For the first time in its brief history, the Techeetah Formula E team is now a race-winning entity after Jean-Eric Vergne’s Montreal win last summer.
This victory was the culmination of a remarkable turnaround for the championship’s newest kids on the block.
From the ashes of the Team Aguri set-up, the new iteration of the squad took on many of the familiar faces from that operation, including Leo Thomas (pictured above, right) who holds the position of racing director in the Chinese-entered team.
Thomas started his racing engineering journey with Saulnier Racing, the team set up by legendary Promatecme team boss Serge Saulnier, leading to practical engineering experience with First Racing.
From there the racing fever took hold.
“It all really started in 2003 when I did some GT racing,” says Thomas. “It was the very beginning and I was learning a lot practically at the race track, it was great experience and gave me a good grounding in the sport.”
Things became more interesting and serious for Thomas at the end of 2007. This was when he became an aerodynamics engineer with Peugeot Sport for its Le Mans program where he worked for former boss Saulnier.
“I did a step-by-step progression with Peugeot and finished as a race engineer,” he said. “When the program ended, I looked at many things for the future.
“There were a lot of interviews, then finally Stephane Sarrazin (who Thomas engineered at Peugeot), called me because he wanted to race in LMP2 with Sebastien Loeb Racing, a team which was starting from scratch.
“I decided to stay with Loeb and though from a sporting point of view it wasn’t so good, we did some quite nice things with Michelin and Citroen. So it was an interesting time for me and I learned a lot about the racing business at this time.”
When Formula E became a reality in 2014, Thomas received another call from Sarrazin and again he was ready to engage.
“Steph called me again because they were looking for a race engineer at Venturi, but I was starting something like two weeks before the first race. It was an intense time!
“I left Venturi because it was not what I was looking for professionally. Then when I found there was an opportunity with Team Aguri I was back in Formula E.”
Since midway through Season Two, Thomas has been at the team which later metamorphosed in to Techeetah when Chinese sports marketing giant SECA purchased the slot in the summer of 2016.
The re-building of the team was a gruelling process from an engineering standpoint, but Thomas has been a lynchpin in its growth to its present standard. It is one which eventually saw that breakthrough victory at Montreal in the Season Three finale last July.
For the coming season, Techeetah will see further changes, none-more so than in Vergne’s new partner at the team, Andre Lotterer.
“Lotterer coming to the team is very interesting because of all the experience he has,” says Thomas.
“He has a different history to JEV completely. I think that where they are in the level of experience they each have can only have benefits for us going forward. It will be fascinating.”
Techeetah is the only true customer team in Formula E and this brings both positives and negatives, most notably limited pre and post-season testing, which is part and parcel of the customer deal.
“The lack of testing is frustrating but we knew what we were getting in to when we did the deal with Renault,” says Thomas.
“If we want to be close to Renault e.dams we need to work in a different way to them for sure, because we will never have the same support at Renault, this is clear.
“So, we have to work in these different ways and extract what we can from the package and be creative with what we can adapt.
“It is a complex engineering challenge, but until we go to a factory union in the future then this is just the way we have to go racing.”
For Thomas and his colleagues, the start of Season Four is likely to be challenging but there is no doubt that as the season wares on, adding to that Montreal win will be the target.
“Season Four will be tougher than ever, but as we grow as a team we can be strong and challenge again,” he says. “It may not happen immediately but I expect us to be getting in the mix again and having some level of success.”