Extreme E is approaching the end of another season, with the finale of its second chapter taking place in Uruguay this weekend. And with next year firmly in view, it’s as good a time as ever to look at what the future of the all-electric off-road series could look like going forward.
Before this year even began, we got a glimpse of what the future could look like for the series, with the announcement of the hydrogen-powered Extreme H that was targeted to begin in 2025.
While the initial plan is to have Extreme H and Extreme E co-exist, at least at first, the founder and CEO of both series, Alejandro Agag, has left the door open for one to eventually replace the other.
“It’s a good question, I don’t know,” he told media that included DirtFish of the possibility of Extreme H replacing Extreme E. “Why I’m excited about these things is you learn as you go.
“So if suddenly Extreme H has huge momentum and Extreme E, we already have Formula E and the battery technology there, maybe it makes more sense to focus only on hydrogen here.
“For the moment I like both, and we will see because the racing is really cool. The racing that we are delivering is really good now. I’m so happy with how the evolution has been since we started, to now.
“Of course, we started without testing, in the middle of COVID, and we just went and raced. And the racing has improved so much since the first race to this race.”
Agag won’t stop there either, joking that “nuclear” cars could be his next motorsport nut to crack, before highlighting that these sports of groundbreaking technological developments will be key to help tackle climate change – the ultimate ethos behind the ‘Extreme’ series.
“I always say, for me there are two technologies and if we manage to crack them, we can solve climate change – nuclear fusion and direct carbon capture,” he said. “These are the two technologies. If you have direct carbon capture, you take the CO2 from the atmosphere, you put it underground. And you have nuclear fusion.
“I’m not going to take a plane not to go on holiday to save the planet, that is not going to save the planet. What is going to save the planet is big technologies that will make the real transformation. Many people want to go on holiday next to their home, and that is fine, but it’s not going to make the difference.”
But what about changes in the nearer term? One of the key elements of Extreme E has been the absence of fans at all events bar Greenland last year. That’s something that will change in Uruguay.
“In Uruguay there’s going to be public, local people,” Agag revealed. “Well, they can come from wherever they are, but yeah. Here I want to have public next year,” he added, referring to Chile, the host of the most recent race.
Of course Extreme E’s remote race locations would make fan participation difficult – even for free as it will be – by its very nature, a point that was highlighted in Greenland where only 40-100 people attended.
Opening the gates for fans could go against the series’ green ambitions, but Agag says that’s already been considered and could be used as a way to further highlight the issues the series is focusing on. He also points to the small number of musical acts that have toured sustainably in recent years that Extreme E can use as a template.
“You’re right, there is a consideration on the impact, but at the same time an opportunity,” he said. “There’s a big trend of doing events more sustainably. So in concerts we have bands like Coldplay and these guys who are really moving to do those events. I think you have to work with that.
“It’s important for people to come to these events because maybe we learn more sustainable ways of living, so in a way it’s like a coin, it has two faces and I think we have to look at the positive one, but do the events in a way that they become fully sustainable or as much as possible.”
It’s clear that Agag is thinking long-term, and that’s to be expected with an estimated $50-70million invested in the project, but he’s under no illusions of how long it’ll take.
“It’s a question of time. If you look at UFC for example, UFC is huge now but it spent 25 years where nobody, only the fanatics liked UFC. Then suddenly they did a reality show, they did this and then boom, [it] became huge,” he said.
“So as long as we are financially sustainable, as long as I make [a] profit – even a small profit – as long as we can go on, we’ll go on. And then hopefully if you have a good product, you can get movement and you can attract more people. But everything takes time.
“Formula E was the same and still Formula E is not mainstream, it’s working on it and it has, I don’t know, one million followers on Instagram [and] before it was 100,000. So it is slow work but you keep growing.
“The thing is, you need to survive. If you don’t survive, then you will not become big. As long as you survive, we’ll continue. And to survive you need to not lose money and Extreme E is going very well because we are getting a lot of traction from venues, from countries. A lot of locations now are calling [and] they want a race, because this is a very different proposition.”
Next year’s schedule will feature at least two new locations, with Scotland confirmed to be joining staple venues Saudi Arabia and Sardinia alongside 2022 debutant Chile on the bill. A fifth round will also take place in either Brazil, which was initially slated for 2021, or the United States – a location Agag is keen to get to.
“We’d like to do a race in the US, but we’d like to go back to Greenland if I can, the arctic, so it’s a mix. We are close to finalizing our venues,” he added, disclosing that Extreme E had around 10 options to choose from for the five-race schedule.
Five races will remain set for the foreseeable future, but after the success of this year’s week-long visit to Sardinia, there is a possibility that the championship could expand to a maximum 10 rounds with double-header events at each location.
I hope we go to 12 teams soon because then we will have three races of four cars, which are better than three carsAlejandro Agag
“The answer is yes,” Agag said of the possibility of making double-headers a permanent thing. “The problem is the cost. These cars crash quite a bit into each other, you can see all the races the cars go off, bouncing around, so the additional races means a lot of spare parts cost.
“But I think it’s also a very good way to optimize the use of the infrastructure to do 10 races. Yes I would like to do five double headers but for the moment we’re going slowly with the teams, and when the teams have strong resources, then we can go for that.
Doubling the championship length would make the points fight “a lot more” interesting too according to Agag.
“And also, if they have a first bad race, they can look forward to the next one and fight again,” he added.
As well as double-header events in future, events could also encompass another of Agag’s properties, with races on land and water both featuring with the help of the upcoming E1 powerboat racing series. In fact, it’s not an entirely new idea, either.
“In the beginning the concept was we wanted to have both – we wanted to have a set of boats on the ship [St. Helena, Extreme E’s logistics hub’, a set of E1 race boats on the ship but the ship is full now, quite full and with the hydrogen cars it’s going to be very full, so we cannot bring the boats on the ship.
“But we could think of doing an Extreme H or Extreme E and E1 race in the same location, it would be incredible. I was thinking, in Greenland, imagine around the icebergs, it would be incredible. It would be very cool.”
Calendar and schedule expansion for the meantime remains a “what if”, but grid expansion remains a near certainty with the Australian XE Sports Group already confirmed for next year, and another new outfit expressing an interest too.
“I have a new team,” Agag revealed. “I have a group now, [it’s] very interesting, it’s going to make a lot of noise but I don’t know if they are going to partner with a current team or come in with their own team. So that’s what we are now dealing with.
“But yeah, I hope we go to 12 teams soon because then we will have three races of four cars, which are better than three cars, because with three cars, if one car breaks, the other two just go on. If we have four cars, we have always more excitement. The best is five cars, [I] love five cars.”
Manufacturers could also come in further down the line as well, joining the likes of Cupra and General Motors in the burgeoning competition, but their involvement will remain somewhat superficial.
“We are talking with some brands. I don’t think for next year, I think for the year after,” he said. “For the brands, they cannot do their own thing and I don’t think we are going to open up the technology, I think we’re going to leave the technology as it is, the level of the car but altogether.
“Some brands don’t care because they can put their bodywork, but it’s not like Formula E. The manufacturers can put their own technology [there]. So I want strong private teams, guys like McLaren are ideal.”
So there’s a lot to be excited about both on and off-track when it comes to Extreme E. But for now, attention turns to the Energy X-Prix finale, where Rosberg X Racing’s Johan Kristoffersson and Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky will be looking to resist a late charge from X44 and Acciona Sainz to lock in a second straight title.