Formula E team CEO: “In challenging times people step up and that’s exactly what happened”

Dilbagh Gill

We talked to Dilbagh Gill, CEO & Team Principal of Mahindra Racing Formula E Team about a few very relevant matters. 

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Dilbagh, how is Formula E as a sport dealing with the pandemic in general? 

When we arrived in Saudi Arabia in December 2019, on the cusp of a sixth season, we could never in a million years have predicted what would happen over the subsequent months; with our racing activities halted for a period of five months right in the middle of our season. We were able to resume racing at the start of August “The Season Six Finale”, which saw us compete for the equivalent of half a season in a period of nine days to ensure that we could wrap up the 2019/20 season.

The series faced hurdle after hurdle this year and I can only congratulate its organisers for managing to get the season back up and running and creating a way for us to complete it, when at times it was looking as if circumstances were against us. It shows the fortitude of the championship and the spirit it has embodied from the start – Formula E is a survivor.

Six races in nine days was a bold endeavour, and I’m in awe of every single member of the Formula E ecosystem who dug deep in exhausting conditions, never letting the energy dip, until the chequered flag of the final race. It took hard work, dedication and creativity to make that happen. Now I look forward to seeing the championship thrive as we move towards Season 7.

And how was your team handling the situation? 

The main thing I focused on was that everyone being safe and well during this time. People have been able to spend time with their families, which in motorsport you never normally get, so I think that’s been good for many racing professionals. Our priority has been keeping the whole team safe but, at the end of the day, we’re racers and we want to go racing and so we’re thankful that a solution was found to enable us to do that.

The biggest challenge for us during lockdown has been uncertainty, for sure. We are used to things being scheduled and timed. But running the team has been (surprisingly!) not as difficult as expected. In challenging times people step up and that’s exactly what happened. A lot of magic has come out of many people, and I’m truly proud of the team.

Good to hear. And could you tell us more about Mahindra’s “green” initiatives?

We’re talking sustainability here, and that’s something that Mahindra takes very seriously – it is not just a buzzword for us. We’re the only team in Formula E that has been accredited for its sustainable practices. This year, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we launched a huge initiative for climate change where for every vote we got in Fanboost during the season we plant a tree. When racing was halted due to the pandemic, we were able to keep the initiative going by extending it to the Race At Home Esports Challenge.

We have a Two-Star rating in the FIA Sustainability Accreditation programme, which is aimed at helping motorsport stakeholders measure and enhance their environmental performance. It introduces clear and consistent environmental management into motorsport and provides stakeholders with a framework (based on internationally recognised environmental standards and guidelines) against which to accredit their activities. There are three levels of star accreditations within the FIA environmental certification framework. A one-star rating is basic practice up to three-star rating, which is best practice. We are the only Formula E team to have this accreditation.

I think that we are now at a point where we no longer have to justify the championship or prove the concept.

In practical day-to-day terms, that means that as a team we aim to use suppliers and partners with green credentials. But it’s also the small changes that add up. Every employee has a reusable SIGG bottle for use at work and home to reduce plastic waste. Then everyday items in the office, from batteries to pens, are either rechargeable or recyclable. We produce our autographs from 100% recycled pulp and recycled ink.  As a team, we’re committed to the FIA environmental certification programme by minimising our environmental impact and working towards achieving carbon neutrality. We take learnings from advanced technologies on the racetrack to apply it to the group’s road cars within the Race to Road initiative, developing and promoting more sustainable transportation solutions.

Our sustainability initiatives are spearheaded by Anirban Ghosh and, under his leadership with Co-chair of the Global Climate Action Summit and Formula E Sustainability Committee member, Anand Mahindra, Mahindra has developed an award-winning sustainability framework.

Formula E has certainly grown over the last few years – how do you see it changing in the near future? 

I think that we are now at a point where we no longer have to justify the championship or prove the concept. It’s accepted and the amount of OEMs now involved is the proof in the pudding. We are now on the cusp of Season 7, which sees it move to World Championship status. We now have to ensure that we are providing a consistent product and one where people can see innovation and excitement. We can focus on the messaging without people asking us why.

Last question. If you run a fantasy Formula E team and could have any two drivers, who would you pick? Which car would you get, and who could be your car designer?

Let me think. Well, absolutely no doubt in my mind that Ayrton Senna would be in the team. I believe also because Formula E is all about street racing, where grit is important, I’d also have Nigel Mansell.

I’d put them both in the Mahindra Racing M7Electro, our upcoming car that will race in the 2020/21 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, and the car would be designed by Battista Farina, the Italian founder of the Pininfarina brand.

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