Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Extreme E Pushing the Boat Out for Sustainability

Posted on 21 August 2021 by Hermione Hatfield

Headlines do not get much more literal than that one. The Extreme E team set off in their ship, the St. Helena, earlier this year for their inaugural season. Their mission? To stage environmentally friendly races in remote locations to raise awareness about climate change.

The delivery of the off-road series revolves around the St. Helena, which has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation. Extreme E redesigned the ship to transport everything that the series needs while minimising the carbon footprint. Head of Communications Julia Fry explains further:

“We’re doing huge amounts on minimising our footprint: everything from having no fans on site, to using our ship for our freight and logistics hub,” said Fry. “While there is a footprint it is about minimising it.

“What we are quite honest about is that we are not going to be a completely no footprint organisation. We are not activists. We are not saying we are perfect. But it is all about showing what we can do to reduce impact and how to educate people on doing that. Because everyone comes into this at a different part of the journey, but we all need to be a part of that journey.”

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On the St. Helena sustainable living is visible in even the smallest details. There are low-energy LED lights, recycled plastic bottles form the chairs, and even the trophies are plastic and produced on the St. Helena.

If that were not enough, there is also a hydroponic system that will allow the onboard chefs to grow herbs and garnishes. This is ethical organic motorsport.

Away from the races, Extreme E will launch legacy projects in the countries that it visits. While Formula One insist that they have a positive impact wherever they race, Extreme E are taking a more hands-on approach for the environment. It is hard to deny that they are having a positive impact when even the drivers are picking up litter from the beach.

Extreme E’s in-house Scientific Committee lead beach cleans, carry out research, and educate locals all as part of their effort to cut carbon emissions. The championship has also invited scientists to apply for space on the ship to conduct research around climate change.

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Flower power

Similarly green is the body work of the Odyssey 21 E-SUV, driven by all of the teams, which is made from plant fibre. As for the tyres on these mean green racing machines, they consist of dandelions. Continental Tyres, the official supplier, have made tyres for the environmentally friendly series using the latex found in the root of the Russian dandelion.

Underneath all of this foliage is an impressive piece of kit. The Odyssey is powered by a battery produced by Williams Advanced Engineering. This provides an output of 400kw, roughly equivalent to 540bhp, which propels the 1650kg machine from 0 to 60mph in under five seconds.

This SUV was not made for the school run, it was made for off-road racing. But what exactly are the fans watching? Nine teams are taking part in this inaugural season and all entries run the Odyssey 21 E-SUVs. Unlike Formula E, which requires drivers to preserve energy, the cars race flat-out in sprints known as X-Prix.

This means that races are only about 10 miles long. Compare that to an F1 race of 200 miles and it looks like flower power does not make the cut. 

But, even though the cars are not going far, Extreme E is certainly going places. It is an excellent start to sustainable motorsport, which is increasingly important if it is to stay relevant and popular.

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Carbon free odyssey

Extreme E’s inaugural season consists of five rounds. After Saudi Arabia, the series went back through the Mediterranean to Senegal. Next up is Greenland, followed by a trip down to the Amazon and then further south to Tierra del Fuego. What makes this series special is that they will be racing through some of the most damaged ecosystems.

“In Senegal we have already started on our goal to plant a million mangroves along the coastline a bit further up from our race track,” said Fry. “When we go to Greenland we’re actually working with UNICEF on creating a climate education programme that can be taught in schools to empower young people in Greenland with what is going on in their country and what we can all do.

“Then we head up to Brazil where … [it is] all about restoring the same size area that we are going to be racing in. And of course we are not racing in pristine environments where we’re going to be doing damage. These places that we pick have already been damaged or it has been environmentally assessed that we can’t do more damage there.”

Over two days, the teams compete in qualifying heats to progress into the semi-finals and a final. On-track position will declare the winner. Each heat consists of two laps, one driven by the teams’ female driver, the other by the male.

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“Being able to start a sport from scratch and not be confined to any traditional rules or boundaries has been incredibly refreshing,” added Fry. “Even the bold move of not having fans on site, because for many that is where the true atmosphere comes from. 

“But we’re really hoping to create that through the digital and through the tv products and having innovative ways of getting people in touch with it.”

Tip of the iceberg

The races themselves will be produced in-house by Extreme E Studios, which is a co-venture between Aurora Media Worldwide and North One.

Aurora Media is well-known for its live broadcasts of Formula E. But Managing Director Lawrence Duffy highlights how necessary the Extreme E series is:

“We were making a film about landing a Formula E car on an iceberg in Greenland as a stunt a couple of years ago. I think it was 2016, and it turned out we couldn’t land a Formula E car on an iceberg because we couldn’t find an iceberg that was not breaking up and melting.

“It really hit home to me, genuinely, when we were in Greenland and I think that was around the time when Alejandro [Agag] and some of the partners had the idea for Extreme E. I remember coming back from Greenland thinking about climate change. It was sort of frightening actually, and then Extreme E came along.”

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Already two races into the season, the next round in the Extreme E championship is in Greenland. The melting glaciers there are one of the main contributors to global sea levels rising.

“Extreme E probably is the most extreme motorsport we will see for a while,” claimed Duffy. “These locations are fragile and their story needs to be told. I think we all have a responsibility to try and tell the climate’s and the world’s story in these fragile environments.”

Lights, camera, conservation

The broadcasting efforts for this low emissions series are equally extreme. Both the size of the crew and their ability to travel are kept to a minimum.

“We’re using a combination of drones and we’re not taking a lot of people because we don’t want a big footprint of people on site,” explained Duffy. “So we are doing this remotely. It is probably the most challenging and technical broadcast I’ve ever done.

“Remote production means that we’ve got the majority of people back in London. We have 35 people on site sending pictures back. The show is mastered in London, the graphics come from Barcelona, [and] the VR and AR comes from the Netherlands. It’s all put together and pushed out from the UK.”

Extreme E has taken a very thorough approach when it comes to sustainability. Their mission to raise awareness about climate change bleeds into everything they do. From the way they travel to the way they broadcast races, it all seems to be paying off.