What does a team principal’s Christmas wish list look like? We asked Formula E championship-winning team boss Mark Preston about the five most important things they spend Christmas hoping for, now he’s stepped out of the limelight (for now) following Techeetah’s exit from the series.
Well, it usually depends on how much changes between seasons.
Many people ask me what the secrets to being a five-time Formula E championship-winning (three drivers’ titles and two teams’ titles) team principal are, and one of those answers is stability. The fewer changes the better is usually the best approach. That would run across everything from drivers to engineers, mechanics and all aspects of team operations.
Some might argue that when you are not in a winning position you want as many changes as possible to rules to shake up the status quo and open up the championship to opportunities.
Again, that could be true in some circumstances when you have enough resources to make a difference in the change: just look at Red Bull overhauling Mercedes in the first year of Formula 1’s new regulations this year.
Do we have drivers in place and if they are new, have they had enough time to get up to speed with not just the way the cars operate, but have they gelled with the team, are they wanting for anything?
Using an F1 example from 2022 at Ferrari, sometimes it didn’t seem like the drivers and team had had sufficient time to really settle down into working together.
A practical example in Formula E was when we [Techeetah] brought in Antonio Felix da Costa in 2019-20 and immediately won the championship.
It wasn’t a fluke: we knew da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne had worked together with him in the Red Bull programme, and so things gelled ever so quickly with da Costa learning from everything we had learned.
Has all the pre-season testing gone smoothly and have the bugs been ironed out, or at least workarounds found while changes are happening in the background to reduce the workload on the team at the track during the season?
When I think back to the workload on the mechanics in Season 1 (2014-15, pictured above) with a completely new car, new batteries and no real experience in electric motorsports, you don’t want that added factor in a sport that takes place over one day!
A big part of any competitive environment is what the military calls TTP’s: tactics, techniques and procedures: basically, the backbone of operations. Reliability and slick operations, especially in a series like FE which is all about explosive talent, arrive and deliver on one day of racing.
Quality may not be an exciting topic, but many of our successes in motorsports have come down to what might look like luck, but I would describe it as when preparation meets opportunity!
Rule changes affect all of the above. Scenario planning is a big part of thinking through all the permutations and combinations of how these changes to the rules play out. Is the driver aware of the way the team responds typically to a full course yellow followed by a safety car?
The more the groups are thinking in phases, the easier and quicker the decision is to be communicated clearly.
You will most likely hear that communication is often at the route of all problems: it’s not just telling someone something, it also requires them to understand it, otherwise, it’s not effective communication.
It’s something new in the world of racing, although it has been around sports in various places for a while. Where you spend the money (financial regulations) is now an important part of racing.
Not everything is included in the cap, but certainly, the operational aspects are and numbers of spare parts and people are some of the key aspects. We would all like limitless resources but focusing on the most important areas will be one of the secrets.
We can go back over some of the old adages like “to finish first, first you must finish”, which in basic terms means you need to be reliable. But if you’re too reliable, you might be slow!
So, a balance between having enough resources at the track to make sure everything is properly organised versus spending money on more engineers and rigs to test parts and push to the limit. Understanding the new tyres from Hankook will be one area that’s high on any TP’s list for Gen3 and given the change in supplier from previous seasons, it’s a real must for me.
If I had all those things for Christmas I think a team would be in a pretty good place heading into a new season with a brand new car, new rules and new teams.
Now you’ve just got to put all that into practice amid a fair bit of chaos!