If you had the luxury of watching the Extreme E season opener as it aired, you were in for a treat: it was a hell of a lot of fun, and there were two clear front-running teams: those owned by former Mercedes Formula One rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. And it was Rosberg’s team that triumphed in a big way.
The structure of an X Prix is a little unique compared to most other racing series, so it warrants a quick rundown. On Saturday, every team competes in two time trial qualifying sessions. Teams are then ordered from one to nine, which put the fastest team first and the slowest last based on the combined total of both teams’ qualifying runs.
The three fastest teams head into the Semi-Final event, and the two fastest finishers there moved to the Desert X Prix final. In this case, those three teams were X44 (Hamilton’s team), Acciona Sainz, and RXR (Rosberg’s team). The two fastest finishers in the Semi-Final move into the Desert X Prix Final.
The middle three teams—the fourth through sixth fastest—compete in something called a Crazy Race. In this case, those teams were Andretti United, Hispano Suiza Xite, and JBXE. The winner from that event moves onto the Desert X Prix Final.
The three slowest teams also compete in a Shoot Out, where there is no progression. Those teams will finish in the last three spaces. They’re basically just battling for points to accrue toward the overall Championship. This weekend, SEGI TV Chip Ganassi Racing, ABT CUPRA, and Veloce Racing were those final three teams, with each one having crashed or suffered severe penalties during qualifying.
Andretti United secured its place in the Final after winning the Crazy Race, and X44 and RXR moved on from the Semi-Final. And after a stunning two laps, Molly Taylor and Johan Kristoffersson took the victory.
I have to say that it was something of a hit-or-miss weekend for Extreme E as a whole. The events were really exciting, but the explanations and broadcasts were confusing. The series consistently advertised itself as being ‘live’ when it was actually airing a recap reel from earlier in the day. So, if you checked live timing on the Extreme E website, it would be inconsistent with what you were seeing aired.
And many viewers expressed their confusion over how, exactly, each session pertained to the overall scope of the weekend. You had to have scoped out the rulebook before the weekend started, and even then, it wasn’t intuitive. I was left confused trying to explain the format to someone last week and told myself that I’d just watch the X Prix, at which point it would all be cleared up. It wasn’t. The exceptionally patient person running the Extreme E Twitter account did the heavy lifting when it came to explanations this weekend.
I had one other pet peeve that a few other folks mentioned in the live comment section of the Extreme E stream: the commentators seemed to be very heavy-handed in their identification of the female racers. So, for example, in referring to the winning RXR team, they’d speak about “Johan Kristoffersson and his female teammate, Molly Taylor.”
A mention that Extreme E mandates gender equality is fine, since that is a really cool feature of the sport. Mentioning that each team has a male and a female driver is fine. But in a situation where both drivers are competing on equal terms, it does get frustrating to consistently identify one as being somehow different. It was made all the worse by the fact that the commentators frequently referred to the women as “girls,” which is an inherently infantilizing way that our society speaks about women and serves to reduce their ambition to something lesser than that of men.
But there was a lot that Extreme E did right. It arrived in Saudi Arabia early to undertake a beach cleanup project, and it spent the weekend sharing information about the concept of desertification. The series aims to encourage education, research, and activism, trying to leave the area it raced at in better condition than before. It was great to see the series really reaching out and making the most of its activist concept.
These are still early days, which means there’s plenty of room for the series to grow. And I think a lot of fans are eager to see it happen.