The changing role of the Team Principal

Team Principal Mark Preston

Mark is the Team Principal of the Techeetah Formula E team and founder of StreetDrone, not to mention all the years he has worked in Formula 1 with McLaren and Arrows. So today Mark Preston discusses how the role of Team Principal has changed and the distinct differences between Formula E and Formula 1 during a race weekend.

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This weekend saw Formula E and Formula 1 go head-to-head with races in Monaco and Spain respectively. While both series are at the forefront of their respective disciplines, the structure of race weekends for Team Principals in each series is very different.

The role of the Team Principal has changed dramatically in Formula 1 over the last few decades, and ever since my time with Super Aguri in 2008. The role is now predominantly one of a figurehead, the public face of the team alongside the drivers, and we have seen an increase in the visibility and accessibility of many Team Principals in recent years.

However, the traditional function of a Team Principal in Formula 1 has been diversified and they are no longer solely responsible for managing the engineers, making strategy calls, securing sponsors and hiring drivers – but much of that freedom remains in Formula E.

Despite working at the cutting-edge of electric racing technology, we are closer to the lauded roles once played by Colin Chapman and Ken Tyrell.

Mark Preston

In Formula E, we have a much more condensed schedule due to the whole event taking place over a single day, while in Formula 1 the Team Principals will arrive earlier in the week – typically Monday or Tuesday – and will defer much of the set-up and engineering work to their heads of department, while they focus on the business of team management.

This is what I love about Formula E. My role is to bring out the best of the highly talented team around me, supporting them to ensure our different departments run smoothly both on track and off it. On the morning of an ePrix, I will meet with our engineers, mechanics and drivers to run through our strategies and processes and will then work with our commercial team to support their work – all before the first practice session takes place at 8 am.

This extends to the end of the race day in Formula E, where I will have a debrief session with the mechanics, engineers and drivers to get their feedback and plan improvements in processes for the next event. Typically, the Team Principals in Formula 1 won’t go into the minutiae, and will instead be briefed by their heads of the department once they are back at base.

The smaller size of Formula E teams makes this level of involvement a little easier and is particularly important given the new technologies that we are working with. We are at the forefront of electric powertrains and the level of competition between teams to find an edge is on the same scale as Formula 1. We are always working on opportunities for improving our cars between races, and with stock aero parts, we spend much of the morning testing software and set-up changes to make us run faster and more efficiently – this work is left to the engineering and data teams in Formula 1 over the course of two days of testing.

Media relations is another distinct area where Formula 1 and Formula E differ. The former is still very rigid in its approach, with Team Principals participating in a press conference on the Friday of a race weekend. While it’s great to see the media having more access, these sessions typically only attract the motorsport press to them.

Meanwhile, in Formula E we don’t have such a set format for Team Principals and we are much more accessible to a broader range of media. I can often be found being interviewed by technology and lifestyle magazines at the back of our garage – there is a real fascination in the engineering behind our cars, and we are able to get the journalists up close with our cars to better understand how they work and the impact that they will have on-road car technology – that’s not something you’re likely to see in Formula 1 any time soon.

In my current role, I am also awarded greater freedom to meet with local stakeholders in ePrix events. I enjoy meeting with local government officials and technology leaders in each area that we visit, so we can spread the word about the sport as a whole and get people excited about what we are doing.

While the role of the Team Principal is still important in Formula 1, it is primarily a symbolic position that the team can look to, and who can represent the work of hundreds of skilled people to the outside world. Yet in Formula E I, and my fellow Team Principals, are highly integrated and involved in everything that goes on inside the team, and in shaping the future of the series.

Despite working at the cutting-edge of electric racing technology, we are closer to the lauded roles once played by Colin Chapman and Ken Tyrell. We can still get our hands dirty, and I can’t wait to get stuck in weekends like the last one!

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