Nyck de Vries’s return to the Formula E World Championship has not come as much of a surprise to many following the Dutchman’s brief stint in Formula 1, having been given the sack by AlphaTauri after just 10 races.
More surprising is his return to the all-electric championship comes with Mahindra, given the Indian manufacturer’s recent and unimpressive form. A quick look at last year’s teams’ standings makes for grim reading, showing that Mahindra finished 10th out of 11 teams. The 11th? Customer squad Abt Cupra.
It might seem like a fall from grace for de Vries, who won the 2020-21 Formula E title and four races during a three-year spell with Mercedes prior to his move into F1. The 28-year-old’s services certainly would not have been in short supply up and down the Formula E grid given his previous success, but the fact de Vries has gone with Mahindra hints of a bigger picture.
Frederic Bertrand has been in his role as Mahindra’s chief executive officer for just short of a year after leaving his position at the FIA, where he served as its director of Formula E, but has already made big changes and even bigger statements during that time.
This has included parting ways with Lucas di Grassi after just one season, while ties were also cut with Oliver Rowland after just nine races in 2023. As outlined earlier this year, Bertrand’s vision to make Mahindra a successful and winning Formula E team again spans three years, and which fundamentally involves developing the team into a manufacturer, rather than the other way around.
Expanding its Banbury base, hiring new staff and increasing morale have been some of the short-term goals, all of which has all helped persuade de Vries and new team-mate Edoardo Mortara to join Mahindra.
“That’s what we collectively believe in,” de Vries exclusively tells Autosport about the team’s vision. “I think it shouldn’t be underestimated that the team already has great fundamentals but it’s just about getting everybody together on the right path. And with some changes and additional recruitment I think we can only enhance and speed up that learning and development. We collectively believe in this project.”
A driver duo of de Vries and Mortara gives Mahindra an experienced pairing to help guide it out of its recent malaise
Photo by: Mahindra Racing
A key aspect of ensuring Mahindra’s project has a chance of being successful was to hire two drivers capable of pushing the team forwards, and it’s a sign of intent that both have been signed on multi-year deals. Bertrand believes that both de Vries and Mortara have shown that they have the right abilities to help teams grow and thrive throughout their careers.
“What was very important for me was to find two drivers who understand the project, who understand that we have a long way in front of us,” says Bertrand. “I needed two guys able to understand that, and that’s what I liked since the beginning with Edo because he has that background of helping, developing, structuring and being part of a successful project in a team. He has done that in the past in F3, in DTM but also in Formula E so that was a clear and strong asset for me. And the same with Nyck, he has the experience of working with a top-level team, working with Mercedes and for me that’s also very important.
“We need to raise our level of understanding of what being a top team means and getting those two guys in the team, with very strong experience from the past years, plus the global asset they have, is definitely what we needed.”
"We’ll have to see how the synergy between all of us will grow but I’m certain and I’ve no doubts that we have very good ingredients to become successful" Nyck de Vries
In de Vries and Mortara, Mahindra has drivers capable of winning races and challenging for championships, the latter having spent six seasons with Venturi and the newly rebranded Maserati MSG squad, taking six wins and challenging for the title on two occasions.
But Bertrand is all too aware that such success is unlikely to come next season, with the homologation of the software and various other aspects of the Gen3 car meaning it will be difficult to bridge the gap to the likes of Jaguar and Porsche.
“I have prepared them a lot and they are fully briefed on the fact the season to come is probably not the easiest one they have experienced in their lives, but it’s the season we need to build for the future,” says Bertrand.
Mahindra has shaken up its entire driver line-up for the upcoming season
Photo by: Andrew Ferraro
“We will definitely have a season which will still be difficult, challenging, with ups and downs, but we need to make sure that we have more ups than downs. They know that it will be tough, I didn’t lie to them at all, and they could understand it with the experience they have. They have seen how last season was, so they know what is going to be this season.
“But on the other side they also know and believe that we can improve already in this season, and they trust that the future will be very promising, so that’s why they joined.”
The fact that de Vries and Mortara have both signed up knowing this season will likely be a struggle empathises that this is a long-term commitment. De Vries, though, sees no reason why visible progress cannot be made during the 2023-24 campaign, before Gen3.5 in 2024-25 offers an even bigger chance for change.
“Formula E is a stock series, ultimately, we all have the same car, the same tyres," he says. “Obviously powertrains are independent from each manufacturer, but I do believe that with the kind of learnings the team has done over the last year, we can continue that learning and continue that path forward.
“I’m sure that we can make good steps this year and then hopefully start to capitalise and put things together over time. It’s not black and white, it’s not like you put something in and that’s the outcome. We’ll have to see how the synergy between all of us will grow but I’m certain and I’ve no doubts that we have very good ingredients to become successful in the near future.”
Given Mahindra, de Vries and Mortara all experienced struggles during 2023 it seems fitting that all three have now come together for the start of a new era. All have proven capable of winning in Formula E, but only time will tell whether Bertrand’s masterplan, and de Vries’s trust in this vision, will come to fruition.
After his early F1 exit, will de Vries and Mahindra be able to discover a mutual resurgence?
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images2023-09-27T14:27:06Z dg43tfdfdgfd