Driving environmental change around the world

Making a new motor sport series in order to ‘draw attention to the earth’s environmental challenges’ may not inspire confidence to environmentalists around the world but have the founders of this project answered their critics?

Extreme E was conceived in 2018 and is due to be racing in 2021. It has some serious fire-power from the motor sport world including legendary Formula 1 car designer Adrian Newey and ex-F1 driver Jean-Eric Vergne amongst its founders. It also features drivers including six-time World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier, ex-F1 and former Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi, double DTM champion Timo Schieder and a host of rallycross stars who have all signalled their intent to race in the series.

It is described on their website as a ‘pioneering new electric off-road racing series’ and will showcase ‘E-SUV innovation and performance’. Motor sport has always pushed developments in road cars; disc brakes first appeared on racing cars in the 1950s, carbon fibre is now used to make road cars lighter as well as race cars (especially in electric road cars where weight is a big issue), rear-view mirrors originated in 1950s motor sports and all-wheel drive originated in rally cars in 1980.

Some recent motor sport innovations have specifically helped electric road cars. F1 energy recovery systems have been tested since 2007 and to date have reduced in weight by over 80 percent and have increased the efficiency by 57 percent. In Formula E, the all-electric racing car series, their Generation 2 car has had an 85 percent increase in usable battery energy. Panasonic Jaguar Racing are in this race series and these technological innovations have directly inspired Jaguar’s first all-electric SUV the Jaguar I-PACE. So Extreme E would seem to have a claim that it can help us ‘accelerate the development of electric vehicles…and…to help create a low-carbon future powered by renewable energy’.

But what about their claims that they are ‘committed to supporting and partnering with organisations working to restore the degraded environments in which we race’? Surely the fact that another motor sport series will be travelling around the world with all the paraphernalia included and be racing in fragile ecosystems in the remotest parts of the planet would negate any positive effects they could claim to have?

Extreme E will be racing in at least five different locations across the globe, each chosen to highlight a damaging effect that we are having on the environment: the Arctic, a glacier, the rainforest, the desert and an island in the ocean. Little is known about each location at the moment although they have recently announced that the rainforest location will be in the Brazilian state of Para in the Amazon rainforest. Alejandro Agag, the CEO of Extreme E, recently met firefighters in the area to discuss the damage caused to the rainforest by the recent fires.

The race will take place on an already deforested area with organisers committing that each race will take up an area of less than 10km squared. The track will be a series of virtual gates that the drivers will have to drive through to negate the impact of a physical track being imposed onto the environment.

To allow the series to travel around the world and base themselves in these fragile ecosystems Extreme E has purchased RMS St. Helena, a cargo liner used to sail between St. Helena and Cape Town, which will be used as the series’ operating base. The entirety of the motor sport’s needs will be met from here at each race. Everything from the race teams, garages, hospitality, broadcast facilities and laboratories will be situated here. All of the broadcast footage will be captured by drones to further help the cause. This should save some of the criticism usually levied at top motor sports which fly to various glamorous locations around the world.


The series will also work with local charities, organisations and communities to ensure that ‘positive legacy initiatives’ are implemented in each location. They are already working with leading conservationists in the rainforest to develop plans on how to do this. Extreme E hopes to provide the local fire service with much needed funds to continue their work in the area and to contribute to replanting trees in the rainforest. To further this, independent specialists will accompany the series to monitor the environmental and social impact on the race locations and they are considering monitoring each teams’ emission levels in order to offer sporting and financial incentives to those which achieve the lowest outputs over the season.

It is clear that a large amount of thought has been put into the environmental side of this new motor sport series and they are definitely trying to, not only limit their own impact on the planet, but to inspire the public to think about their own actions. However, at a time where environmentally we are at a tipping point and motor sport audiences are falling do we need another set of cars racing around an, albeit virtual, track? What do you think? Can motor sport ever be ‘green’ or is there an intrinsic barrier here?









Image sources

Thumbnail: BBC Sport

Adrian Newey: Autosport.com

Image 2: Autosport.com

About the author: Alison joined The National Energy Foundation in 2017 as a Households and Communities Project Officer. With a BA in English and Politics and an MA in Environmental Politics from Keele University, Alison plays a key role in the delivery of the Better Housing Better Health service andGawcott Solar – two charitable projects coordinated by The Foundation. 

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