There’s always been an obsession with what’s lying around above us, hasn’t there? Think about it – the secrets of the universe are stored way up high, and back on Planet Earth the media we consume validates our intrigue, right down to the TV show couples staring up to the stars, novel protagonists testing the limits of the galaxy’s sandbox and radio interviews with those who actually ticked space exploration off the to-do-list.
But as we describe the genres of our interests as worlds, sport’s so often considered to be the one that never takes off into orbit (an exception for Bobby Zamora’s shots at goal of course). We’re the admirers of stars, sure, but they shine bright atop blades of grass or freshly-laid tarmac. And that brings me into the growing theme which bucks the trend of wondering what it’s like up there – wondering instead what it’s like to bring there to us.
Sports teams create constellations with every bit the precision Outer Space does, and personnel are always on the move as if it’s gravity at play. Look at the biggest football teams – Real Madrid coined the ‘galactico’ approach, that of collecting the world’s best players and managers like Faberge eggs and waiting for the cluster to come good. Often, it did. Motorsport isn’t a stranger to the concept either, as McLaren and Ferrari’s golden eras have shown.
One series that’s been open to letting such clusters grow is Formula E. An exodus of established drivers from across the world have not only entered the series but thrived in it too. The quartet of electro-champs – Nelson Piquet Jr, Sebastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi and Jean-Eric Vergne – were all either recent or decorated ex-F1 names when they made the leap.
But while these stars would collide in one series, they were rarely burning through the wall separating garages, instead separated into different teams. But if there’s one that’s shown the courage to buck the trend, it’s Techeetah. The Chinese outfit built up from the remains of Team Aguri has wasted no time in assembling a squad of galacticos of their own.
Season Three’s capture of Vergne, a star albeit dimmed by the winds of DS Virgin but still at the core a man who Red Bull so nearly saw fit to supplement their title-winning F1 team, plus Season Four’s arrival of Andre Lotterer, a member of WEC racing royalty, was backed up once again with the multi-year collaboration with DS to become their new works challenger for Season Five.
And their own constellation was proving obscenely powerful. Vergne came out the victor in Seasons Four and Five, becoming the series’ maiden multiple Drivers’ Champion in the process, while Techeetah’s new-found DS power propelled them to a first Teams’ title after a narrow Season Four miss. Andre played his part in establishing his first FE team as the momentum side, helping to secure the series’ first 1-2 finish in the 2018 Santiago E-Prix in the process, but has decided to switch his attention to an old flame in Porsche for the upcoming season.
This leaves Techeetah with one more roll of the roulette wheel, and in textbook fashion they went big with the capture of Antonio Felix da Costa. Only just cooling from the head of steam he’d built in Season Five, one where he challenged for the title as BMW Andretti’s focal point, Antonio arriving to partner FE’s throne sitter suggests we could see a driver pairing ready to eclipse all that have come before.
Talented driver pairings are nothing new in FE, neither are duos of race winners and even title challengers. But to have two stalwarts of the series – both Vergne and da Costa have been ever-presents since Season One – who have proven their mettle with podiums and E-Prix victories, and are in the peak age-range? It’s a stratospheric statement of intent from Techeetah and a natural evolution in the heights FE’s pool of talent can hit. Vergne and da Costa in one team, backed with the might of DS and the smarts of Techeetah’s designers and technicians could hit new heights.
The question of whether it will come together that way is still up in the air, but the signs are promising. Vergne and Lotterer played nice enough to come within a whisker of two consecutive Teams’ titles, and Antonio’s working relationship with Season Five teammate Alexander Sims was shown to be highly professional after their distinct lack of blame-game mentality over the Santiago shunt. Techeetah have a winning mentality set in place and will have defined what’s conduct is to be expected of their new recruit, but wins can’t be shared and the horizon of a new year will give a clearer view of their dynamic.
If it works, Techeetah’s ambition in the face of conservatism will extend their legacy in the history books, and establish them as record setters. If it doesn’t, it’ll write itself as the next chapter of stalling relations in a series filled to the brim with intense flash points. Whatever happens though, something tells me their employers won’t feel the need to look up above and glance at the stars – they’ll be satisfied watching some right here on Earth.