Future Thoughts: DS Techeetah’s Mark Preston on pioneering and winning in the electric motorsport world

Dec 01 2021


As part of our Future Thoughts series, Airspeeder spoke to one of the pioneering minds in electric motorsport, Mark Preston, former Team Principal and now CEO of the multiple Formula E World Championship-winning team, DS Techeetah.


Airspeeder: Tell us in summary what it is you are doing and where have you come from!

Mark Preston: I am originally from Australia where I was a mechanical engineer and moved to the UK in 1996 to work in F1.

I started at Arrows GP and then followed with a stint at McLaren. I then moved to starting the Super Aguri F1 Team with Honda and Bridgestone. After the financial crash, the dynamics in F1 changed and we started looking at the future for the automotive industry. This led to us pitching to supply electric motorsport technology for the FIA in 2012. I got involved with the Aguri Formula E team from the very beginning and have been there since, winning multiple championships with the team.

At the same time, I – with the help of an old friend from Australia – founded an autonomous car company that has just completed a growth funding round.

Mark Preston

There has never been a more exciting time to be innovating within motorsport. What drove you towards engineering in the EV world?

I actually did my MBA in 2005 and asked the University if I could help with any spinouts. There was an electric company called Oxford YASA Motors that helped us with the spinout from the university that has since been acquired by Mercedes. During the business planning phases, I really examined the future of automotive and the huge potential in electric vehicles (EV). Until that point, I had always been in petrol-powered motorsport pursuing “more power and more revs”. This was 13 years ago. Now we see EV as very much in the mainstream. I think the moral of the story is change and technological developments take time.

Success doesn’t come overnight. Rather it’s built from continuous improvement from season one.
Mark Preston CEO, DS Techeetah Formula E Team and Co-Founder and CSO, StreetDrone.

What was it like being a pioneer in the electric motorsport world?

Having come from F1, all those guys were saying “you guys are crazy this is not possible it’s never going to happen”. It’s hard to describe how crazy people thought we were. 

Is there an advantage in starting with a sport that is a blank sheet of paper? Can you shape it in the sensibility of the times?

I remember when we first spoke to Alejandro Agag about some of the plans. We all agreed early on, we only wanted a few sets of tyres – the same for wet and dry conditions – not to use tyre warmers, not to ship race cars back to base between races and also to remove petrol generators from the grid. Starting a new series, Alejandro was able to make a lot of changes in one great step. Many norms from traditional motorsports were changed, and what’s so inspiring about Formula E is that a lot of other sports have been learning from how we operate. 

DS Techeetah is the only Formula E team to win both championships twice and the only team to win both championships back to back. What does it take to win championships at the pinnacle of motorsport? 

It’s the whole package. You have to have the right drivers, the engineers, the teamwork, the powertrain, and stability too. All elements are important, without one of them you might not succeed and that’s true in any sport. Look at Mercedes in F1, or ourselves even, in Formula E. Success doesn’t come overnight. Rather it’s built from continuous improvement from season one. 

YouTube video

What does that kind of victory feel like?

Pretty cool! It’s amazing winning. Though one of the most enjoyable this year, while we didn’t win the championship, was winning at Monaco for the second time in Formula E. Especially the way Antonio won the race, that overtaking manoeuvre in the last lap was spectacular. That kind of thing is even more satisfying. Winning is the goal and it’s pretty special when you do.

Every element of Formula E is pushing the boundaries on the track and off it. Motorsport is about perfection in all areas and sustainability is no exception. 
Mark Preston CEO, DS Techeetah Formula E Team and Co-Founder and CSO, StreetDrone.

The world is pushing towards a more sustainable future. Does motorsport still have a role as entertainment and a driver of technical progress, desirability, public acceptance? 

In NASA’s Technology Readiness Levels guidance they talk about blue-sky thinking in universities at level one all the way to fully commercialised end product at level nine. Motorsport is a prototyping competition for technology demonstrators: around a level four or five. We can take more risk, we can iterate quicker, we can experiment and help mature the technology. The quicker we can improve in motorsport the quicker the application outside it. Early adopters watch what we do in the motorsport world.

Motorsport also makes technology more accessible to people, more interesting and cool. Remember in the 1980s when turbocharging in F1 was all the rage? The road cars you wanted to have had a turbo badge on them! 

Formula E has been accredited as being net-zero carbon from inception as our emissions have been monitored since we began over 7 years ago. With sustainability, first, we measure, then we reduce, then we offset what we can’t reduce. 

There are many things we do differently in Formula E than other motorsport championships. For example, race cars don’t come back to base. Once we finish pre-season testing in Valencia, they get packed and sent off to the next event: reducing unnecessary air freight. Also looking at building better infrastructure and facilitating renewable energy at the events – Formula E is developing hydrogen for generators in more remote race locations.

Every element of Formula E is pushing the boundaries on the track and off it. Motorsport is about perfection in all areas and sustainability is no exception. 

MP 3

Outside motorsport, what are the greatest obstacles to achieving clean sustainable mobility? 

I think a lot of people talk about charging infrastructure which is still difficult. Electric cars are still clunky. I have a petrol car and an electric car but I can’t remember the last time I went to a gas station. It’s easier and cheaper to charge at home overnight. Mine’s on charge right now at the front of my house but I have a wire across the pavement: usability is still not perfect! There’s a way to go to make it all easier to use.

Tesla has done an amazing job making everything seamless with an electric vehicle and even a year ago you didn’t have such a range of EVs to pick from. 

With availability and ownership increasing, we’ll reach a tipping point. Soon it’ll become normal and we’ll wonder what all the original difficulties were. 

Modern white garage door

The future is autonomous, as you know well with your work leading Street Drone. How do you see this space expanding? 

We have lots of levels of autonomy defined by the SAE Level of Driving Autonomy. A Level Four vehicle can drive itself in a known area. These are the types of autonomous vehicles I think will become prevalent first in the next five years. StreetDrone have an ongoing project with Nissan at the Sunderland plant, where we’re taking an HGV truck that would tow a 40-tonne trailer between the distribution area and the main plant. And that will be running early next year as a prototype. There are many people coming to talk to us about applications in ports, on farms, and in other areas in a controlled environment where autonomous vehicles can be used. Logistics will be the first area where Level Four autonomous vehicles usage will start and then expand to other applications. 

When it comes to Level Five “robo-taxis” – that can pick you up anywhere, drop you anywhere, take any route, through rain, hail or snow – it’s difficult to tell. Even in big OEMs, it’s hard to put a date on when this will happen.

In an autonomous future, do you think there is still space for those that seek the thrill and agency of driving? 

I don’t think driving will go away completely so soon and will probably still be part of life for the next 25 years or more. But all these new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – active cruise control, active lane assist, self-parking – like that already exist make driving much easier. Even though there may be autonomous driving in logistics, a lot of these high-level ADAS ideas are moving across to road cars quite quickly in most top-level cars. You see a Tesla in LA and it can pretty much do all the low speed and traffic driving by itself.

A big American 6.8-litre V8 pickup truck to pick up a gallon of milk from the shop shouldn’t be the only option for people. At some point, we will have a last-mile autonomous electric delivery vehicle that can do so more environmentally friendly. With autonomy being introduced in all areas of mobility the need to personally drive everywhere will be reduced.

pioneer in the electric motorsport world

Quickfire Questions

The Airspeeder format takes racing to anywhere in the globe. Where would you stage an electric flying car Grand Prix and why?


My home country Australia so I can go back for a trip! Somewhere interesting, maybe Uluru. It would make a spectacular backdrop.


In 10 years’ time, how will you get to work in the week and what are you traveling in on a Sunday?


I’m lucky as I live and work in Oxford so I walk, and will continue to! On a Sunday, I’ll keep my little Fiat 124 Abarth.

Describe your instinctive thoughts on the birth of electric flying car racing?


It’s really interesting and I was curious to see where the technology was up to and what’s the latest in the state of the art. But obviously, it reminded me of Luke Skywalker’s flying car in Star Wars!

In your view, what is the single greatest motorsport innovation?


You could say seatbelts, in the ‘50s and ‘60s they raced without. The simplest solution is sometimes the most effective.


DS Techeetah Formula E Team

Read our previous interview with:
Formula One’s Rob Smedley.


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