The Odyssey 21: an all-electric SUV not designed for the school

This weekend is the inaugural Extreme E “X Prix”: beginning in Saudi Arabia, the series will visit Senegal, Greenland, Brazil and Argentine Patagonia to raise awareness of climate change. Each race weekend will highlight the damage caused to our ecosystems (with the help of a team of Oxbridge scientists!), support grass-roots projects in local communities and encourage habitat conservation. The series will also promote gender equality, with all 9 teams fielding one male and one female driver.

Central to the racing action is the Odyssey 21 - an all-electric SUV, although not designed for the school run or a genteel countryside meander. Each huge vehicle packs over 500 horsepower, accelerating from 0-60mph in under 5 seconds! Each team has a standardised package of parts including chassis, roll cage and tyres, while the battery developed by Williams Advanced Engineering stores enough energy to charge 2,600 mobile phones for a week. Teams can either use Extreme E’s bodywork, or produce or source their own. Each car is therefore unique, while also being similar enough to maintain competition, as drivers negotiate gradients of up to 130% and massive jumps.

“The series will also promote gender equality, with all 9 teams fielding one male and one female driver.”

Since the fast, powerful Odyssey 21 can navigate almost any terrain and conditions, the natural challenges posed by each distinct environment will become part of the racing, challenging drivers to overcome jumps, pits and dunes. Extreme E’s founder Alejandro Agag (who also created Formula E) described the concept as “a mix between Star Wars Pod Racing and Dakar Rally spec.” By embracing the spectacle inherent in any motorsport, the series can convey its message to a wide audience. As Agag has explained, “24 of the 25 most watched [televised events] of all time featured sports… we want to use sport to get people closer to what is going on with the planet.”

Virtual spectator involvement will add dynamism to an already exciting concept. Fan voting system “GridPlay” will give teams with the most votes a competitive advantage, such as selecting their grid position for the final. The “Count Us In Challenge” is promoting engagement by encouraging fans to cut their carbon emissions. Each pledge to walk, cycle, eat plant-based or switch to an electric vehicle will boost fans’ chosen teams up the leaderboard, with the victorious team receiving an Extreme E Sustainability Award at the end of the racing season.

Extreme E race weekends will consist of two days of racing, with the results determined by finishing position rather than race time. During all stages of the race weekend, from qualifying to the final, drivers will complete one lap before swapping places in the “Switch”. This change-over will be incorporated into the teams’ race strategy, as well as the order in which their two drivers take on the course. These choices will be kept confidential until the start line, meaning male and female drivers are assured to compete against one another.

“24 of the 25 most watched [televised events] of all time featured sports… we want to use sport to get people closer to what is going on with the planet.”

Saturday is qualifying day: each team will compete in two of four qualifying heats, across two rounds. Points are allocated to decide starting positions for the semi-finals on Sunday. On Sunday, the top four point scorers from qualifying will race in the first semi-final, after which the top three go straight to the final. The remaining five teams qualify for the second semi-final, the so-called “Crazy Race”. Admittedly, this sounded pretty wacky at first, but plenty of thought has clearly gone into maximising the race format for fast-paced entertainment. Races consist of just two laps around 10-mile off-road tracks, according to the charging needs of the power-hungry SUVs. The short, snappy format shouldn’t detract from their awesome, gravity-defying performance though, with only the fastest two teams from the “Crazy Race” making it through to the final.

To throw another curveball into the mix, teams can also access the “Hyperdrive”. These power boosts for the vehicles can be used at any time during the race, available to fan-favourite drivers or those with the longest jump on the course’s first crest. Points for the Drivers and Teams Championships will be allocated after the final, where the quickest combination of team, engineers, drivers and vehicle is crowned X Prix Winner.

The undeniable buzz surrounding Extreme E is compounded by the famous names involved both on and off the track. Formula 1 world champions Sir Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button are all fielding their own teams. The driver line-up features stars from reigning W-Series champion and Williams F1 Development Driver Jamie Chadwick, to rally legend Carlos Sainz Sr. As a longtime motorsport fan, I can’t wait to see what Extreme E has in store - not just thanks to those involved, but also because of the significant themes it represents, within and beyond motorsport.

“Extreme E brings an innovative approach to motorsport. ”

The hybrid era in Formula 1 and Formula E’s popularity exemplify growing environmental consciousness in racing, while innovation in electric energy and vehicles is cutting-edge. Issues regarding diversity and inclusion have intensified across the spectrum of motorsports, highlighting the privilege entrenched in traditionally white, male-dominated environments. My seven year-old self, first getting into F1 and motorsport, would have undoubtedly been inspired to see women taking up equal space behind the wheel (never mind as presenters, engineers, strategists etc.). Hopefully Extreme E will demonstrate the value of female talent, especially in a field where it is harder for women to access the sponsorship, training and development opportunities required to reach the highest level.

Perhaps the most important question is where to watch the first Extreme E race weekend. In the UK, Extreme-E races will be broadcast by ITV and the BBC, alongside highlights shows and a magazine programme delving deeper into environmental issues. Unlike most motorsports’ typical crowds of spectators, fans can only follow the action through TV and streaming coverage. This reduced off-track footprint makes sense given Covid-19 restrictions but also has environmental benefits, limiting the impact on the ecosystem being visited. The teams will have eight team members trackside - two drivers, one engineer and five mechanics, while the St Helena, a floating paddock, will enable environmentally friendly travel between locations.

Of course, some have questioned why races should take place in such locations at all. The organisers are quick to emphasise that these race locations have already been substantially damaged by human activity. Bringing a low impact form of racing to these already threatened ecosystems will generate awareness of climate change and its consequences. The understated setup should place maximum emphasis on the racing. Team members will use a futuristic “Command Centre” as their F1 pit wall equivalent, giving fans a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into strategy decisions, heightening drama during race broadcasts.


Mountain View

Could a green future spell the end of international sport?

From its floating paddock to a selectively short season, initiatives to help the environment and equality between male and female drivers, Extreme E brings an innovative approach to motorsport. I think this groundbreaking format will challenge the media dominance of F1 and FE, all while showcasing brilliant racing talent and raising awareness for environmental concerns. Ultimately, this exciting new motorsport seems primed to disrupt the sector, using a sustainable approach and the high-profile nature of sport to bring about social and ecological change.

More information can be found at the official site: