At the rookie test after the Berlin ePrix, I sat down with Mahindra Racing’s new Team Principal, Frederic Bertrand for an honest chat on two topics. First, his plans to resurrect Mahindra Racing’s form on-track. And second, his plans with Jehan Daruvala, the team’s current test and reserve driver.
In this two-part interview, the first part focuses on Mahindra Racing’s driver pool and Jehan Daruvala’s prospects. The second part will focus on how Bertrand is resurrecting the Indian-owned Formula E team, Mahindra Racing.
Jehan was considered for Jakarta
“Lucas (di Grassi) and Oliver (Rowland) have a two year contract with Mahindra Racing, so at the moment, our line-up for next season (2023-24) is confirmed,” said Bertrand very matter-of-factly in Berlin.
However, a week before the Jakarta ePrix (3-4 June), Mahindra Racing announced that they had parted ways with Rowland and Roberto Merhi would replace him in the double-header in Jakarta. Understandably, the buzz around Jehan’s possible debut with Mahindra Racing increased given that a race seat was possibly available after Jakarta.
“Jehan was an important option and he was considered for this race. Unfortunately, this weekend clashed with his Formula 2 commitments and he was unable to join us,” said Bertrand.
Jehan’s career is at an interesting crossroad. While he is committed to completing the full season with Formula 2, it is evident that Mahindra Racing is eager to promote him to a race seat. Jakarta was a missed opportunity thanks to calendar clashes between Formula E and Formula 2, but could Portland or Rome be where Jehan makes his debut for Mahindra Racing?
“There are plenty of discussions between us and Jehan. At the moment, we are taking it step-by-step and we will see what happens to our driver choice after Jakarta,” explained Bertrand.
Article 10.4 of the Formula 2’s sporting regulations (2023) clearly states that any driver participating in Formula 2 needs to prioritise the series over all other championships. If in breach, the FIA could suspend a driver from an event (future Formula 2 races) and impose eight penalty points.
In my view, Jehan’s Formula E debut with Mahindra Racing might be a question of when, rather than if. The races in Portland and Rome don’t clash with the Formula 2 calendar while the final double header in London does. This is why driver selection for the remaining races of the season might not be as straightforward for Mahindra Racing. Whether the team gives Jehan an opportunity in 2023 itself, or whether they choose to start afresh in 2024 awaits to be seen.
“I’d love to make my Mahindra Racing debut, when the opportunity comes by. But I’m committed to my Formula 2 season right now and there are schedule clashes. I’m working with the teams to find a solution that works well for all of us. Let’s see what the future holds,” said an excited Jehan when quizzed about the possibility of him making his Mahindra Racing debut this season.
Mahindra Racing’s driver pool
At the rookie test in Berlin, Mahindra Racing was the only team with three rookie drivers (the others had a maximum of two). Explaining the team’s intentions, Bertrand said, “Along with the current season, we are also focusing on how to prepare our driver line-up for Season 10, 11 & 12 in the best possible way. We want to create a large pool of drivers to select from.”
“Our goal from the rookie test is the same as Formula E has envisaged – giving young talent a chance. It is also a good way to benchmark our young drivers to our experienced drivers,” concluded Bertrand. Along with Jehan, the other drivers to participate in the rookie test with Mahindra Racing were Jordan King and Roberto Merhi.
To add to the driver selection mix, Mahindra Racing also has to decide for the FP0 session in Rome. The all-electric series has mandated a 30-mins long free practice session (labelled as FP0) for rookies and the objective is to further promote young talent while also creating media & fan interest in the stars of tomorrow.
In Berlin, Bertrand said, “For FP0, I think it would make sense to have Jehan in our car & see how he manages at a very demanding track like Rome.”
However, if Jehan races for the team in Portland, he won’t be able to participate in the FP0 in Rome because the rules specify that the participating rookie shouldn’t have previously raced in the series.
Evaluating Jehan Daruvala & assessing his Formula E debut with Mahindra
“We want to understand how Jehan’s knowledge and experience can be transferred to Formula E,” explained Bertrand when asked to elaborate on how Mahindra Racing was evaluating Jehan’s talent.
Continued Bertrand, “Formula E is so special that Jehan needs to manage a lot more things than he does in any other category. We want to understand and see how he can manage the flow of information and build-up through the day (during the rookie test).”.
While discussing Jehan’s future in Formula E and with Mahindra Racing, Bertrand said, “When it comes to Jehan and Formula E, there are two important things. First, keep concentrating on Formula 2. A great season in that series will be a good passport to Formula E and other series.”
“In general, Jehan’s performance at street circuit races in Formula 2 is important. He did very well in Jeddah – a double podium! He drove well in Monaco, it’s always a tricky circuit to be fast at. In the Sprint race, he was on the podium but he could have achieved more in the Feature race.”
“It’s a peculiar requirement of Formula E – you need to drive 99.5% or 99.6% – not 101%. The limitation of standard circuits is too many run-off areas where you can run 105% and still be in the race! This isn’t possible in Formula E.”
“It’s important for him to get experience in Formula E so that he can understand how a driver manages a weekend – it’s very demanding, from morning to evening where everything happens. It’s also difficult on the mental side of racing.”
Bertrand elaborated further on Jehan’s commitment to Formula E and how that was critical to extracting more performance. He said, “The moment he joins Formula E, he has to commit 100% to Formula E. If he’s still expecting to go to another championship, he won’t adapt fully and won’t be able to extract the most from this series.”
Would Jehan being an Indian have any special considerations in his decision-making process for Mahindra Racing? “If being Indian makes him faster, then yes. Otherwise, no! My target is to not make an Indian driver race in Formula E, it is to make the Indian team win,” signed off Bertrand.
This interview was first published on autoX.