There was an all-too-brief moment last season when it looked like Mahindra Racing would be a genuine surprise package in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.
It came when Pascal Wehrlein took a brilliant pole and led for all but five meters of the Mexico City E-Prix.
The fact that those five meters were the most important ones, and that he faded with dramatic energy angst within sight of the checkered flag, somehow became a metaphor for Mahindra’s season as a whole.
It would never get close again to challenging for a victory and in some races the team was frankly anonymous.
The same trait happened as well last season, so it now is more than a coincidence that Mahindra is unable to sustain its often impressive performance throughout an entire season.
As ever, there is much more nuance to dig into. An example: Who could foresee the second half slump starting in Hong Kong where both Wehrlein and teammate Jerome d’Ambrosio qualified so poorly and were then both eliminated because of someone else’s accident early in the race?
But dig a little deeper and the slightly murky reasons became clearer.
Later in the season e-racing365 uncovered the use of systems by multiple teams that copied the advantages of traction control.
Banned in the regulations, teams were using software to mimic TC and in wet and damp conditions in Hong Kong, it was no coincidence that the two teams believed to not be running something, Mahindra and Panasonic Jaguar Racing, were starting towards the back.
Even with parity restored on the above technical side, even after this race Mahindra showed only mere flashes of its early season pace.
In Paris, Wehrlein took a breathtaking pole, perhaps the best of the season. Teammate d’Ambrosio was sixth but both were penalized for “non-respect of the minimum tire pressure.”
This was blamed on a poorly calibrated pressure measuring tool but a hornet’s nest had been kicked and Mahindra was determined not to be only ones to be stung.
Then came Monaco and more controversy. Wehrlein was again on top form but an error at Saint Devote cost him at least a second place and he came home fourth.
When Mahindra protested winner Jean-Eric Vergne and second-placed Oliver Rowland on suspicion of the very indiscretion it had fallen foul of in Paris, the lawyers were called and another unsavoury Formula E rules drama started to play out.
The FIA raised the tire pressure level for Monaco without explanation but ultimately the Mahindra protests were unsuccessful on the grounds of, of all things, ‘administration errors’.
The official bulletin read: “The protest was not addressed to the chairman of the stewards (Article 13.5.1 of ISC [International Sporting Code])” and “the protest was lodged against a driver and not against a competitor”.
It cost the team €4000 but the whiff of something more complex and peculiar lingered.
In amidst all this Mahindra seemed too often to be getting lost in setup with its car and at Berlin, d’Ambrosio’s race was crippled by a braking issue.
Mahindra was one of only two teams to run its own brake-by-wire system in Season Five. While all other teams used the LSP hardware, Mahindra’s own technical team led by Angus Lyon and Lewis Butler developed a very capable system itself.
However, it must not be forgotten that the team welcomed two new drivers for new season.
As Nick Heidfeld took a test and development role and Felix Rosenqvist was lured to Indycar by Ganassi, Dilbagh Gill pulled a masterstroke by picking up Wehrlein after the German had a falling out with Toto Wolff and left the Mercedes nest.
Wehrlein was monumentally good in the first half of the season, yet in some races in the second half he appeared to go missing.
This was more a consequence of the multiple setup issues that Mahindra chased and which caused Wehrlein to struggle with inherent understeer in his car.
D’Ambrosio came out of the blocks remarkably with a third place in the opener at Ad Diriyah and then a well-judged win in Marrakesh.
A fourth place in Mexico City was the last time the big points came and after that the experienced Belgian often cut a forlorn figure as the once standings leader dropped like a stone to an eventual 11th in the final table.
It is worth noting though that d’Ambrosio did outscore his teammate by nine points, despite Wehrlein doing one fewer race after Mercedes got petty and ‘banned’ him from competing until the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve!
The final two events in Bern and New York City left a depressing epitaph on Mahindra’s season.
It is one of the season’s more remarkable statistics that Mahindra scored all but 28 of its 125 points in the first six races.
The campaign ended with rumors of some of its key operatives (QEV Technologies) moving across to a new-look NIO for 2019-20 although this now appears to be in the balance, at the time of writing.
It still remains to be seen how the team will fight back but you can be sure it will. The quietly determined Gill, who lives and breathes every lap of his cars’ ups and downs over the course of a season, is as determined as ever.
“This was our worst year at Mahindra Racing as we had a good solid package but we just fell away,” a brutally honest Gill told e-racing365 after the New York City finale.
“There’s no silver bullet. We know the things that went wrong and we will rectify them. We will consolidate our team and bring everything under one roof.
“We have learned from some of our competitors this year and we will come back stronger.”