"It's been an interesting season for us," admits Techeetah Team Principal Mark Preston. Less than a year ago, the Chinese customer team, using a Renault powertrain, sat fifth in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship standings. But today, once again using hardware developed by the French manufacturer, the team's flying up at the front, leading both the teams' and drivers' championship by a healthy margin - 120 points ahead of reigning champions Renault e.dams. Miraculous turnaround or pure magic? We're not quite sure, so we caught up with Preston to find out the secret to Techeetah's transformation.
I think if you'd asked us if we expected to be in this position at the start of the year, I would have said, no. Certainly not leading the championship all the way to the end of the last two races, at least. It's obviously been great to see the team grow up since the start of Season 3. Lots of things have changed and we've made lots of improvements. Obviously, Andre [Lotterer] has come on board in Season 4 and helped us take things up a step as well. It's been a pretty amazing year but also a really great building year.
Obviously, JEV winning the last race of last season gave everyone a bit of confidence, which helped confirm that we're on the right direction this season. In racing, there's no secret magic. It's about having good drivers, a good powertrain, a good team and a good amount of resources and everything coming together.
Our success has definitely been down to the drivers. JEV has certainly done some amazing drives this year. He's always been really quick and always kept us in the Super Pole, which always helps. The best strategy has always been to have the fastest car lead from the front! Having the two drivers keep us up at the front of the pack is one of the key elements [in the team's sucess].
JEV's raced incredibly maturely this season. When he realised he wasn't quick enough in Hong Kong, he just made sure we got points and brought them home. He's been so consistent this season that our only real problem was in Zurich. Other than that, he's always brought home points and I think his worst finish had been fifth before that. All those things are the things you need to do to win a championship.
I think Andre surprised himself at how difficult he's found it. He's got to grips with it now and obviously, Santiago was where he really came on strong. That was the first time he was in Super Pole and he went on to race incredibly well. In these last few races, he's always been picking up podiums and been up there with JEV, so he's done a great job. I suppose that's shown in the way we're leading the teams' championship as well.
I'd say Andre will certainly come closer to equalling JEV in Season 5. I think they're both starting to look pretty even. They're both in the top five, they've both been in Super Poles, they can certainly race each other at the track and they swapped fastest laps in Zurich, so I'd say they're evenly matched.
Our Renault powertrain has been a reliable backbone of the whole campaign. One thing that Formula E does differently to other series, is that we [the customer team] get the same hardware as Renault [the manufacturer], which is great. I can say that the only real difference we have is the drivers, the team and maybe we do different things in the simulators, I don't know. It can only really come down to operations, the development work we do on the simulator and the drivers otherwise Renault is pretty good at looking after both of us.
The power cap [in Formula E] definitely helps keep everything tight. Power has a big impact on one-off lap times, so I think that means that anyone has a good chance of qualifying well. But then in the race you see that some teams aren't efficient enough to stay at the front. Certainly, Renault has one of the most efficient powertrains and that's something that makes a big difference in the races.
I couldn't see this kind of situation happening in other race series. My experience in Formula One, was that often the second teams got two steps behind in terms of development but, given the way the [Formula E] rules are set out, the hardware homologation is the same for all the teams at the start of the year. That definitely makes a difference.
We're not planning on doing anything different than what we've been doing for the past few races [before New York]. We've shown that when everything goes our way, we can win and have the guys on the podium. We're just going to be as competitive as we can be. The drivers have been on the simulator, practising for a number of different scenarios and trying to go through every kind of possible situation. Hopefully, we've prepared ourselves well enough but who knows in Formula E. you could just get your rear bumper clipped and all of a sudden, you have to come in and you've lost a lap. Things can get in the way that you can't really control unlike other kinds of racing.
What's put us ahead this season has been having a total package. Drivers, powertrain, team, car, resources, people - all the elements you need. That's what's come together to put us where we are.
Will Techeetah and JEV manage to take both the teams' and drivers' championship titles? Join us in New York to find out.