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Exclusive: Ex-team principal Mark Preston discusses Formula E and Techeetah

Mark Preston, ex-team principal for Techeetah, spoke to us about his time in Formula E and his thoughts on the upcoming season

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Mark Preston is the ex-Team Principal of Techeetah, the most successful Formula E team of all time. He has worked with some of the best minds in motorsport and you could say that he is one of the leading figures in the series itself. Below you will get a glimpse from the genius mind of Mark Preston, with a detailed look at his career.

Mark Preston celebrating a Formula E victory on the podium. Image permission provided by Mark Preston
The beginning  

Mark Preston has had an illustrious career in motorsport. But where did he begin? He first started his career with Borden Racing, who were an ‘early series’ team in Australia.  

“I had to find someone to go and do race cars with, and I found the only manufacturer of Formula Fords and race cars in Australia.” 

Soon after joining the team, he quickly managed to show off his engineering expertise, “I went down to say can I help them, and yeah, the second day – I ended up designing and drawing up suspensions.” 

Preston soon realised that he would be able to move over to ‘the big leagues’. He travelled to England in the late 90’s and wasted no time in making his way into Formula One.  

“I applied for 10 jobs, and I sent letters in those days, to Ferrari and McLaren, all sorts of people.” 

It only took two weeks for him to get a job offer and that was from Arrows Grand Prix. Tom Walkinshaw’s new team brought a lot of promise and excitement in Formula One, after signing world champion Damon Hill. What a statement that is.  

He joined the team as a stress analyst, but he soon made his way up the ladder. “I stayed there for six years doing everything from running test teams to software to crash testing and everything and ended up as head of R&D – it was quite a cool job.” 

The Australian then moved to McLaren Racing, this time, as a principal designer. Two years passed by at the team and he was able to work with some of the best names in the sport, such as Adrian Newey.  

A big step 

Then it was time for something completely different. 

“We started Super Aguri, with Honda. We did that in 100 days, so that was pretty crazy.” 

Preston was a founder and team principal of a brand-new Formula one team, alongside Honda, which competed in the series from 2006-2008. The team could only manage to gather four points in total, with no race wins to speak of, but they were able to work with Jenson Button. The man who would later go on to win the driver’s championship in 2009. 

The Super Aguri F1 team photo. Image permission provided by Mark Preston

This marked the end of his time in Formula One, but the beginning of his Formula E career. He soon moved to Techeetah, where he became a part of one of the most successful teams in the history of Formula E.  

Whilst overseeing DS Techeetah, Preston helped the team win three Driver’s Championships and two Constructor’s Championships. He helped turn the team into a dominant force that was feared by all in the series.  

A mastermind  

As a team principal, there is no greater feat than winning a Constructors and Drivers championship, but to do that twice, is an even greater achievement. The ex-team principal of Techeetah told us about some of the main techniques that a team must have to become a tyrant in motorsports.  

We spoke to Mark Preston about everything Formula E on our Formula Nerds: Formula E podcast, which you can find here.  

Antonio Felix Da Costa on the top spot of the podium after one of his victories for Techeetah in Formula E. Image permission provided by Mark Preston

“Specialisation is really important, Tyres are really important, so we have a specialist in tyres, energy management is really important, so we have a specialist in energy management. So you find that the more you specialise in areas that are important, the more benefits you can have.” 

The staff within a Formula E team are incredibly important, but another key area is inevitably the drivers. Preston was able to work with two men who could be considered as two of the greatest talents to have raced in Formula E. They are of course, Jean-Éric Vergne and António Félix Da Costa. Both of which, were world champions with DS Techeetah. He showed a particular admiration for the French driver as he said: “we learnt with JEV [Jean-Éric Vergne], he certainly come from F1, was super-fast and really, really, let’s say pushy to win. So, he helped to create a culture of always pushing.”

Vergne won two consecutive Driver’s Championships between 2017 and 2018. 

“JEV had been driving Go Karts as soon as he was allowed, because his dad had a go kart track, so you know he’d been in a race car or kart since he was 5 or probably younger – same with Antonio. So that 10,000 hour rule definitely does show up in terms of learning. ” 

One thing that can prepare a driver for greatness in Formula E, is experience in Formula One. Both drivers had been tutored and developed with the Formula One mindset, and Preston believed that this was key for their careers as, “they both worked for Red Bull and working in F1 gives you a level of education.” 

He went on to say: “The fact that they had been trained and brought up through Red Bull really did make a difference.” 

A genius move  

A crucial element of a team’s success is certainly the powertrain that they race with. The heart of the car. The brain of the machine. The greatest weapon of the team. A team cannot dominate without a great engine. 

“In season 3 and 4 we had Renault powertrains, and one of the reasons I chose Renault was, I worked with them in F1, I knew their approach to things, I knew that as a customer team, they wouldn’t hold us back because they have a real sort of fairness to things.” 

He added: “For me it was a no brainer to go with Renault, and it proved out that we won the championship.” 

Preston’s decision to work with Renault’s powertrains proved to be massively beneficial. Vergne was able to win the Driver’s Championship with the help from Renault, which may have been a factor with DS’s future involvement.  

After winning the 2017 Driver’s Championship, Techeetah were able to work with DS, who were crucial in the team’s Formula E tyranny. Without that first championship, or without the potential which Renault helped unleash, we may be looking at a very different Techeetah. 

Season 9  
Mark Preston celebrating after a Techeetah podium finish. Image permission provided by Mark Preston.

Fans of Formula E may be sad to see that Techeetah are not entering season 9 of the series. However, Preston believes that the team are making promising plans for the future.  

“It didn’t work out this time but watch this space, we never stop trying to figure out the next thing.” While he will not be involved in the upcoming season of Formula E, he still gave his thoughts on the next instalment of the series. 

“The new cars are interesting, a really big step. Quite amazing that they have haven’t got rear hydraulic brakes, that’s just such a big jump.” 

He later went on to say: “Playing around with the way attack mode and things work, certainly throws a few curveballs at the strategy engineers.” 

The new regulations have changed several key areas of Formula E. From the newly improved attack mode to the cars themselves. Additionally, yet rather controversially, the FIA have decided to remove the fan boost from the series.  

“I liked it, but didn’t quite work out, but a good experiment.” 

He added that: “One or few times, it did help us win.” 

 

Formula E  

Formula E has been on a dramatic rise over the years. The series themselves stated: “total viewing hours for Season 8 races increased by 58% compared to Season 7 and the championship enjoyed a 28% YOY [year on year] increase in the average viewing duration per live race.” 

There are many explanations for Formula E’s rise in popularity. Preston believes that a certain Netflix series has had a major impact. An impact for, not just the series, but for the technical staff who work in the sport. 

“Drive To Survive has certainly opened up the whole of motorsports to a whole different audience so therefore, they need more content and people to talk about on the TV, so yeah, it’s really good to see the recognition of the engineers.”

Mark Preston with the Techeetah car behind. Image permission provided by Mark Preston.

Another vital reason for Formula E’s newfound fame is the quality of their drivers. The series has recently seen a level of talent that is much higher than before. Stoffel Vandoorne, Jean-Éric Vergne, António Félix Da Costa and more famously Nyck de Vries. 

De Vries has even been able to make his way over to Formula One, in an unprecedented and revolutionary move which was happily welcomed by Preston, “that’s really exciting for him [de Vries] and I’m really happy that he’s done that.” He then told us that he would have liked to work with the Dutchman in Formula E at some point. 

“I had actually been talking to him for a few years, to see if there was maybe an opportunity to work with us in Formula E.”

With the new coverage level and quality of Formula E, Preston believes that any driver has a chance to make a name for themselves in the series as: “the ones that have come and who didn’t get their opportunity to do F1 have certainly got the potential to show what they’re capable of, against one of the most competitive grids in racing.” 

Why you should watch Formula E 

One major theme of our Formula E podcast is to teach new fans about the series, with the goal of increasing the popularity of the series. As a huge member of Formula E, Mark Preston decided to help us out. 

“If you’re into racing, you get to see pure racing in Formula E.”

The ex-Formula One team boss then said: “The level of competition is super high; they’ve got to really hit the track and be fast straight away. So, some drivers that probably take a bit more time to come up to speed, don’t suit Formula E.” 

The intensity and unforgiving nature of Formula E are some of the most appealing aspects of the sport, not just for the fans, but for the staff themselves. He said: “like normal in motor racing, if you make a mistake, your day is probably wiped out, and especially in Formula E, if you make a mistake in the first session, you’re probably not going to win.” 

Another element that Preston prefers about Formula E is the track suitability to racing, compared to Formula One.  

“There’s certain tracks like Monaco where F1 has become a precession at the end of the day but Formula E suits some of the racks like that.” 

More of Mark Preston   

At the end of our interview, Preston alluded to the fact that his time in motorsport is far from over. So, fans of Techeetah, and motorsports in general can be happy in the knowledge that Techeetah are working for the future as, “we’ve got lots of plans going on in the background.”

Mark Preston with the Techeetah team after a Formula E victory. Image permission provided by Mark Preston.

The interview concluded with a classic line of hope. He told us that the team were very busy, “planning the future, seeing what’s the next craziest thing we can dream up.”

 

Feature Image Credit: Image provided to us via Mark Preston

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