13 Dec 2022
Spending my final weekend of the season in Extreme E’s paddock in Uruguay, I admitted to the series’ top brass that I’d done a pretty poor job of selling the series to anyone that directly asked me about it this year.
You see, while fans want to know about the cars, the drivers, and the on-track action, my go-to response has always been to say that the paddock was one of my favorites to spend time in. The people, brilliant. The teams, a joy to work with. And the atmosphere, second-to-none with everyone co-existing in the same bubble, and – competitive ambitions aside – keen to see this radical new series succeed. (A special mention has to go to the food too, of course).
All nice things to say, sure, but all admittedly meaningless for those tuning in at home wanting to see a good motor race. So allow me to make up for that…
Extreme E is unlike anything ever seen before. This isn’t another Open Wheel, GT, or Touring Car series, of which there appears to be a new one every other Tuesday; it’s not another stage rally competition, it’s not rallycross, and it isn’t stock car racing either.
Sure, like every great compilation album, elements of each of those have crept in, and there have been a couple of ‘bonus tracks’ too in the shape of a strong environmental focus and a unique, industry-leading approach to gender equality, but on the whole Extreme E is a fresh take on a sport that doesn’t garner such a level of huge reinvention these days
But as with all new concepts though, teething trouble is inevitable and there’s no denying that Season One was somewhat tricky for everyone. The format fluctuated over the course of the year as organizers tried to work out the best formula; the groundbreaking Odyssey 21 race car wasn’t always as reliable as teams and drivers would have hoped; and with minimal track time, the competitive order was widely spread as some adapted better than others within the meager timeframe.
As we draw the curtain on Season Two, we’ve seen a night-and-day difference, though. Personally, I was already a believer after Season One. There was never anything inherently wrong with the series, it just naturally needed time to find its feet. Now it has, and we have solid proof for the masses that this forward-thinking series is the real deal.
The race format has been solidified, track designers now know what does and doesn’t work in the real world – resulting in shorter, more TV-friendly courses that promote better racing; the Odyssey 21 has been refined with battery and suspension improvements, and with the teams and drivers now having a year’s worth of experience under their belts, boundaries are being pushed even further with fewer debilitating consequences. That all combines for a much better, much more competitive championship compared to a year ago.
This year we entered the final round with four teams in with a genuine shot at the title. Before the penultimate round of the year, there was even a fifth team in the mix. There certainly wasn’t a runaway leader, and the team many would label as such ended up finishing second anyway.
In terms of an on-track product, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another series as genuinely open and competitive as Extreme E. Many who yearn for the ‘good old days’ who like to turn their noses up at anything modern and different will automatically disagree, but the numbers don’t lie.
Across the five events this season, we had four different winners: Rosberg X Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Team X44, and Abt Cupra – a new high.
Throw in McLaren, which won on the road in Chile before being penalized, and 2021 Greenland victors Andretti United, and recently-anointed champion Sébastien Loeb’s declaration that there is a “minimum five or six teams” capable of winning races is easy to see. And that’s before you factor in the rest of the field that includes 2022 title challengers Acciona Sainz, and drivers like 2021 champion Molly Taylor, the eternal threat that is Kevin Hansen, the rapid podium finisher Tamara Molinaro, and Nitro Rallycross race winner Fraser McConnell.
Picking a definitive race winner at each round has become harder and harder as the series has gone on. But then there’s the rounds themselves – how on earth do you pick just one that stands out? There might have only been five, but unlike many longer series where some of the more vanilla stops on the schedule get forgotten easily, I came to the conclusion that every location on this year’s itinerary was “a winner”.
Saudi Arabia’s scenery was breathtaking and other worldly, and the week-long stay in Sardinia was a tremendously enjoyable event – and while it was sad to lose the stop earmarked for Senegal or Scotland (the former being a successful stop in 2021 and the latter set to come next year after long being teased), the double-header aspect provided another new challenge for everyone on the ground.
Continuing over to South America, Chile’s track layout was easily the best the series has seen so far (a view shared by most drivers); and the decision to end the season just down the road from Punta del Este in Uruguay – described to me by an industry colleague as South America’s answer to Monte Carlo – was an absolute masterstroke, giving the series the ideal location to showcase itself to a wider audience unlike ever before.
Extreme E had a lot on its shoulders coming into 2022, and if you were actually willing to give it a genuine chance, you’ll see that it definitely delivered. Massively.
Electric racing might not be for everyone yet, and racing with an environmental focus might cause some of the old school fanbase to roll their eyes too, but the thing about Extreme E is not once has it ever tried to be another series. That’s why I love it so much. All too often a ‘new’ motorsport series comes along that’s nothing more than a new take on an old formula. It’s while you’ll often see motorsport’s flavor of the month rarely last past a few seasons.
In Extreme E though, we have something experimental, something entertaining, and crucially, something different. And as we saw in 2022, something that definitely works.
Long may it continue…