Extreme E: Five conclusions from the Desert X-Prix

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The Rosberg X Racing duo of Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson (far left) claimed victory in the inaugural Extreme E Desert X-Prix. © Zak Mauger

The eagerly anticipated Extreme E series got under way last weekend in the spectacular AlUla desert, Saudi Arabia.

Formula E founder and leader of the Extreme E brigade, Alejandro Agag said that it was “better than everything” he could have imagined.

 

It was indeed a unique weekend for motorsport.

Nico Rosberg’s RXR team eventually claimed victory in a tense final alongside Andretti United and Lewis Hamilton’s X44 chargers.

While it’s still in its infant years, Extreme E certainly captured the attention of the motoring world.

Here are five conclusions to take from the opening weekend.

Stunning ‘circuits’

The breathtaking 9km circuit lived up to it’s hype.

Drivers tackled rolling sand dunes and a stand-out 100m drop on their way through the desert.

The circuit is built around giant sandstone rock and looked more like a Star Wars scene rather than an elite form of racing.

Lap 2 provided a chance to admire the scenery, if the action had died down.

The circuit is there to highlight the issue of desertification as part of Extreme E’s environmental pledge, of course.

 

Next up is Lac Rose in Senegal.

Situated near to the ocean, it aims to highlight the impact on marine life and rising sea levels.

It is sure to be another stunning location and Extreme E has cemented itself as having one of the most beautiful race calendars in world motorsport.

The format works

News came in on Wednesday that the format for the opening ‘X Prix’ had been changed.

Rather than the multi-car format originally pitched, qualifying would now commence in the usual format of single-car trials.

Sundays Semi Final and Final were also limited to three entries rather than all nine teams competing at once.

This change was made to ensure the safety of the drivers as a result of the increase in dust being kicked up in contrast to January’s trial run.

“There was no dust because of the humidity of the night. The sand was more humid. The cars were going and no dust was coming up. We arrived here last week: huge clouds of dust.” said Alejandro Agag ahead of the weekend’s action.

Luckily, the qualifying rounds still provided action with British driver Catie Munnings’ incredible lap on three tyres a particular highlight.

 

While the races were at times processional, there was still enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Not quite a perfect weekend for the Extreme E team, but overall, they will be happy with the format going into Round 2.

Visibility will be an Issue

Despite all the great racing, it was clear that leading after the first few corners guaranteed you the win.

Rallycross ace Johan Kristoffersson gave his damning verdict after his ‘Switch’ in Semi Final 1.

“After Turn 3 it’s not really a race anymore.” he said, despite building a healthy lead.

It wasn’t in the script for this amount of dust to effect the racing.

Kristoffersson even showed it can be done with a miraculous overtake in the Final.

 

It will have to be addressed however, to ensure the racing is exciting for the full two laps.

The drivers will be faced with tough conditions in the next round with sand bars, salt beds and gravel all a feature on the west coast of Africa.

Overtaking will still be a struggle if drivers are not able to follow each other closely.

They need to find a way to tackle this problem.

Or we could be looking at the first DRS zone to be located on a beach.

Environmental aims are just as important as racing

There has been a lot said in recent times about politics having no place in sport.

Extreme E’s mission makes this impossible as it aims to highlight the devastation caused by climate change.

It’s refreshing to see a pre-race show blending interviews with teams and drivers as well as industry leading experts in the environmental field.

This is all part of the Extreme E legacy programme which will ‘provide support to each of the race locations, relating to specific local needs’.

They plan to do this by involving the local communities, including schools and local organisations.

A vow to record zero-carbon emissions has been announced.

With an emphasis on electric cars, the series will also look at providing long term renewable energy solutions in the area.

That combined with the backing of the participants in Extreme E – some of whom boast millions of followers online – will ensure that each event is more than just a race weekend.

Gender equal concept needs work

Heralded as the first gender equal championship in world motorsport, there was excitement about the prospect of seeing male and female drivers pitted against each other.

The female drivers certainly seized their chance with Australian rally champion, Molly Taylor’s aggressive style looking right at home in Extreme E.

There was a feeling however that we had been shortchanged of the competition we deserved.

 

The driver order for each race was decided by the teams.

This led to the majority of races starting with the men before letting the women finish the job.

There may be a gulf in lap time between team mates currently.

But if they have been chosen, they are good enough to compete.

It also robbed us of exciting storylines such as a top male driver chasing down a rival in the home straight.

It may not seem fair to take the choice away from the teams.

The reality however is that if Extreme E is going to market itself as gender equal, we want to see men and women going toe to toe.

Alejandro Agag has admitted that he will consider randomly mixing men and women in the next race.

This will provide female racers a chance to show they are as good, if not better than their male counterparts.

A platform which is much needed if we want to see a female driver at the pinnacle of motorsport over the next few years.

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