Extreme E: McLaren to join in 2022

Published: 11 June 2021

► A rough guide to Extreme E
► What is it? Why should you care?
► CAR talks to Jamie Chadwick and Veloce Racing

McLaren is set to join the Extreme E championship in 2022. It’ll be the second team with influence from Zak Brown – who co-owns the Andretti United Extreme E team – and continues the McLaren brand’s spread into motorsports besides Formula One.

‘From the moment Extreme E was announced we have been following the progress of the series closely,’ said Brown. ‘Our attention was immediately drawn by the innovative format of this motorsport platform, in particular the ability it gives us to accelerate and boost our own overarching sustainability agenda, which shares the same priorities of decarbonisation, waste reduction, diversity and equality.'

‘While Formula 1 will always remain at the centre of our world, like INDYCAR and esports, our entry into Extreme E is additive to the McLaren Racing franchise and will complement and help support all our programmes,’ he added. ‘We will be competing against big names we’re very familiar with from F1 and INDYCAR but, like all series we compete in, the competition objective is clear: we are there to win.’

McLaren goes electric?

McLaren isn’t actually a stranger to electric motorsports, having been the supplier of the specification Gen 1 and Gen 2 batteries for Formula E, but this is the first time Woking has entered as a constructor rather than just a supplier.

What’s more, McLaren says its Extreme E will be propelled by both existing and new personnel from outside the F1 calendar – and it’s possible that the sport’s new budget caps will mean we see more teams branching outside of F1. 

For everything else you need to know about Formula One, keep reading.

Everything you need to know

Extreme E might be the wacky brainchild of Formula E founder Alejandro Agag, but there’s more to it than just some off-road racing in electric cars. A star-studded line-up of drivers and team owners, far-flung locations and a vision that goes out on a limb in terms of bringing environmentally friendly motorsport to the masses is all here in one place.

Keep reading for our guide to Extreme E, with intel from racer Jamie Chadwick and the Veloce Racing team.

Who is involved?

It’s a jam-packed line-up of racing heroes and engineering wizards. Jamie Chadwick is driving for eSports-turned-real-racing-team Veloce Racing. Sir Lewis Hamilton – clearly not content with winning seven Formula 1 championships – has his own team, X44, with rallying legend Sébastien Loeb driving. Hamilton’s old team-mate Nico Rosberg also has a team, as does fellow F1 champ Jenson Button – a team owner and a driver for JBXE.

extreme e jamie chadwick

Then there’s the technical genius behind those teams; Adrian Newey, for example, is providing Veloce with technical experience. ‘The fact that Adrian Newey says he’s interested – you don’t get better motorsport credibility than that,’ says Veloce Racing CEO Daniel Bailey. ‘And it made sense for us to speak to Jamie about driving for the team; she’s probably the most prominent female racing driver there is at the moment, and a big advocate for everything we’re about to represent.’

Each team also has one male and one female driver to support gender equality. ‘Something that’s close to my heart – gender equality – is another factor that drew me in,’ says Jamie Chadwick.

extreme e hummer

Manufacturers are involved, too; Cupra and German tuner ABT are in on the action together, and Techeetah, of Formula E fame, is also entering.

What car are they racing in?

The Odyssey 21: a standardised, all-electric 4x4 built by Spark Racing Technology (which has developed Formula E’s racers) and with nous from Williams Advanced Engineering. Making 542bhp and capable 0-62mph in 4.5sec, the Odyssey 21 will be given to each team to tart it up in liveries and even change the exterior design.

extreme e veloce

‘From the tests I’ve done in Formula E, it’s all about energy management,’ says Jamie Chadwick, ‘whereas Extreme E is all flat-out racing, and the way that power is delivered is very different. The main thing is setting it up; we can change a lot within the car. With a combustion engine, the amount of access that teams have means changeability is pretty limited.

‘The Odyssey 21 is, honestly, the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car – it’s spectacular to drive.’

‘One of the biggest challenges for us all has been understanding electric motorsport – it works in a very different way,’ says Veloce Racing team manager Ian Davies, ‘but when you get into the physical mapping of the car, we can control the torque split of the car here – even if we have things like active differentials in rallying. But once you get to work, it’s not quite as different as maybe you think it is.’

Where are they going?

Five locations are plotted for the 2021 calendar, all named after environmental biomes. ‘Desert’ starts on 3 April in Saudi Arabia, then ‘Ocean’ on 29 May in Senegal, followed by ‘Arctic’ on 28 August in Greenland, with ‘Amazon’ on 23 October in Brazil and ‘Glacier’ in Argentina on 11 December.

extreme e amazon

Extreme E wants to host races here to visualise climate change, educating viewers in the process. But it’s not just about shining a light – the teams involved also take part in legacy projects to have a positive impact on the footprint they leave; ‘Extreme E is the first platform not trying to retrofit environmental credentials into it. It’s tangibly leaving the world in a better place in the locations that it goes to,’ says Bailey. ‘We’re already planting one million mangroves in Senegal, for example.’

So, it’s just some electric rally racing? Doesn’t sound that green…

There’s more to it than that behind the scenes.

The logistics of the series – transporting cars, equipment and so on – will mostly be done via ship. There’s no air freight allowed in Extreme E – the series claims it can cut down emissions from logistics by two thirds doing it via ship – and even the hub for each race (garages, media and adjudication etc) is all done from the RMS St Helena. It’s a repurposed and thoroughly refurbished Royal Mail cargo ship, with Extreme E organisers aiming to turn it into a fully-electric vessel in the future.

extreme e st helena

That’s not all: the catering has a plant-based partner in Hamilton-backed Neat Burger, and the cars will be charged by hydrogen fuel cell generators when at each race event. Even the water emissions from those hydrogen-fuelled chargers will be used at each race event.

Extreme E also has its own scientific committee, filled with academics from Oxford and Cambridge universities, who advise the organisers on climate research and support those aforementioned legacy projects.

extreme e legacy

‘There are those who will say "What has Extreme E got to do with solving the biggest problem humanity has ever faced – climate change?"’ says Bailey, ‘but the answer to that is doing nothing never solved anything either. If you’re providing a platform for corporations to positively engage in programmes and provide one for consumers to engage in the legacy programmes, you’re providing a real narrative to help change the whole world.’

‘The demographic of the series is probably going to be much younger,’ adds Davies, ‘and they’re much more aware of climate change and where we’re going. My daughters, for example, will never drive a diesel car – an electric car will be their first. Education has improved where there’s a lot more information about the environment than when I went to school – Extreme E is forcing the change in motorsport faster than any other series.’

Why should I care?

‘Because there’s nothing else like it,’ says Chadwick. ‘It’s going to create some incredible racing. Above and beyond what we have, the teams and drivers within the championship are some of the best in the world – I think that really ties it up to be a fantastic race series.’

extreme e drift

‘From a racing enthusiast’s point of view, there are big names involved,’ says Bailey, ‘but the pure adventure aspect of Extreme E… I don’t think sport and entertainment has really created that.’

‘Extreme E is not just writing a new chapter in motorsport,’ says Davies, ‘it’s actually writing a new book.’

Where can I watch it?

Extreme E is regularly announcing tie-ups with broadcasters around the world. For the UK, you can watch each race – starting from 3 April 2021, on BBC iPlayer with highlights on BBC Two.

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By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches