Less than 24 hours after wrapping up both Formula E titles in Berlin, Mark Preston tells Rob Watts why this season’s successes mean so much to him, and what it’s been like seeing Antonio Felix da Costa’s career come full circle with the DS Techeetah team.
Mark Preston has been in Formula E since the very beginning, but it’s fair to say that things were very, very different back then. After a successful career in F1, Preston set up the Aguri team in 2014 [which later morphed into Techeetah] and signed da Costa off the back of his experience testing Red Bull’s leading F1-leading KERS technology.
After seeing his shot at an F1 race seat pass him by, da Costa arrived in Formula E unsure of his surroundings and a little reluctant to unpack his suitcase. Much like Jean-Eric Vergne, da Costa was a ‘Red Bull reject’, but unlike the Frenchman, he never had the chance to show the F1 world what he could really do.
For Preston, it’s been quite a journey seeing the affable Portuguese grow from the ball of frustration who tried to exit his Aguri contract following his first FE test, to the man who reunited with Preston after three seasons away to deliver Techeetah their most dominant title winning season yet.
“I’m absolutely delighted, it’s incredible for Antonio. He’s done an amazing job,” says Preston fervidly.
“He’s been super professional and he’s been working really, really hard on winning and it’s just so great to see him get the championship.”
Preston is chatting via Zoom from his Berlin hotel, still a little weary from his team’s celebrations the night before where he admits he had ‘a few champagnes’ to toast his latest success.
He recalls a discussion he and da Costa had had the previous night that prompted him to reflect on how far the pair had come since that whirlwind debut season.
“We were actually talking in the car. I got a lift with him from the track last night, and I said, ‘Do you remember that season one, when we were starting Formula E?’
“He was still doing F1 as a reserve driver and simulator driver, and also DTM. I remember talking to his manager Tiago who wanted to focus him down on just one thing.
“In that first year [at Aguri] when you look at what all of us were doing in season one, it’s a world away, what we are now in, especially in our team.”
Preston believes da Costa’s Formula E journey is not too dissimilar to that of Vergne’s iconic redemption story, and the Australian remarks how easy it’s been to re-integrate him back into the team he raced for in Seasons 1 and 2, albeit a team that’s since been transformed into a well-oiled winning machine.
“I think he’s grown with the series, I would say. It’s probably similar to JEV who came in [to Formula E] in season one, and with us he’s helped to grow this team to where it is. So the fact that Antonio could kind of dovetail that, he already knows JEV and many of the engineers and myself and others, just made it smooth,” Preston says.
“There were still some things we had to sort out in Riyadh, and you could see us grow as a team over [the course of the season]. Where everything’s got better, everything’s got smoother.
“It really does show that success is almost like a process. You’ve got to have the bad days, like Antonio said, to get to the good days, but as long as you keep going forward and up. If the trajectory is always on a positive tangent, to get very techie, you’ll be ok and that’s what we’ve done.”
Preston admits he was cautious of Techeetah’s title chances heading into the six-race Berlin showdown, despite the strong form they displayed immediately prior to the season being shut down.
“It’s quite incredible. I don’t think it’s sunk in quite yet. We didn’t expect to be able to do such a great job in Berlin. I came here quite worried that the others would do an amazing job and somebody would dominate, and it turned out to be us which was great,” Preston says of his double title win.
“The first time we came to Berlin we were not great but we’ve obviously been working at it. Obviously the Audis have been great here in the past so we’ve been working doubly hard because we weren’t sure what the secret to Berlin was, and we’re not sure we could tell you that now either.
“We were quite worried about someone like Audi actually who’s been very successful here before. It seems we’ve been working so hard over the break that we were so worried about somebody else taking the lead but it looks like we must have done a better job than anybody to be prepared for Berlin.”
For Preston, this season really means something special to him. That’s not to diminish the influence or importance of Vergne’s titles, but this time Techeetah have achieved something huge.
Having successfully defended their teams’ title for the first time, they’ve done so by beating some of the world’s largest car manufacturers in a Formula E grid that’s undeniably the most competitive ever – not to mention the added challenge that comes with a change in driver lineup and a global pandemic!
Understandably, Preston ranks this season as their toughest yet. Which makes the result all the more satisfying.
“This is a pretty big thing for me because I hadn’t won a championship [in F1] and we all know how difficult it is to win championships in F1 and also in Formula E,” says Preston.
“[Some of Preston’s ex-F1 colleagues said] you had to do it twice, and now three times, and of course I’ve had the messages this morning, saying, ‘Ok, you can stop now!’
“I’m an engineer, so one of the things that I see as so impressive for the team and for DS is that there’s an incredible amount of competition in Formula E. I’m so proud of everybody to have beaten, I think it’s seven other big manufacturers. Not little manufacturers, big ones that really know how to go racing.
“So for me, having been in motor racing for so long, it’s nice to win when there’s such big competition. We all know there’s been other series where sometimes the competition is not as high, but here it’s just relentless, you can’t say we didn’t win against the best.”
Getting to the top is one thing, but staying there can be an altogether different challenge. Preston maintains that Techeetah are far from ready to be knocked from their perch, despite the inevitable counter attack to come from the likes of Nissan, Porsche, and Mercedes.
He insists that some of his early career experiences make the success he has now all the sweeter, and it’s remembering these moments that ensures he stays grounded and focused on the task in hand.
“It’s incredible. The difference from the start… I mean, I started in Formula Fords in Australia, sleeping in the back of a truck at Bathurst. So I remember one time, me and the mate who ran the team, we slept in the back of a truck. We had a kettle, we had a TV. It probably wasn’t even colour back in those days, black and white, not sure,” says Preston.
“So I’ve been from there all the way up to McLaren where it is just incredible. So yeah, when you’re starting, you know what you maybe need to achieve [and] we’ve always been relentless in what we’ve been trying to achieve.
“I think we know what perfection is, so we focus on it and we know where we’re still not doing a great job. We’re quite critical, but we also enjoy celebrating when we get the win. It’s been a long journey, but a really amazing one.”