The famous adage that ‘there is no I in team’, certainly seems to apply to the world of motorsport, where slick teamwork and harmonious driver relationships are key to delivering results on the track.
For back-to-back Formula E champions DS TECHEETAH, that certainly seems to be the case. And reigning champion Jean Eric Vergne appears to be one of the most important cogs in this winning machine.
The Frenchman enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Andre Lotterer throughout the 2018/19 campaign, the drivers pushing one another along before Vergne pulled clear to seal a second drivers’ title.
Now, with Lotterer finding the lure of driving for German automotive giants Porsche too much, Vergne has a new teammate in Antonio Felix da Costa, who left another big German manufacturer in BMW to join up with the champions.
Of course, for the affable Portuguese, leaving such a big outfit that he has won races with was by no means an easy decision. But, as he exclusively told Motorsport Tech, there was one factor that ultimately tipped the balance.
“It’s a funny story, actually,” says da Costa. “The first approach to all of this was from JEV, actually. We were racing in Le Mans, he was LMP2 and I was with BMW in GT and he called me over and said, ‘let’s go and get a coffee’, and I said, ‘sorry but I have a meeting’. Then he tried again but I had another meeting, so we kept missing each other! Eventually, I did go for a coffee with him and it was a pretty chilled conversation, but at some point he touched on the fact that Andre (Lotterer) might be leaving the team and if this happens, he said, ‘I want you to be my teammate. You are my first choice’. At that point, I cannot say it hadn’t crossed my mind to leave or to change, but it wasn’t something I was focused on.
“I was happy where I was, and BMW is an amazing racing family. But I’ve been trying to find that little bit extra to try and get the tools to win. Initially it was, actually, more of a no in my head. But then I slept on it, went from Le Mans to another Formula E weekend and then the team got involved and we went into some more serious conversations and then eventually I made up my mind. Weighing up the pros and cons, I eventually believed it was the right change to make. It was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I think it’s going to pay off in the future. As I said, it was hard to leave such a family as BMW and such a brand, but I’m joining an equally big brand like DS and a team that has won this championship twice in a row now, so I think it’s going to be the right move.”
Quick picture recap of this week… pic.twitter.com/dpe8VNqonQ
— Antonio Felix da Costa (@afelixdacosta) October 19, 2019
What instantly seems to make this a perfect driver combination for the DS TECHEETAH team is the fact that this will not actually be the first time that Vergne and da Costa have joined forced as racing teammates. As with many drivers, the pair go way back to the junior formulas but with the added advantage of sharing the same garage.
“I’ve always got on well with JEV before, to be honest, from the Formula Renault 2 litre days back in 2008/09 and in 2009 we actually finished with the same points in the championship! So, I’ve obviously known JEV for a long time racing against him and we’ve also been teammates in Macau with Carlin, so it’s not the first time I’m sharing a garage with him. Then, there were the Red Bull days when I was doing a lot of simulator work for him when he was in Toro Rosso, to help him go faster. So, I’ve known him for a few years now.
“JEV actually says it about himself that he’s grown up a lot and matured a lot, and so have I. Initially, when we were young, every session was the most important session of your life. No matter whether it was a shake down or free practice, it was time to prove yourself. But I think we’ve grown up and we know now when it matters and when it doesn’t. There are more different entities now to protect and to defend than only our names, such as the sponsors and the brands. So we both know how to deal with this kind of stuff and it’s going to be great.”
A great relationship and successful first season with DS TECHEETAH is certainly what da Costa is hoping for. But every driver knows that the first and most realistic yardstick with which to measure performance is how you fare against your teammate. And, friendly as things are, the goal for any driver is always to win. To do so against a double world champion and a field as competitive as this, would be a real feather in his cap in his first year with his new team.
“He’s been very helpful when I had yet to drive the car and when we were in the simulator together he’s been very helpful in trying to explain everything, with why things are happening a certain way or why the team has decided to go down this road,” added da Costa. “He’s been very helpful, I have to say, but at the end of the day he does want to beat me and another 22 guys. So, yes, we’re both racing drivers, but at the end we will first of all try and give the team maximum points. And if we do that job properly then it will mean that both of us will get to the end of the year in a championship fighting position, so it’s what we have to do.”