A mere decade ago, the concept of electric racing was unthinkable to the point of almost being laughable—but it didn’t take long before Formula E crushed all expectations. Now, it only took the mere mention of the Extreme E series before some of racing’s most laudable names took to the series to make their mark, including two-time FE champion Jean-Èric Vergne who now serves as co-founder of Veloce Racing.
“What really encouraged me and pushed me to do something in Extreme E is that it’s the same ecosystem as Formula E with the same people involved, especially from the organization, like Alejandro Agag,” Vergne said in a recent interview with Jalopnik. And he’s right. The series was proposed by FE founder Alejandro Agag and former open-wheel racer Gil de Ferran. Because of its close ties to an already-established electric racing series, there was a built-in element of legitimacy.
Vergne has been racing in single-seater open-wheel machines since he was a teenager, but it was a confusing period in Formula One, generally regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport, that changed the direction of his career. He’d been part of the Red Bull Racing Junior Program, which is notorious for being a frankly brutal ladder to the pinnacle of motorsport and for picking favorites. Vergne fell on the unfavored side of the Toro Rosso team, which saw him criticized for just about every single thing a driver could be criticized for.
When he left the team in 2014, his third year in F1, Vergne moved to Formula E with Andretti Autosport, where he immediately made an impact. The following year, he swapped to DS Virgin Racing. And then he found Techeetah, the team that has helped him achieve two championships and one third-place overall championship finish.
“Going from Formula One to Formula E, it made me realize a lot of things about the ecological impact racing has,” Vergne told Jalopnik. “It completely changed my view on green energy and the ecological impact we can have together as human beings.”
And he wouldn’t be the only one. The conversation around climate change has shifted dramatically in recent years to request more accountability on the parts of everyone who lives on this planet. The growing prevalence of electric racing has been a part of that cultural shift.
“[Extreme E] is more than just racing. We’re doing more on the side which has a positive impact,” he added.
Extreme E will only be competing at five venues this year, but each event was hand-selected as somewhere that most crucially highlights the impact of climate change on places like oceans, deserts, and glaciers. So far, the series has mounted a massive campaign to clean up beaches in Saudi Arabia and to plant trees in Senegal as a way to offset the carbon footprint created by traveling and racing. And with each team mandated to have one male and one female driver, the cultural impact runs even deeper.
And that’s why Vergne knew he wanted to be involved in co-founding an Extreme E team, which put him in good company with several of his former F1 competitors—Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg—who have all founded teams to compete in the series. Button is the only one who actually serves as driver on the team that bears his name.
“Extreme E is something so different from what I’m used to driving,” Vergne said when asked about his decision to found a team rather than compete behind the wheel. “I didn’t feel like I could compete for wins without hurting my preparation for Formula E.”
Vergne’s team, Veloce Racing, is the real-life counterpart to the Veloce Esports team that serves as the sister organization. The management team is loaded with motorsport talent, too, which includes Daniel Bailey, Rupert Svendsen-Cook, Jack Clarke, and Harrison Newey. Also joining the team as “Lead Visionary” is Adrian Newey, Red Bull Racing’s Formula One engineer and chief technical officer who has often been credited for the success of the team during Sebastian Vettel’s dominant era.
And the team bears two incredible drivers in Jamie Chadwich and Stéphane Sarrazin. Chadwick is reigning W Series champion while Sarrazin has a long legacy in motorsport that includes countless victories in sportscar endurance racing. Sarrazin carries the experience of the team after successful rally outings, while Chadwick brings the enthusiasm of a young driver looking to establish an all-around impressive career.
That being said, Veloce hasn’t had much luck so far. The team was forced to withdraw from the season opener in Saudi Arabia due to roll cage damage that would have made it dangerous to continue. Sarrazin rolled the Odyssey 21 E-SUV during qualifying, which left a kink in the main roll hoop that couldn’t be easily replaced.
With less experience under their belts, Veloce managed to set the sixth-fastest time in qualifying. That meant the team headed to the Crazy Race, where Veloce had a chance to set the fastest time against the middle three teams. And they pulled it off, which meant Veloce Racing joined the teams founded by Hamilton, Button, and Rosberg in the Ocean X Prix final.
And while the team didn’t go on to win the Ocean X Prix, Veloce finished on the podium in second place, proving that the team is a force to be reckoned with as the series heads to Greenland in August.
It’s easy to imagine that Vergne is hoping for the best for his team, especially since this is his first weekend with them at the track and, as he put it, they have “some catching up” to do. But while a victory would be delightful—after all, this is still racing—Vergne and Veloce can at least rest easy knowing they’ve done their part to change the face of motorsport as we know it.