Mahindra Racing’s Alexander Sims: Formula E never fails to surprise me

Mahindra Racing’s Alexander Sims speaks about his targets in a pandemic-stricken season while also shedding light on the biggest takeaways of his Formula E experience.

Alex Sims registered his and Mahindra’s first podium of the season in Rome.   -  Special Arrangement

Britain’s Alexander Sims is no stranger to the pitfalls on a race track, having accumulated vast experience over a 15-year long career that has seen him race in the European F3 Championship and the Formula 3 Euro Series. However, a new challenge is on the cards as his latest stint in the Formula E Championship began at Mahindra Racing in February.

Sims, who represented Andretti Autosport in the last two seasons, will feature for the Indian outfit this time. With Mahindra aiming to regain lost glory (they finished third in 2016-17 and fourth in 2017-18) after finishing ninth in 2019-20, the focus swiftly moves onto Sims, who will be leading the team towards its goal for the season.

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The Briton, who got his 2021 campaign off to a fine start with a podium finish in Rome on April 11, is confident that Mahindra will make a turnaround this season.

In a chat with Sportstar, Sims speaks about his targets in a pandemic-stricken season while also shedding light on the biggest takeaways of his Formula E experience.

In first four races of 2021, you managed to score half the points you did the entire last season, which included your first win at Diriyah (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia). What’s the target you’ve set for yourself this year?

I try not to get specific about numbers or points. My aim at the start of the season was to be consistently in points positions. Obviously, that’s not (possible) in every single race, but the aim is to keep knocking on the door of decent points scores frequently. It’s going to go up and down in Formula E, but some sensible points multiple times through the year would be a sensible first step in terms of goals.

You joined Mahindra Racing this season. The team had a lacklustre 2020, finishing ninth. But team principal Dilbagh Gill said in an interview with Sportstar last November that Mahindra is targeting a return to the form of the previous seasons, third-fourth in the championship. Are you on track to achieve that in your maiden season?

I think we’re on track. It’s always a little bit difficult to judge from just the opening two weekends. There are so many finer details that it takes time to learn with your engineering teams to execute a really good race weekend. That is necessary to be operating at a high level the whole time. Looking at the progress we have made to date, I think it (entering the top four rankings) is a reasonable target.

Valencia made its Formula E debut this year. How do you look up to the challenge while gearing up for a new circuit? What are your methods of preparation while you are away from racing?

Valencia is not particularly new to us because we go there each season for the last three-four years for pre-season testing. So everybody knows the circuit’s configuration pretty much the same as what we’re going to race on. It’s going to be slightly different, but we understand the characteristics of the circuit very well.

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The circuit will give really good racing because it’s very wide and open and should be quite demanding on energies. The focus beforehand is pretty much on the simulator — the biggest tool that we have to be able to prepare for the races. We do two-and-a-half days each — (teammate) Alex (Lynn) and I — on the simulator before every race.

The Gen3 cars that will be introduced in Formula E in 2022-23 will be faster, lighter, more efficient. But what will it mean for the drivers and strategy?

The focus on Gen3 is for the engineers at the moment because they have one or two years’ lead time. I don’t know so much about how that’s going to affect the strategy and racing. At the moment we are focusing on this season. I can imagine it’s going to be pretty interesting with the power increase they are talking about and the added regent from the front axle will make the cars even more efficient along with a potential pit stop for a quick recharge. That’ll add some more strategy as to when you’ll take your pitstops.

The seventh season of Formula E has been designated a World Championship by the FIA. Does that change your approach to racing in the series?

I think it is the correct time for it to be classed as a proper World Championship. The level in the series is so high with all the manufacturers, drivers and teams operating at an incredibly high level. But from our point of view, it does not change the job that we do day-to-day at all. It’s a nice headline to have, a very good recognition, but the engineers and drivers just do the same job.

Sims (right) has countryman Alex Lynn as his teammate at Mahindra Racing.   -  Special Arrangement

 

How tough has it been to keep up with racing during the pandemic? What was the experience like to have featured in six races in nine days at Berlin last August?

I got to be honest, it’s still a strange feeling in a way. For us to be in a position where we can go racing and do our jobs relatively normally, it’s a real privilege.

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The stint in Berlin was new to all of us. I think nobody had done that much racing in a short amount of time. We were confined to the hotel and the race track for two weeks. Dilbagh knows better than most about having to quarantine for pretty much the whole time. That must have been quite mentally challenging. In the end, it was a great solution for Formula E to be able to get the races done and close out last season’s championship. It was tiring but good in the circumstances.

You’ll be racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the third time in your career this August. Talk us through that.

Endurance racing is quite a different challenge to Formula E. That’s why I love doing both programmes. Le Mans has not been particularly kind to me the two times I have done it (laughs). Hoping that it can be third time lucky and we can get a decent result there.

Sims won his first Formula E race at the Diriyah ePrix in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in November 2019.   -  Getty Images

 

You’ve had a vast experience in racing across different courses, but what has been the greatest takeaway from the Formula E experience thus far?

Probably the biggest takeaway from my Formula E experience is just that I realise how much there is that you don’t know. Formula E never fails to surprise me because it’s so different from any other form of motorsport.

Even with my relatively good level of experience, I find myself on almost every single race weekend feeling a little bit out of my depth in a certain way and asking myself, “Gosh, what are we going to do now in this situation?” You’ve got to keep swimming...keep learning, trying to find out solutions. Sometimes you get it right and then you’re able to be on the podium.