Introducing: Extreme E
Last weekend saw the inaugural event of a brand new racing series. And it´s one worth taking note of.
Not only does Extreme E spread an important message via an exhilarating format, but it also features some familiar names to fans of F1. Firstly, there is Jenson Button driving for and managing his own team - JBXE. There are further F1 connections in former driver Stéphane Sarrazin, Zak Brown working as Team Principal for the Andretti United team, Carlos Sainz Sr, and both Adrian Newey and Jean-Eric Vergne working for the Veloce Racing team, who have British W Series champion Jamie Chadwick behind the wheel. Most importantly, however, it would appear that my time machine works and it is 2014 again...as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are battling it out at the front.
Okay, they're not driving, but it is the respective teams of the Mercedes friends-turned-foes that largely battled for supremacy in the opening X-Prix. Hamilton's X44 team took pole position on Saturday after a time penalty for Rosberg's RXR (Rosberg X Racing). But it was the German team that triumphed on race day with X44 eventually having to settle for third behind Andretti United.
SO, HOW DOES IT WORK?
Every team uses the same all-electric Spark ODYSSEY 21 car, which utilises a 400kW battery designed by the Williams team and a McLaren drivetrain. It's pretty nippy - producing 550 bhp and getting from 0-100kph in 4.5 seconds - and designed to be absolutely all-terrain.
#RaceForThePlanet (Photo: www.sohu.com.)
There are nine teams, each with one male and female driver. Along with the aforementioned F1 connections, there is plenty of royalty from other major forms of motorsport. Sébastian Loeb - who won nine straight titles between 2004 and 2012 - represents the WRC. And rallycross is represented mainly by the Swedish trio of Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen, and Mattias Ekström, who between them have won the last five world titles.
All the action takes place over two days. On Saturday the teams do two qualifying runs of the course, with the male and female driver each driving a lap with a changeover - known as 'The Switch' - in between. The aggregate times produce an order.
From that order, the fastest three teams will go through to the first semi-final race on Sunday, the middle three teams battle it out in another semi dubbed the 'Crazy Race', and the slowest three teams will race in 'The Shootout'. From that first semi, the top two finishers progress through to the final, joined by the winner of the Crazy Race. In the final, quite simply the winner of the race is crowned the X-Prix winner.
Points are awarded for both qualifying and the race, like so:
There are other unique features to spice up the racing yet further, such as 'Hyperdrive': whoever performs the longest jump on the first jump of each race is awarded an additional boost of speed, and receives a bonus championship point.
WHAT DOES THE CALENDAR LOOK LIKE?
There are five different venues for the inaugural season, each in a different remote location and themed around a related environmental issue. The season-opening Desert X-Prix took place in Al-'Ula, Saudi Arabia, in support of the Great Green Wall Initiative and Red Sea turtle conservation.
The next stop will be Lac Rose in Senegal in late May for the Ocean X-Prix, where Extreme E is teaming up with local NGO Oceanium to plant one million mangrove trees in Senegal and aims to raise awareness regarding ocean crises. That is followed by a three-month gap before round 3 in Greenland, on the retreating Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq for the Arctic X-Prix.
The series then heads south - which it's hard not to do from Greenland... - first to Santarém in the Pará region of Brazil for the Amazon X-Prix in October, working with The Nature Conservancy to protect and replant an area with agroforest which will provide crops that can be harvested by locals. And then finally to the Tierra del Fuego in Argentina for the finale - the Glacier X-Prix in mid-December.
It's a bit prettier than the Sochi Autodrom. (Photo: www.extreme-e.com.)
IS IT REALLY THAT 'GREEN', THOUGH?
The series is obviously very focused on promoting sustainability and gender equality, but it also wants to make a tangible impact. There will be a 'legacy programme' for each event - many of which are mentioned above - which aims to leave the venue in a better situation than before Extreme E visited.
A feature called 'Gridplay' allows fans to vote for their favourite driver to gain grid advantage - the team who receives the most votes can select its grid position for the final if they are in it - and each vote includes a micro-payment towards the legacy programme.
Extreme E is also, of course, very aware of its own carbon footprint. Thus, there will be no fans in attendance at the races and, more importantly, the RMS St. Helena will form an effective floating operations hub for the entire season. It is a former Royal Mail passenger-cargo vessel which has undergone an extensive refit and will carry the cars and all other equipment required to each location. It will also house laboratories for scientists to carry out invaluable research on climate change and features chairs made from recycled plastic bottles.
The RMS St. Helena has had quite the makeover. (Photo: www.marineindustrynews.co.uk.)
To keep things as low-carbon as possible, the cars' batteries are charged by hydrogen fuel cells. This innovative idea from British company AFC Energy uses water and sun to generate hydrogen power. Not only will this process emit no greenhouse emissions, but its only by-product will be water, which will be utilised elsewhere on-site.
The logistics choice of sea rather than sky reduces their carbon footprint by at least two thirds and you have to say that they have left no stone unturned in their quest to be as green as possible.