"Unacceptable" - ABT partnership with Mahindra reaches new low after Cape Town farce
The return to the Formula E World Championship has so far gone anything but according to plan for the German team ABT Cupra. The team from Kempten is the only racing team so far without points. At the Cape Town E-Prix, there were also suspension problems, which put the relationship with drive partner Mahindra to the test. The frustration at ABT sits deep..
For Kelvin van der Linde, the Formula E weekend at the Cape of Good Hope should have been a career highlight. The South African was on the entry list for his home race because ABT regular Robin Frijns' broken hand continues to heal. But the crowd favorite was not on the grid at "his" E-Prix in Cape Town. Instead, van der Linde accompanied the race from the commentary booth for English television.
What had happened? A few hours earlier, Mahindra Racing had decided that neither its two factory cars nor ABT's two customer cars would take part in the race. The reason was "concerns about driver safety" after the Indian manufacturer discovered damage to the rear suspensions of its cars. There was already trouble with the suspension in the free practice sessions - Lucas di Grassi and van der Linde rolled out with car damage.
ABT team boss: "Expect Mahindra to solve the problem".
"We had problems with the wishbones, which were severely bent in the second practice. The risk is too great to put the health of the drivers at risk," ABT team boss Thomas Biermaier told 'ran' on Saturday. According to our information, all four cars were affected by the damaged wishbones.
"The whole team is disappointed, everyone had been looking forward to the race. Kelvin in particular, as a local hero, looked fast in practice, and we were hoping for a bit of something." Speaking to 'e-Formel.de', Biermaier formulated his demand to the manufacturer: "What happened here is not acceptable. We expect the problem to be solved by Mahindra during the break before Sao Paulo."
Mahindra's first guess: The humpy course in Cape Town demanded an unexpected amount from the cars. However, the fact that the four cars from Mahindra and ABT were the only ones plagued by suspension problems currently suggests a manufacturer-side problem. Along with the powertrain, rear suspension design is one of the few areas of the Gen3 cars for which the carmakers themselves are responsible.
Mahindra considers re-homologation
"We have to accept it because Mahindra's instructions have to be followed," Biermaier told 'ran'. "They have to understand what the problem is first. It's Mahindra's turn to analyze it. But that will take not minutes or hours, but days." Then he stresses again, "This is actually not acceptable." Immediately after the Cape Town E-Prix, Mahindra's cars were transported to its own factory in Banbury in the United Kingdom, where a search is currently underway to determine the cause of the fault.
The manufacturer may have to change the way the rear suspension is designed. For this adjustment, the Indians would need the explicit permission of the FIA, since it is a component that is already homologated. "We need to reinforce the struts and we will do a test with it in the next two or three weeks," Mahindra team boss Frederic Bertrand told 'e-Formel.de' about the suspension. "In Sao Paulo we will definitely be on the grid, but first we have to check all possible changes."
ABT still the only team without points
The relationship of ABT Cupra with its manufacturer may have thus reached a new low. True, it was Mahindra that first made it possible for ABT to race Formula E at all this year after the late decision to return. But already after delays in the delivery of vehicle parts, things first started to grind between the two partners.
The start to 2023 went anything but according to plan for the "Abbots" anyway: in the opening race, Robin Frijns broke his hand in a rear-end collision. Neither Nico Müller nor Frijns' replacement van der Linde made it into the top 10 in any of the other races.
After the fourth race weekend of the 2023 Formula E season, ABT Cupra and its drivers thus occupy the final positions in the world championship standings for teams and drivers. Mahindra has collected 26 points so far - the majority thanks to Lucas di Grassi's podium at the season opener in Mexico. Mahindra is still seventh overall as a result.
additional reporting by Tobias Wirtz.