Formula E – We will run and then we will sprint
Nov 24, 2016
Mahindra, the subcontinent’s electric automobile pioneer, is the Indian muscle in Formula E. So we had SP Shukla, Chairman of Mahindra Racing, on the blower from Mumbai, India. He chatted to GIM’s Donington fan Cate Turnell.
Sometimes it can be a handicap when you are ahead of your time and the right timing is perhaps a little later. In the case of Formula E we believe the product is right, the timing is right and the world is looking at sustainability now.
We’re just weeks away from the first ePrix in Beijing. How has India taken to the idea of an Indian Formula E team?
As a nation, India loves sports. Moreover, motor sport is becoming an increasingly important area of interest within the country, particularly among young Indians. Mahindra Racing’s Facebook page has over 1.4 million fans – one of the highest for any racing team in the world – more even than half of the Formula 1 teams. This indicates the kind of response we are receiving from racing enthusiasts in India. This has been the catalyst in driving our increasing ambition, which has seen us entering new racing formats.
Just recently we had over 500,000 visitors at the Auto Expo in New Delhi where we unveiled the new livery for our Formula E car.
Today, Indian drivers and sportspeople are becoming icons and role models, giving rise to immense aspiration among the youth. This has been complemented by very good coverage of international motorsport through traditional and digital media.
Do you believe electric racing cars will eventually overtake petrochemical cars in terms of speed and performance?
Electric racing using hybrid technology is growing by leaps and bounds. We just need to look at some of the other major championships globally like Formula 1 and the Le Mans race to understand the impact of these new technologies. Today, KERS – the Kinetic Energy Recovery System [Waste energy created by braking then transformed into electric energy] – is delivering nearly 20 per cent of the output from a Formula 1 car.
Ultimately, electric racing does not exist only to demonstrate pure speed or performance but to underscore its strengths as a very credible alternative to traditional forms of transportation. Various other dynamics also come into play like range and usable power. Electric racing is going to provide a very interesting spectacle and will attract new demographics to the fan base of motorsport.
What led you to be the chairman of the Indian Formula E team?
I have been involved in the racing initiative as President of Group Strategy and Chief Brand Officer for the Mahindra Group. Both motorcycle and Formula E racing have a direct business connect with our automotive and two-wheeler business which is a significant part of our US $16.7 billion revenues.
At the same time, our participation and success on the race track provide an element of youthfulness, a rub-off effect from cutting edge technology as well as a vibrant image to the brand Mahindra. Thus, you can see a wonderful correlation between the racing initiative and the Mahindra Group: business connectivity, technology absorption and brand synergy. It was, therefore, natural for me to be both excited about and involved in Mahindra Racing as its chairman. But let me add that we have a very capable team comprising of two CEOs for Formula E and Moto3 racing as well as very talented riders supported by a fully-fledged team infrastructure to make Mahindra Racing what it is today.
The technology for Formula E has been established for quite some time. Why do you think 2014 has become the year for its launch?
Sometimes it can be a handicap when you are ahead of your time and the right timing is perhaps a little later. In the case of Formula E we believe the product is right, the timing is right and the world is looking at sustainability now. So, from every potential angle, we believe this series has every reason to be successful.
What are the cars – the Spark-Renault SRT-01Es – like to race for the drivers? Are there any major differences with the more established motor racing vehicles, such as the weight, the handling, the response?
These cars are different and do require the driver to adapt to new concepts like regeneration [Braking energy turned into electric energy] and high torque at low speeds, etc. But this is the direction other series are also taking. For example, recently in Albert Park [Melbourne’s grand Prix circuit] we did see some drivers lock the rear under braking as they were still coming to terms with regeneration and its impact on the rear axle.
All indicators so far confirm that this is going to be an exceptional race car which will provide fans with very exciting racing. The whole package seems very promising and recent tests have only confirmed this. The test drivers have been very satisfied with the car and are convinced that there is a lot of potentials. From my perspective, I think that it’s one of the best looking race cars!
I’ve been to a fair number of motor racing meets over the years – at Donington Park and Silverstone, and yet the noise and exhaust fumes prevalent in petrochemical racing cars will be absent in Formula E. While I won’t miss the fumes, I’m not so certain about the engines’ roar. Is it odd for a person within the racing industry to suddenly be without racing’s decibel-shattering symphony?
(SP Laughs) While the roar of speeding cars has been part of racing, I think our audience will very soon adapt to the uniqueness of Formula E races. Fans are going to enjoy the convenience of a race that is brought to their city centre rather than them having to go 100 miles out of the city to a purpose-built track to view a race over three days.
Lower pollution and easier access will help in attracting young fans and the next generation of fans will grow up on Formula E.
Where do you see Formula E in five years’ time?
As the saying goes, “We will run and then we will sprint.” Formula E is starting on a very strong footing with the right technology and also the right format to make a very interesting racing series. With the increasing focus on electric mobility among all manufacturers globally, we can only expect Formula E to grow on a tangential basis. There is substantial investment being made in alternate mobility technologies and this is only going to help drive the acceptance of Formula E.
Electric car racing is going to be a staple in the next five years and Formula E is going to be at the pinnacle.
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