Extreme E: Alejandro Agag praises spectacular inaugural Desert X Prix but suggests changes will be made to the series

Alejandro Agag had nothing but praise for the way the first race of Extreme E’s history panned out, but is not afraid to look at ways in which to modify the format going forward.

The inaugural Desert X Prix was won by Team RosbergXRacing and their drivers Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor following an incredible cut-back manoeuvre on X44’s Sebastien Loeb which inevitably decided the race. This in part was due to the large amount of sand dispersed by the SUV’s on track which made visibility incredibly difficult for the following cars.

In the end, most of the races were decided by turn two and saw a consistent gap of 30 seconds between the drivers leaving something to be desired by fans who were expecting more dramatic and closer racing. In fact, some fans took to social media voicing their concerns about the format and the consequences for broadcasters when racing on sandy and snowy terrains.

Cristina Gutierrez (ESP)/Sebastien Loeb (FRA), X44, Courtesy of Charly Lopez

Prior to the weekend changes were made to the format, opting for a time trial qualifying session rather than a race. This was in response to reliability concerns after Chip Ganassi suffered an almost fatal accident in the first shakedown session. The series were worried that not enough cars would survive the weekend and in hindsight, this was the appropriate move. It is therefore within reason to suspect the series organisers will evaluate the first race and make improvements for the weekend in Senegal.

On potential changes to the series, Alejandro was open to the idea: “Yes. I am thinking of tweaks. I have two tweaks in my mind,” said Alejandro during the post-race press conference.

“I love the shootout. I am thinking that maybe that I do a draw, a lottery for who races. So we mix female and male drivers in all the races. Because otherwise, we are seeing that the teams are lining up all the men at one point and the woman second.”

All but Hispano Suiza XE used their male drivers first during the time trials on Saturday. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from this weekend is that the calibre of female talent is more of a match for any man out there. Stars such as Molly Talor, Catie Munnings, Christina Gutierrez and Laia Sanz proved more of a match for their male counterparts and really put themselves firmly on the map for motorsport fans worldwide.

“I think what we’ve seen today from the female drivers have been extraordinary,” Alejandro added.

There’s incredible talent and also incredible courage to see Catie with that tyre, fighting with the car and bringing the car to the finish line. How well Molly did on the race today. We have incredible talent here, and I am really happy that we have a platform. And believe me today, many millions I’m sure many millions are watching.”

|Photographer: Jordi Rierola|Event: Preseason Testing|Circuit: MotorLand Aragon|Location: Alcaniz|Series: Extreme E|Country: Spain|Season: 2020|Keyword: 2020|Team: Andretti United Extreme E|Car: Spark ODYSSEY 21|Driver: Catie Munnings|

On potential alterations to the Senegal Beach X Prix, Alejandro Agag will personally oversee an evaluation in the interim period: “We will go to Senegal and we will check the dust level there.”

“We’re going to check with SUVs and see what the level of dust is, and then we’ll take some decisions. I want to listen again, as many people in our ecosystem as I can like I did yesterday.”

As with the birth of any motorsport series there are always going to be changes made along the way. This is an ambitious and unprecedented task and any decision in terms of format will be largely a leap of faith, in part due to the lack of testing they are able to do. There is still enormous potential and growth to come from Extreme E.

What we have witnessed this weekend is a dream actualised. Alejandro Agag has been able to achieve a proof-of-concept and show the world that a sustainable, electric SUV rally series is possible. Alejandro is open to suggestions and improvements and that can only be a positive for a championship in its infancy.

I personally cannot wait for the next race in Senegal on the 29th-30th May!

Alejandro Agag: “This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

When the new FIA Extreme E (XE) World Championship begins in the desert sands of the Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia this weekend, it won’t just be simply the start of another racing series but a revolutionary concept whose on-track glammer is matched only by its lofty off-track ambitions.

Cast your minds back to January 2019, during the official announcement on the cold, rainy and wintery deck of RMS St. Helena. The motorsport world gathered in anticipation for what was to come. A new championship.

Alejandro Agag, CEO of both Formula E and Extreme E unveiled his dream, an off-road electric SUV racing series that would travel the world to draw attention to climate change through environmentally friendly racing.

The series will take place in five remote locations affected by climate change, where all the equipment and cars are transported by a ‘floating paddock’ cargo ship, which will also serve as a laboratory for scientists to conduct research and enact conservation projects.

The St Helena logistics ship. Courtesy of Colin McMaster.

Each team features a male and female driver who must take turns throughout each race, and competitors can earn a boost by performing big jumps and winning online fan votes.

Throw in a strong driver line-up including F1 champion Jenson Button , multiple-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

Courtesy of Extreme E

Something that fascinates me is the incredible mixture of young and established names in motorsport with the likes of Carlos Sainz Snr, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi involved in the series in some way. These personalities and brands are essential to providing Extreme E with a credibility amongst hardcore motorsport fans.

One the other hand you have Veloce Racing, a tech firm and esports squad taking its first step into real-world motorsport. Younger audiences will be familiar with their esports exploits but will inevitably follow with intrigue their transition into the physical world.

It carries the same energy as when ‘new money’ from the Industrial Revolution joined the ranks of the traditional aristocratic and landed gentry of Britain in the 18th century. We are seeing a blurring of the lines of what a traditional race team can look like.

Whether you are a racing ‘super-fan’, an environmentalist or a travel connoisseur, Extreme E has something for everyone.

Alejandro Agag, CEO, Extreme E, with all the drivers lined up in the background. Courtesy of Steven Tee.

But do not just take it from me, take it from the man who set up the whole series. During the official press conference Alejandro Agag spoke about his thoughts on the season opener:

“It would have been impossible to organise this race without our hosts and the teams” said Alejandro on the Friday morning before the opening qualifying session. “it’s an incredibly happy day for me. Many people did not think this was going to happen, that is true, this is quite out of the box.”

“This is the biggest experiment in motorsport”.

On the future of Extreme E Alejandro was keen to highlight that set it apart from the Formula E championship: “They are very different. Which one will be bigger? Who knows? They can both become very big, of course, I am keen on both.”

“In terms of manufacturers in season one (Formula E) we had Mahindra, Audi had support with Abt, Renault had support with DAMS. However, already here we have two in season one. We have Cupra, Hummer and Lotus which may become a full partner in the future.”

Importantly, as we have seen with Formula E manufacturers tend to come and go. This has left Alejandro with a philosophy which favours independent teams over manufacturers. With a strong independent line-up including teams owned by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Veloce, Nico Rosberg, Carlos Sainz Snr and many others, there is certainly a freshness and originality to this grid.

“There are very significant manufacturers who are interested in Extreme E. But you have to build championships independently of manufacturers because when they go, they go. […] Manufacturers are not necessary.”

On which team are the favourites going into the inaugural season, Alejandro was coy, suggesting a competitive title battle:

“Ganassi was looking strong, even though they had a technical problem this morning. But outside of them it looks really open. If I had nine dollars I would put one dollar on each of the other nine teams.”

There have been some minor last-minute alterations to the format in response to reliability. A qualifying race will now be replaced by a series of time trials on Saturday that will form the grid for the semi-final, crazy race and final showdown on Sunday.

On reliability, Alejandro played down his concerns:  “I’m not too concerned. “

“(During testing) 18 out of 20 cars broke down. Here this morning two out of nine broke. I hope no car breaks tomorrow but that’s part of racing. I have to say if seven out of nine cars broke this morning I would be concerned.”

Formula E Attack Mode: Worth the Hype?

Announced in 2018, Formula E’s Attack Mode was set to create yet more excitement and variety up and down the grid in the 2018/19 season. The official Formula E website describes the mode as an opportunity for drivers to ‘race harder, giving them the edge to keep ahead of the competition’. The mode can be activated at different points in the race; drivers are given an extra 25kW (12%) of power, however the duration and number of times a driver can activate the mode is not fixed. FIA officials determine these details one hour before the race, keeping team strategists, drivers and fans guessing.

But as fans are just getting to grips with the Gen2 cars, is this new feature a step too far in trying to keep the series interesting?

Seeing it in action for the first time in Ad Diriyah, you might be forgiven for thinking you were watching a real-life version of Mario Kart. Indeed, fans have criticised Formula E mastermind, Alejandro Agag, for ‘dumbing down’ the feature by likening it to a video game, suggesting that gimmicks such as this one make Formula E an easy target for cynics of new racing formulas.

Some fans have likened Attack Modeto a joker lap in Rallycross and, indeed, it’s easy to see the similarities, as drivers are forced to move away from the racing line in order to activate the feature, before re-joining the race with the added boost. But even this could throw up problems, with dirty tyres and unsafe manoeuvres to attack, and re-join the race. Okay, so that part is down to the reliability of the drivers, but is it really worth the drama where we have plenty already?

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Watching Attack Mode in action for the second time in Marrakesh, you could say that the feature really didn’t add much to the race. Drivers such as Jean Eric Vergne were able to steadily work their way up the grid, providing the fans with a couple of interesting overtakes, most of the action wasn’t really a direct result of the Attack Mode feature.

As the use of Attack Mode is mandatory for each car, drivers are forced to use the feature to simply tick a box. Ultimately, as we saw in Marrakesh, drivers chose to use their final Attack Mode during a safety car towards the very end of the race, which arguably contradicts the whole point of the feature’s introduction.

If this is the case, why was it introduced?

Perhaps FE bosses are keen to avoid the same accusations their counterparts in F1 are currently receiving, that the racing simply isn’t entertaining enough. However, when compared to Formula 1, realistically Formula E is in the infancy of what it can achieve. Even from the very first race in 2014, Nick Heidfeld managed to crash his way, quite literally, into the news headlines by ploughing his Venturi into the barrier. Since then, Formula E has continued to provide fans with entertaining races, enhanced by the FanBoost feature that was introduced from the very first season.

Daniel Abt (Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler), Valencia pre-season testing – Credit: LAT/Formula E

With that in mind, what of the FanBoost?

At the moment, Formula E have no plans to alter or get rid of the FanBoost feature that allows fans to vote for their favourite driver, giving them a further two ‘boosts’ on track. With some critics labelling the FanBoost a mere popularity contest from the beginning, the introduction of Attack Mode where all drivers are given at least one boost before the race even starts, it opens up the question of where FanBoost really fits in this new feature.

Unlike Formula 1, Formula E features cars, teams and drivers on a more even playing field. The series already offers unpredictable racing and fans haven’t exactly been crying out for the series to be made more ‘interesting’ in the same way F1 fans have. Perhaps Formula E bosses are keen to avoid the same criticism, however with the addition of Attack Mode, it is difficult to know exactly what audience they are attempting to appeal to.

With only two races down, the true value of Attack Mode remains to be seen. If bosses expected Attack Mode would make for an explosive opener to the 2018/19 season, they were sorely mistaken.

The next E-Prix will take place in Santiago on 26th January.