Season Seven of the ABB Fia Formula E World Championship is all set to roar to a start later in the month in Saudi Arabia. One team is on the prowl for a hat-trick of titles.
For the past two seasons, one team, DS TECHEETAH has been the dominant force, winning all four titles on offer, the teams’ crown and the two for Drivers, with Jean-Eric Vergne and most recently with Antonio Felix de Costa. They say winning a championship is difficult, but retaining it is even harder.
We asked DS TECHEETAH Team Principal Mark Preston what is the secret of its success.
DS TECHEETAH Team Principal Mark Preston is all set to lead the team towards a hat-trick of titles in as many seasons. Image courtesy DS TECHEETAH
AUTOMOBILIST: WHERE DID THESE FOUR CONSECUTIVE TITLES SPRING FROM?
MARK PRESTON: I think it actually started back in season three and we really just built from there. It takes a long time to get to a winning level. JEV (Vergne) won in season four and we only missed out on the Manufacturers’ by two points because we made some mistakes in software so we could have won both titles that year as well. We grew in seasons five and six, getting better all the time. By the time we entered season five, we had all worked together for quite a while and JEV had worked with us for two years. He was getting himself better at understanding Formula E and he was obviously super quick because when he first came into the series with the Andretti team, he put the car on pole in his first ever outing in the car. A fast driver is very important and we have two of them with Antonio also. You’ve got to have the whole package though, everything is important and it’s also a lot to do with stability. I learnt back in my days in F1 that unstable teams that change people all the time and change drivers and change power trains, affects performance a lot. We started working with DS in season five but we had the same drivers, the same engineering team. Then by season six, our relationship with DS had grown and we’re all working together just better and better as time goes on. I think you’ve just got to stay ahead of the competition and continually improve with marginal gains all the time and try not to go backwards.
Team Drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa have won the Drivers' Championship in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Image courtesy DS TECHEETAH
AUTOMOBILIST: WOULD YOU SAY THE DRIVER PLAYS A MORE IMPORTANT ROLE IN FORMULA E THAN IN MANY OTHER RACE SERIES?
PRESTON: To win the Manufacturers’ title, you have to have two fast drivers otherwise you can’t get the points. For example JEV is a great qualifier. It’s really one of the defining elements of winning a championship and in season five, a few times he got from group one to Super Pole then got pole and won the race. That’s the kind of thing you have to do when it counts. He made it count in season five. Then obviously in season six, Antonio did the same thing. It’s a combination of every piece of the puzzle. You can’t have one thing without the other.
Gearing up for Season 7 with new livery. Image courtesy DS TECHEETAH
Testing took place earlier at Valencia. Image courtesy DS TECHEETAH
AUTOMOBILIST: FORMULA E IS UNIQUE IN THAT EVERYTHING TAKES PLACE ON THE ONE DAY. DOES THAT REQUIRE A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO OTHER FORMULA SERIES?
PRESTON: It means you have to perform on the day. You have to be on it from the beginning. If you make a mistake during the day, that’s probably the end of it. The drivers have a lot to deal with and energy management is a real art for which we train the drivers on the simulator. They’ve really got to be good at that. Then everyone’s got the same aero so there’s no big discrepancy there. There can be a big difference in the power train in terms of its efficiency, although the peak power is the same and it’s limited. Theoretically at least, in qualifying, anybody that’s got the same power as everybody else should be able to be on pole but in the race, maybe if their power train is not as efficient as say a DS and the drivers aren’t as good at energy management, they don’t have as many tools to help them learn about it, then that’s when they fall backwards. So there are a number of areas where you can definitely see where the driver does have a bigger effect than something like Formula 1.
AUTOMOBILIST: HAS DS TECHEETAH HAD SOME TECHNICAL ADVANTAGE THERE THAT’S CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR SUCCESS?
PRESTON: I think 100% yes and also we have been in it since almost the beginning. DS TECHEETAH has kept chipping away at all the small gains that can be made in the series. It’s a lot to do with efficiency and the power train definitely is a big factor, as well as the longevity, the stability, the hard work of everyone behind the scenes, which is incredibly important. Everyone works together in the DS factory in Paris and we keep getting better and better at working together. That’s an important factor as well.
Work on the DS E-Tense FE20 during the Pre-Season Testing at Valencia Circuit. Image courtesy DS TECHEETAH
AUTOMOBILIST: WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT GENUINE CROSSOVER OF TECHNOLOGY FROM THE RACING TO DS ROAD CARS, NOW AND IN THE FUTURE?
PRESTON: I think as time goes on, there’s more and more learnings from the race car. If you look back at when we first started doing Formula E, people didn’t think we could even build an electric race car, let alone that a whole race series would happen. You can take more risks in a race car than you can in a road car. If you’ve got some ideas that have come out of racing where you think, “We tried that in the race car, this didn’t work, that worked so let’s take that thing that worked and apply it to a road car,” with confidence. Racing allows you to see that something works reliably and we can see a path towards bringing the price down from a race car to a road car. I believe it’s really helped a lot for the confidence and the technology flow from the team to DS and its road cars.
AUTOMOBILIST: A NEW SEASON IS ON THE HORIZON. CAN YOU MAKE IT THREE IN A ROW?
PRESTON: I hope so. We’ve got the same drivers, the same team and DS is bringing a new power train for the second half of next season. The guys are all working in the background as hard as they can with the constraints everyone has at the moment with the pandemic. I believe we should be able to go forward. I was quite impressed at how much quicker we were than others in the Berlin races last season. There was half a second difference in a couple of the qualifying sessions and that was quite important. A couple of the other teams were certainly right on our heels at the end of the championship. You never know but we’ve got to go into the next season with confidence and we’ll see how it plays out.