Antonio Felix da Costa’s move to DS Techeetah was one of the biggest stories of the Formula E off-season, but how did the move come about?
The likeable Portuguese has raced in the championship pretty much since day one, but his final season in BMW colours was the first in which he’d had the machinery to properly demonstrate his talents.
A championship record of eighth, 13th, 20th, 15th, and sixth across five seasons does not paint a full picture of da Costa’s abilities nor his appeal to Techeetah as a credible option to replace the Porsche-bound Andre Lotterer.
Techeetah team boss Mark Preston, a man who played a key role in turning Vergne’s post-F1 career around, tells Inside Electric exactly what qualities he was looking for and why da Costa ticked all the boxes he and the team required to become Jean-Eric Vergne’s new team-mate.
“[We needed] a driver to fit into our team quickly and he obviously ticked that box. He’s a fast driver, he’d been at the front of the pack last year, and also, [he has a lot of] experience in Formula E which is paramount,” says Mark.
“If you look back at when Andre [Lotterer] came into Formula E, it took a little while to get him up to speed…
“If you look back at when Andre [Lotterer] came into Formula E, it took a little while to get him up to speed, and that seems to be the case with most drivers that come in. Even drivers like Oliver Rowland, who came in pretty fast, took a while to settle down.
“So there are a few drivers out there that would have been obvious choices but to take someone brand new from outside, there’s a time to learn and we’re in the championship [battle] so it’s better to have both drivers at the front from the beginning to maximise points.”
Being experienced, quick, and a known quantity – da Costa drove for Preston when the Australian was in charge at Team Aguri – was enough to make him a viable option, but as a multiple title-winning Formula E team, da Costa surely wasn’t Techeetah’s only option?
Several drivers got in touch to enquire about Lotterer’s vacant seat, but who gets the final say as to which ones are approached? At Techeetah, multiple stakeholders were involved in the decision to sign da Costa, with former sporting director Pedro de la Rosa understood to be the first member of the team to make formal contact with him regarding the possibility of joining.
You’d imagine though that Vergne, being both the star driver and part-owner of the team, was heavily consulted on the identity of his new team-mate.
“He certainly had his opinions,” says Preston. “For him, he wants a driver that could push him like Andre did. If you are maybe not having a great weekend, or if you have some problems, it’s always better if you can rely on the second driver, having two top drivers is the best way to go.
“We’ve always kept a list of the drivers we liked the most going in the background. Myself, Leo Thomas [Techeetah technical director] and Pedro [de la Rosa] were quite involved in the choice.
“I think when you are at the front, the good thing is that lots of people talk to you as well. Everybody kind of says ‘What are you up to?’ or ‘What’s happening? My contract is this long etc’.
“There were definitely opportunities [with other drivers], we had lots of people talking to us…
“There were definitely opportunities [with other drivers], we had lots of people talking to us [but] Antonio was on the top of that list.”
As mentioned, a couple of wins and a career-best finish of sixth in the championship doesn’t appear to make da Costa, on paper at least, too much of a threat to Vergne, but it’s clear from speaking to people in the paddock that Techeetah are getting a very strong driver who’ll quickly be on the pace, and who crucially, is unlikely to cause any issues with Vergne and his role as the team’s undisputed number one.
Da Costa doesn’t get taken as seriously as he perhaps should because of his lighthearted demeanour. At any given race, you’re likely to see him wandering through the paddock or the pit lane with his shades on, laughing and joking with the drivers, members of his and other teams, and even us journalists.
He’s genuinely a fun guy to be around, but he’s also an incredibly intelligent and hard-working driver who’s desperate to win a title before his time in Formula E is up. Speaking with him in Marrakesh at the beginning of the year, da Costa explained how much winning with BMW meant to him as they were extremely supportive when his Red Bull F1 career came to an end.
“BMW were the ones who picked me when I wasn’t wanted [by Red Bull], so I give these guys a lot of credit,” da Costa said in Marrakesh.
“I’m a very loyal person and I’m happy that we were able to win together [in Ad Diriyah, 2018] for the story and for the plan, it was amazing.
“I’ve now given them a race win in Formula E on their first go, and obviously, [to win] a championship would be great.”
The Andretti-run BMW team he spoke so fondly of are an immensely tight group on and off-track, and together with da Costa, they went through a tough period prior to the German manufacturer’s investment.
Da Costa’s decision to jump ship won’t have been easy for him, but it says a lot about his career ambitions that he’s willing to depart a team he’d become integral to, to take on arguably the strongest driver on the grid.
Preston backs up the view that Vergne will prove tough to beat, but he’s seen enough to believe da Costa’s transition into the team will be a smooth one.
“I do think [Vergne] is the best on the grid, but I would say that wouldn’t I?
“I do think [Vergne] is the best on the grid, but I would say that wouldn’t I?” jokes Preston.
“No but I do, I do think he’s the best on the grid, and he’s proven it and from where we all started together three years ago to where we ended up last year.
“I’m a big fan of stability. We’ve probably had more changes than we would like [in those three years] but at least we’ve minimized them this season.
“Some of us know Antonio from previous years. JEV happens to know him from when they were Red Bull drivers, so at the end of the day, he’s not new us as a person. He knows us, he trusts a lot of the engineers as he’s worked with some in the past so that softens the blow.”Become a Patron!