Alpha Techeetah: An Interview with Mark Preston
While most of us look up to a certain racing driver or team because of what they have achieved and accomplished, sometimes we tend to forget those people that work behind that said driver or team can have just as unique of a story. This is no exception when it comes to Mark Preston, current Team Principal of the DS Techeetah Formula E team. Mark, who is originally from Australia, started out as a Project Manager for Holden before moving to the Arrows F1 team in 1996, eventually going on to work alongside the likes of Adrian Newey at McLaren and most impressively, playing a very fundamental part of getting the Super Aguri team on the F1 grid and ready to go in 2006 in just a hundred days.
More recently, Mark was a part of setting up the Amiln Aguri team during the very first season of Formula E in 2014, and in 2016 became Team Principal of the then new Techeetah team. With Mark at the helm the team won the team championship last season, with driver Jean-Eric Vergne becoming the first driver to win back to back titles in Formula E. With the team taking their most current win to date just last weekend in Marrakesh thanks to Antonio Felix Da Costa, it was great to catch up with Mark and hear what he had to say.
1. Where did your interest in Motor sport come from?
My grandfather owned a salvage yard in Geelong, Australia. That’s where I was born. My father and uncle were always around cars when they were young and we lived on a farm at one point so vehicles are always part of our lives. I got interested in the Bathurst 1000 race in Australia and was always interested in V8 Supercars in all their early guises. When Alan Jones went back to F1 and we got the race in Australia that really increased my interest in F1.
While at university I got involved in Spectrum Racing cars which designed and manufactured Formula Fords in Australia. Those cars went on to win many championships in Australia and around the world. In 1996 I came to England for 2 weeks or 2 years and haven’t looked back!
2. What was it like to work with the likes of Adrian Newey at McLaren?
I actually met Adrian Newey at the Adelaide Grand Prix one year when an engineer friend of mine and I got ourselves into the pits and went looking for interesting people to talk too! So working with Adrian many years later was a great experience. Adrian understands the total race car so fully and is always interested to listen to a new approach to everything.
McLaren had very different attitude and approach to racing than Arrows, mostly around the level of professionalism and experience of winning at the highest level. I still believe that the great quote from Ron Dennis forms the underlying success that the team has had: “when I came to motor racing so many things were a black art, but that was a cloak for “we really don’t know”. He made it a science in order to reduce the uncertainty and make winning a certainty. That philosophy has stuck with me since that day. However, Arrows and the parent company TWR had more of an entrepreneurial approach to racing and when I started Super Aguri F1 with Honda I was able to mix the two different approaches to create what I believe was a great racing culture.
Team Techeetah at it's first Formula E race, the 2017 Hong Kong ePrix. (Formula E Media Area.)
3. How did you find your time at Super Aguri?
That was one of the best experiences I have ever had, starting an F1 team in 100 days, using the old cars from Arrows which I had been involved in designing, and adding in the experiences I had learned at McLaren meant that even though it was a struggle, and we worked all the hours that god sent, we enjoyed it thoroughly as there are not many times in your life to experience such an adventure! Even though the team only survived a few short years due to the financial crisis putting an end to Honda’s racing in F1 at the time, it is remembered fondly by all who were involved!
4. Can you tell us a bit about being apart of Formula E from the beginning?
After Honda pulled out of F1 I went looking for more relevance of motorsports to the real world and supported a number of startups such as Oxford YASA Motors and tidal energy turbines. I originally pitched for the tender to manufacture the Formula E cars with the FIA but obviously Alejandro’s group came with the total package. We immediately asked him if we could join and that began the adventure with FE.
At the end of the day FE is still racing and all of the normal factors apply. Probably the most striking thing that sticks in my mind is how crazy my ex-colleagues in other forms of racing thought we were: and I think some still do. But the relevance to the future of transportation I think is undeniable and therefore I am still passionate about the things we are doing to encourage the change to sustainable transportation. We have a long way to go but we are making a lot of progress.
Its incredible just how far we have come and it is a testament to Alejandro and the FIA who have created many exciting and innovative features that normal motorsports would probably be too afraid to try, such as our qualifying format, peak power limits and the latest idea Attack Mode.
One of my lecturers from my MBA at Oxford described the teams as startups, inside a startup eco-system. Something that I enjoy immensely.
The teams have changed a lot since the beginning and now as partners with a large OEM, DS Automobiles, the stakes are much higher and the competition much more professional than when we started all those years ago. However, it is still incredibly good fun and winning both championships last year with DS was in amazing.
As I write this DS TECHEETAH just got its first win and double podium in Season 6 and put us back onto the top of both championships so we are fairly excited to be back in the game after a little bit of a slow start this season!
DS Techeetah celebrate it's success at the recent 2020 Marrakesh ePrix. (Formula E Media Area.)
5. What would be your hopes for Formula E going forward?
I hope that we continue to innovate in what is effectively a paradigm shift in my favourite business: automotive. I am excited to be part of this change and hope to have as much impact as I can on the world! Of course we still need to reach a larger audience, but I am still surprised when a new fan sees the racing for the first time and tells me how exciting it is! I would like to see us having an impact on the total eco-system surrounding EV’s, especially around encouraging more renewable/clean energy projects because at the end of the day EV’s are emission free at point of use but need to be fed by greener electricity grids.
As long as the FIA keeps adding more difficulties in strategy such as Attack Mode I think the racing will stay exciting and we will reach a bigger and bigger audience.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mark for taking the time out to provide such fantastic answers and I would like to wish my best to Mark and the DS Techeetah team as they continue on in Formula E!