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SMITH: Mahindra’s Racing Bud Blossoms

Formula E editor Sam Smith looks at the rise of Mahindra in a month where it has taken the lead in the standings and announced a significant new partner….

Photo: Formula E

A joyful 10-year-old incarnation of Nick Heidfeld paid us all a brief visit last Tuesday evening in Turin.

At the launch of the partnership which ushered in an official union between Mahindra and legendary Italian design house Pininfarina, the racing veteran stared back at a metaphorical mirror. It was one which reflected his younger self, thumbing through posters and articles of his beloved Ferrari Testarossa in pre-unified 1980s Germany.

Such nostalgic glances could also be appreciated by those of a similar age. A walk through the reception area of the lauded Italian coachbuilder and design deity emphasized a history as rich and diverse as the glittering showpieces on offer.

From the life-affirming beauty of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta to the futuristic wonderment of the 1969 Sigma Grand Prix car, innovation and artistry beckoned like a perfectly-lit, Fellini-inspired hall of mirrors.

Heidfeld has always appreciated great design and engineering. His day job is all about going quickly, irrespective of aesthetics. Yet, get him talking about furniture design, art or contemporary cuisine and his eyes light up almost as much as nailing the perfect qualifying lap.

“It doesn’t make the car go quicker but when I first saw the Pininfarina sticker on the car, I felt something special,” Heidfeld told e-racing365.

“Just the name signifies to me a certain standard and I always associate it with Ferrari and engineering excellence. It means a great deal to me to have the Pininfarina name on the car.”

The 41-year old, who is in a third season with the Mahindra Formula E team, had spent the day at the Cambiano facility near Turin, and began it in the bespoke on-site wind tunnel.

A highly prized and celebrated tunnel, the Pininfarina capability has bent air, yawed and validated a roster of remarkable automotive and motorsport creations since 1972.

The Mahindra Group now owns Pininfarina after its much celebrated 2016 acquisition. Adding to the full-circle feel-good factor of the evening last Tuesday, Mahindra Team Principal Dilbagh Gill echoed Heidfeld’s early recollections of the company.

“In India we always used to get our media very late and the magazines would come a few months late,” said Gill. “I remember one of the first posters that went on my wall when I was growing up was a Testarossa.

“I always really wondered what Pininfarina was when I was younger and then 35 years later Pininfarina is part of the Mahindra family. It is a fantastic feeling.”

Gill also confirmed that Tech Mahindra, which green-lighted the Formula E program back in 2013, would also become formalized as a key partner in the team which it essentially gave birth to.

While there was interesting talk of the past, it was the future which really interested and there was one key question.

What does the inclusion of Pininfarina mean for the future prospering of Formula E’s most impressive start-up team?

In the words of Ruzbeh Irani, President (Group Communications & Ethics) & Chief Brand Officer at the Mahindra Group, Pininfarina will have a considerable impact on future programs.

“This strategic partnership is also aligned to Mahindra’s vision of FUTURise, a creative expression of how we are driving growth through world class innovation in all our businesses,” explained Irani.

For Mahindra last week’s announcement comes after a step-by-step strategy to the top of the Formula E pecking order. It seems remarkable that the manufacturer, which in the first season of Formula E looked a little lost, is now heading Renault, DS Virgin, Audi and the others at the top of the points’ standings.

A bit like that wide-eyed young Nick Heidfeld back in 1987, Mahindra’s refreshing approach to going racing seems to be the perfect balance in realising ambition amid the competitive sharks and spike-edged coral in the whirlpool of motorsports notoriously choppy waters.

They have also successfully proved that a cheerful disposition can run comfortably alongside corporate desire while maintaining their increasingly firm competitive zeal.

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

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