, Nick Heidfeld tested with modified Gen2 Formula E cars for the first time last week in Calafat (Spain). The first race is expected in September 2024 - soon after, probably also as part of the Formula E circus.
Long-term planning with de Vries & Mortara
By that time, Bertrand wants to have long since turned onto the road to success with Mahindra. He wants to give more resources to the manufacturing side of the organisation, thus taking the pressure off the operational race team. "The team will be rebuilt to be more simple; sort of like a customer team."
Technical development constraints, however, do not make Mahindra's job any easier. Between the 2023 and 2024 seasons, only the software of the vehicles may be adapted; the hardware remains structurally unchanged. This is another reason why the first year of de Vries and Mortara, who have committed themselves to the team for several seasons anyway, is considered a "transition year" in which the duo will also contribute to the development of the 2025 car.
Wins only possible again from 2027? - "I don't sell dreams!"
Bertrand explains, "While everyone else just needs to fine-tune their packages for season 11 and 12, we will be starting from scratch in many ways. But that's necessary to catch up. In these years, the goal is to always be a top-10 contender, and if things go well, consistent top-5 results in the standings are possible. Then come (seasons) 13 and 14, where the ambition is to fight for wins."
Until then, however, his team remains "modest", as the team boss puts it. According to him, there's no way to change where Mahindra are currently stood in comparison to rivals, but Bertrand acknowledges that a rebuild was needed to catch up. "Of course I don't want to sell dreams. But I want us to dream big. If the plan doesn't succeed, then I've failed. But I don't like that kind of thing. And I don't plan for that case either."