Ahead of the Santiago ePrix, Esteban Garcia caught up with Techeetah Team Principal, Mark Preston to discuss the rise of Tatiana Calderon, the controversial Attack Mode and the in vogue subject of team orders.
What are your feelings about the season so far?
We came into the season not sure. New relationship with DS. We’d obviously done a lot of work with them preseason and we were happy with testing, but we were quite surprised in Saudi how fast we were. We were happy of course. Not so quick in qualifying, but there was a lot of rain and there were problems obviously in qualifying. The track was drying. So we went to Marrakech thinking, ‘Okay, how are we going to be? Are we going to be fast or not?’. And as it turned out, the car was very quick also in Marrakech, so quite happy, and we had a good test there as well. We’ve come here feeling more prepared and looking forward to a good race.
What are your feelings about the Gen 1 car compared to the Gen 2? The Techeetah has been quick and is now an established strong team.
Maybe in previous seasons we weren’t with a manufacturer, so one of the big differences for us as a team, Techeetah, is that in seasons three and four we were obviously a customer team, so we weren’t used to having the proper big support of a manufacturer. That’s a big step for us. Just separate to the car is that we’re now working with a manufacturer, which is great. We did a lot of preseason testing. We were able to be completely involved in all of the development testing. The cars are quite a lot different. Obviously one car each driver now instead of two, so that brings a different way of working, I suppose. Now you can make sort of less mistakes in some ways because you haven’t got the other car as a back-up sometimes. But the cars are faster, the guys enjoy them. There are still plenty of new challenges for the engineers, and it’s all looking interesting for this year.
The halo and the attack mode are two major changes. What’s your opinion about the attack mode in particular? It’s a very different kind of racing?
It’s interesting, isn’t it — none of us were quite sure how it would turn out and whether it was work as planned, but just myself watching it, it obviously makes it quite strategic for ourselves in the team. From my feedback anecdotally from friends, family, people we know, they say it’s exciting racing and it’s not too much of a gimmick. It works well. It’s about the right balance of time you lose when you have to go into the zone and the benefit it gains. The first two races we’ve benefitted a lot from it, but, hey, you can take the risk, make the wrong call, and we may not benefit at the next races. I think it’s been quite good.
What were the problems with software in Saudi Arabia? There were penalties for some technical infringements.
Basically when you brake the power train is allowed to regenerate a certain amount of energy into the battery, and when the car is at full state of charge rate and near 100 per cent battery capability the control system just wasn’t quite perfect in matching the requirement from the FIA rules. It only wen over the regen by a small amount, but that’s the rules. It happened once in the race but it didn’t happen again, so that’s now fixed and we go forward.
Was it due to the constraints in the schedule due to the rain in Saudi Arabia?
Yeah, we would’ve probably found it if we’d been running obviously in those sessions. It’s a pity we didn’t find it earlier, but that’s life. That’s the problem. A lot of people had problems. You saw the penalties — I think there was about 20 penalties over that weekend for the same thing, so everybody was trying to get that number working properly.
What’s your opinion about Tatiana Calderon in her tests in Ad Diriyah and Marrakech?
She did a great job. She’s really professional. She’s very fast, as you saw. She was second quickest on the morning in Marrakech, which was a proper time. Everyone said, ‘Was that really her?’. Yep, that was her. She did a great job. She’s very professional. She didn’t crash the car or have any problems. She did all the jobs we required. We really enjoyed working with her, and I’m sure she’s going to go places.
What about the female test in Ad Diriyah? Is it possible to have more women in Formula E?
I’m not sure if you remember, but I was team principal at Aguri, and we had Katherine [Legge] in the first races. I think it’s important to the fans. I think you get a whole different reaction from people — including my wife — to having a female driver. By watching her, she’s been around motor racing for a long, long tie, and she was quite excited, for example, to have a female driver in our team in Katherine Legge. Obviously Tatiana is doing a great job, and I think she’s looking to try and do F2 and other things this year. We’d welcome her back to work with us again. Hopefully we’ll see her again soon with our team, but let’s see what happens.
The Santiago ePrix last year was a good one for Techeetah. Is it true you could see the manoeuvre between Lotterer and JEV because of the cut of the energy?
Yeah, so what happened was a UPS system went down in the circuit and only knocked out five teams, I think. That took off our televisions, our radios, our computers — everything. We couldn’t see anything, and of course they had V cameras in there, so the producers were actually texting Sara saying, ‘What are you guys doing?’. I think you were texting back, weren’t you, Sara, saying, ‘We can’t see anything!’.
So the problem happened because they both thought they were on different strategies. JEV thought he was saving energy to go one lap longer, Andre thought he had to use energy because he was shorter, so of course he thought he was quicker than JEV by a long way. So that caused the confusion. Of course as soon as the TV came back on again we were straight on the radio saying, ‘Okay, what’s your laps? What have you got on the pit board? What can you see?’ and got them realigned. It created quite a stir obviously and a lot of excitement for the fans. Later we watched it and went, ‘Woah’. I don’t think that would’ve happened if we were communicating the whole time and saying, ‘What’s on your dash? Why do you think you’re quicker?’. We would’ve figured that out. It created a lot of excitement for the fans and it’s on every replay now!
Talking about Lotterer and JEV, do you agree with team orders, or should it be free in a possible battle for the championship?
I think it’ll come down to what it is at the end. You saw last year that Andre obviously helped JEV quite a lot in the last races. He defended in I think Paris quite a bit with Lucas. In the last races of the season he let JEV by at certain times when one driver was going for the championship. They’re clean racers. They obviously did a good job together in Saudi. They were racing each other for a little while. A the last race obviously they were racing each other for a little while as well. But it’s not often you get two driver out in front by themselves with no other thing going on, so I think once they know the strategy, it’s pretty obvious which driver is fastest.
I think there’s a lot of communication that has to go on to make sure they’re on the same wavelength and know what’s exactly [going on]. There are no differences between what they’re trying to achieve, because often what happens is maybe one of them has had to use more energy because of some other problem, and then we would just inform the drivers and say, ‘Look, you’ve got two per cent more energy than the person in front’, and, depending on what’s happening, maybe he knows that and therefore he can go past. I think it’ll just be that they’re sensible. We obviously all talk together, and we’ll play the game as it needs to be played and we’ll see where we end up.
This year you have the drivers champion in your team and you have a partnership with DS. What does it mean to Techeetah that the team has the support of a strong factory?
The great thing about working with an OEM like DS is that it brings a lot more resource. As our car’s now base din their factory in Paris, we have access to all of their extra resources. I’ve always said that motor racing is a resource game. It’s not just about all the smartest ideas; it’s about having enough people to do the jobs, it’s about having enough spare parts — all the elements of the game are important. Working with DS now, I think I’ve said before, it’s probably doubled or tripled our resources because of the access to infrastructure and everything we have now. The access to testing — it’s just so important to be involved in testing. So there are many elements to it, and it’s what you need to compete on this grid now.
Images: DS Techeetah FE Team and ABB Formula E
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