How I Designed Formula E Driver Nick Heidfeld’s Race Suit (by Tejas Manek)
Posted on: 03 August, 2017
Suiting Up A Formula E Driver
There are thousands of designers around the world, but few get to see their work come to life. Even fewer get to hand it over directly to their 'client' – and I feel thrilled that I had the privilege of doing so. And that too to an ace Formula E driver like Quick Nick.
I'm at the Tempelhof circuit in Berlin with the Mahindra Racing crew. They hand me Nick's race suit that he will be wearing to the Berlin ePrix the following day. It's the first time I see the suit for real, after having designed it on my computer, back in Mumbai. To say that it feels 'awesome' is a massive understatement. Seeing your designs in real life always makes you happy.
Seeing your designs in real life always makes you happy.
The design has clean lines. It looks modern, strong and dedicated.
Nick presents me with a gift, too. It’s a toned-down version of the suit. I’m super thrilled and get him to sign it for me – close to the heart. It’s an awesome keepsake, and I decide to box frame it as soon as I get back home.
Nick signs his name and driver number (23) on my suit.
The Philosophy of Suit Design
When I first learned of the contest on Facebook, I knew I wanted to give it a go. Being a student of automobile design, I was no stranger to the design process, but creating a race suit would be a first for me.
Keeping it minimal
The first thing I resolve to do is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Since the drivers are cocooned inside the cockpit of the car for the entire race, there was no point of cluttering the suit with too many elements or logos.
Striving for harmony
Secondly, I felt that the suit should reflect the livery of the car. In design school, we call this 'harmony'. I studied images of the M3Electro and Mahindra's design language. What emerged as common elements from both, were the lines and the ridge. So that became a starting point for me.
The suit should reflect the livery of the car. In design school, we call this ‘harmony’.
Reflecting team work
Formula E is team sport. It’s the efforts of all the engineers and crew that ultimately lead to a victory. So I felt the design should connect with the team as well, and not be something that just the driver likes.
From Sketch to Suit
Designing was hard and at times, frustrating. I had to pull off an all-nighter. There were moments when I almost gave up. But my professor egged me on. He said, "Ek raat nahi soyega toh Berlin jaane ko milega." (In Hindi, it means: "If you don’t sleep for one night, you will get a chance to go to Berlin.")
Exhausted, but determined to create a winning design, I pushed through. I spent close to seven hours from ideation to 2d rendering.
Taking cues from Mahindra’s strong design language, I made the lines thick and bold in my final render. I also included a few subtle (or maybe not so subtle) elements:
- The ‘M’ from ‘Mahindra’ that shows when the wearer spreads his hands out to his sides.
- Interlinkages of the ‘M’ across the chest of the suit. This was a representation of the intense teamwork of the sport. The team performs better when they all work together. In a sense, the linkages are a manifestation of ‘strength’. By interlinking the M, I also wanted to show the tight street circuits that is unique to Formula E.
- I placed the Indian and German flags on the shoulder of the suit. Much like the insignia that defence officers sport with pride on their uniforms. I put the Indian flag to the right, and the German flag to the left – closer to Nick’s heart, since it was his home race.
3d rendering took me a lot longer.
And for the final touch-up, I super impose the suit on Nick’s body. This was the most trying part of the exercise as I couldn’t find a good enough photo of Nick. I ultimately use the contest poster from the #DrivenByDesign design kit.
With everything in place, I submit my design 30 minutes before the contest deadline. I hit the submit button and then go and catch up on some much-needed sleep.
Front and back of Nick’s suit
I was confident that my design would feature in the top 10 designs, at least. But I had to wait like everybody else for the final results.
On the morning of D-day, I checked all of Mahindra Racing's social handles, including their website for any announcements. Nothing. For nearly the entire day. Determined to keep calm, I took my cousin out to dinner.
Just as I was paying the bill, I got a call from the Mahindra Racing team. Nick had chosen my design for his suit! I was ecstatic. On top of the world. But even more thrilled that I would get to go Berlin and watch a race. Live!
I'm so glad I listened to my professor that night and gave up a few hours of sleep in exchange for a life-changing experience.
Read my experience of the Berlin ePrix here, where Nick scored a podium in my suit.