Techeetah’s transformation from an abject start-up in Season Three to the team which delivered a title-winning proposition for Jean-Eric Vergne in Season Four is one of motorsport’s more remarkable stories.
Such was the upheaval of transforming the remains of Team Aguri to the new Chinese entity owned by sports marketing giant SECA in the summer of 2016 that the prognosis for any success at all looked unlikely.
Back then, stories emerged of a chaotic beginning which included a Donington Park hotel room doubling as an assembly area and mechanics hastily leaving a listing ship.
The drama also played out on-track, including at Techeetah’s second-ever race in Marrakesh when Vergne missed the teams’ first Super Pole appearance due to a miscalculation on when he had to leave his pit.
Yet, all the tumult simply made Techeetah’s key figures – Mark Preston, Leo Thomas, Edmund Chu and Ivan Yim – even more determined to cast aside its early reputation and earn a seat at Formula E’s top table.
The rationale on how an independent team like Techeetah was able to achieve such sensational results is multi-faceted.
Most importantly, it came in at the right time, starting up in the two final seasons of the Gen 1 era.
The customer Renault powertrain, which the French manufacturer was obliged to sell under the rules, gave Techeetah every chance of biting the hand that originally fed it.
Beating the factory Renault e.dams team with 19 fewer testing days was akin to climbing Everest without oxygen. It shouldn’t happen, but in Season Four it somehow did.
“We just did most things right – there were no magic tricks just that we did a good operational job most of the time,” Techeetah’s racing director Leo Thomas told e-racing365.
“Two years ago when we started we looked at DAMS and how they operated and we thought the only way to beat them is it to be like them a little.
“We improved a lot of the processes and in terms of preparation were the best this year – the sim, the team and the way we operated.”
Ironically, Techeetah now faces a period of uncertainty as it joins forces with DS Automobiles.
Although the DS Gen-2 car appears to currently have an advantage over most of the opposition, question marks remain about the constitution and future ownership of the Techeetah team and exactly who might take it to the next level.
Vergne and Lotterer Bring Harmony
If you had put Jean-Eric Vergne and team harmony into the same sentence two years ago you would have attracted a fair amount of skepticism, for the ex-Toro Rosso Formula 1 driver had a reputation of being a surly and fractious operator.
These aspects of the Frenchman’s character have not completely disappeared but through a combination of self-appraisal and maturity, the new champion has found peace with himself and his sport.
By his own admission, a bruising fourth and final season with Toro Rosso in 2014 damaged Vergne’s psyche, and in turn seemed to crystallize a fatuous belief that F1 is all consuming in motorsport.
But Formula E had news for Vergne. It isn’t.
Despite a false start with DS Virgin, in which a sparky relationship with team principal Alex Tai often threatened to combust, Vergne threw his lot in with Techeetah, partly on his own hunch and partly through advice received from renowned ‘super manager’ Julian Jakobi.
Towards the end of Season Three, it slowly started to gel and progress started to be made. Yet, the final cogs in the winning machine came from an unlikely source.
Once a vocal critic of Formula E, sports car legend Andre Lotterer arrived after re-appraising his outlook and thinking long-term about the second phase of his hugely successful career.
Here was a good deal, a new challenge and a way to get into a series he knew would be awash with manufacturers both now and in the future.
With nothing to lose and an often disarmingly laconic work ethic, Lotterer was the perfect foil for Vergne: no politics, no agenda, just lots of speed and a willingness to get the job done.
It worked perfectly, and Vergne took the title with a race to spare.
Even when a competitive tinderbox threatened to ignite, as in Santiago when the pair clashed whilst battling for the win, the new Vergne stepped forth, casting the old JEV quietly into the shadows.
Tenth place in Zurich apart, there were no off days for Vergne in Season Five, and even when he didn’t score big in Switzerland he could barely be blamed.
He rode his luck, though. Let’s call it ‘champion’s luck’.
From claiming pole running backwards in Hong Kong to being promoted from fifth to pole via a raft of penalties at Punta del Este, Vergne made the most of his fortune.
But more pertinently, he also had class in heaps. His victories in Santiago, Punta, Paris and New York City were all imperious and worthy of a title winner.
Lotterer, meanwhile, made his initial critics look somewhat foolish by taking two podiums and eighth in the standings as he ‘got’ Formula E after an average start to the season.
However, the ultra-competitive three-times Le Mans winner was anything but completely satisfied with some of his performances.
With a full developmental testing schedule behind him for Season Five, he should be a mighty force indeed.