This week we meet DS Virgin Racing team manager Leon Price, who has a fascinating track record in the sport and an outlook that reflects a strong pedigree from his well-known father.
Plenty of drivers come from racing families with a celebrated lineage, but how many non-racers do you know who follow their parents in to racing and carve out a successful career?
There aren’t many, but one notable candidate is Leon Price, a familiar face and respected presence in the Formula E paddock since day one of the series in 2014.
The son of well-known team owner, composites pioneer and ex F1 and Le Mans-winning boss David Price, Leon has followed his father into the business, which has been their stock-in-trade for almost half a century.
Leon has osmosed a good slice of his father’s qualities. Personable, capable and shrewd, but with an overall pulsing love of racing and competition, Price goes motor racing with the same pure conviction as his father.
In fact, the only disappointing hand-down from father to son is the baffling familial infatuation with Chelsea football club. But, you can’t have everything!
“From memory, and having seen some pictures from those times as well, it was back when Dad was racing in Formula 3 with the likes of Johnny Dumfries and we used to go to the cold, wet British circuits that the bug took hold,” Price told e-racing365.
“They had a stack of tires at the front of the garage and I would stand on them just so I could see the top of the cars going past.”
This would have been in 1984, when Price was five years of age. From this early stage the dye was pretty much cast for his future.
“I suppose this sport has always been in the family,” he said. “I always knew that Dad was away racing all the time, much like my kids are experiencing now. But it was great understanding what he was doing, even at school when I was probably about nine or ten and he won Le Mans (as the team manager of Sauber Mercedes). I wanted to emulate it and achieve something just like that.”
“I went to work with Dad quite early on. I went into his composites factory at first and did an apprenticeship, which was a really good experience for me.”
As a composite laminator, the young Price got to see from scratch the art of producing a race car, honing different skills with his hands and gaining an understanding of what it takes were crucial and valuable lessons.
It wasn’t long, however, before Price wanted to join “the circus” and in 1997 he made his debut as a crew member with the David Price Racing-run Panoz squad at Le Mans.
“We were running Brabs [David Brabham], Mags [Jan Magnussen], Pel [Perry McCarthy], James Weaver and Andy Wallace, so lots of nice and quiet ordinary guys really,” he said with a laugh.
“I was washing wheels, getting tires fitted. It wasn’t really until 1999 when we ran the BMW LMPs that I started to do a bit more on the cars as a mechanic. So I stepped up and started to progress a little bit more from then.”
That infamous year of 1999 at Le Mans was pivotal for Price, as the privateer BMW V12 LMR they ran was running fourth for many hours before coming home fifth overall, amid a stacked field of manufacturer entries.
More endurance heroics came the following two years, with Panoz, and then with a Mike Earle-run, Gulf Oils-backed Audi R8.
“We were running the Gulf Audi with Stefan Johansson, and that was a really great year. It was a fantastic little car, in fact I would say it was probably one of the best racing cars I have ever worked on, a real joy,” confirms Price.
“I stayed with Mike on-and-off until about 2003 when we ran [the R8] again and then I went back with Dad in 2004 and we started single seater racing, first in the Renault V6 Series and then in GP2.”
Price established himself as one of the top mechanics in GP2 over the next five seasons but soon the poacher wanted to turn gamekeeper.
“Leaving my old man’s team had been very important because it showed that I could go out and do it myself. I got a call from [GP2 boss] Bruno Michel, who asked if I wanted to run this new championship called GP3. I nearly bit his arm off.
“I was working on the other side of the fence with an organization rather than in a team. It helped me to understand both sides of the sport which have benefitted me now. To understand what the organizers are doing and how they make their decisions is really valuable.
“I got to know Charlie [Whiting] and Herbie [Blash] very well and it was useful to be up in race control and learn from guys like that. It was a very insightful experience for me.”
But it wasn’t long before the yearning of team camaraderie called again and Price was back in the maelstrom of challenging to win races and titles.
“It was Trevor [Carlin] who gave me the opportunity,” Price recalled. “He said, ‘there is this new championship starting up. It could be something interesting, do you fancy coming along and running it?’ This was Formula E and the team was Mahindra.
“Season One was quite difficult, though, as most championships are in their first year, but you could see halfway through the year that it was getting better and better.
“Unfortunately it was quite short-lived as Carlin and Mahindra went their separate ways.”
But the phone rang for Price, and on the other end was an ambitious Alex Tai from Virgin Racing.
“We had a quick conversation and then we met up,” he said. “I knew the likes of Sam [Bird] from GP2 and also JEV [Jean Eric Vergne] a little.
“It was a tough start, the team needed a bit of restructuring, which we did over the course of Season Two and the squad has been together pretty much since then. To have that continuity and bonding has been very good and we have a great team now as DS Virgin Racing.”
For Season Four, an all-British team, should be right up Price’s street and his initial views on Alex Lynn are effusive.
“He did an exceptional job racing in New York, it was actually quite stunning and he fitted in instantly,” Price said.
“I think we have two excellent drivers who are going to help us make some big achievements this year and I believe we are very excited to get this season started.”
With Lynn a committed Arsenal fan, Bird a ‘Red Devil’ and Tai bolstering the Chelsea troops, the sporting rivalry will take on many forms this season.
“We’ll have plenty of banter, we always do,” Price said.
“The good thing about DS Virgin is that we have the same outlook, in that we work hard but we do it with a smile on our faces. We do that because we live to race and we just love competing.”