End of Extreme E, manufacturer fluctuation, sponsorship opportunities: Agag explains potential consequences of Extreme H introduction
Extreme E announced a few weeks ago that it will hold races with hydrogen-powered cars under the name "Extreme H" from 2025. Just one year later, it is even to be officially given the title of an "FIA World Championship". The future of battery-powered off-road vehicles remained open. Now Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of the racing series, has shed light on the matter.
"I think Extreme E will just transition to H and then disappear," Alejandro Agag tells MotorSportMagazine.com. "We haven’t made the final decision yet, we still want to talk to all the teams. We’ve been looking at ways to run both 'E' and 'H' series at the same time – but my view is that we should just focus on hydrogen – so, depending on final discussions, we’ll do a transition year."
In the 2024 season, teams should have both options: Either they rely on the classic package with WAE's nearly 400 kg battery, or they use fuel cells that generate electricity from hydrogen and oxygen. From 2025 onwards, only vehicles with fuel cells are then to take part in the X Prix.
While Agag and the Extreme E are selling this move as a push in technology development and the first prototype with the new hydrogen drive has already driven its first metres, there could be another reason behind this move: Money. After initial euphoria, the racing series is said to be in a less than optimal financial position due to the entry of some big names, including Formula 1 world champions Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. In addition, Nico Rosberg revealed during an earlier media round on Extreme E that around 90 per cent of the race series' corporate guests were linked to hydrogen.
Hydrogen is currently developing into a billion-dollar market, of which Agag would certainly love to get a piece. In motorsport, despite big announcements such as the "Mission H24" project at the 24 hours of Le Mans, there are currently no vehicles powered by hydrogen. Even the hydrogen prototype developed by Spark Racing Technologies for the Extreme H has so far only completed a few laps in a car park, according to Mark Grain, technical director of the racing series.
Agag: "We are going to be the only hydrogen championship for many years"
Nevertheless, Agag sees hydrogen as an opportunity he does not want to miss. "I think the interesting thing is to be the only one. The potential for sponsorship of a hydrogen championship is bigger than the current potential we have. We are going to be the only hydrogen championship for many years – that gives us a unique position."
"What is also interesting is what is going on outside the car," he describes. "The big hope for hydrogen: it’s used to transport green energy. Store the power of the sun from solar panels in countries with deserts like Namibia, Chile, Saudi then take it elsewhere. A championship like Extreme H could be a platform where all these technologies can be tested."
Saudi Arabia is not mentioned by Agag by chance: the Spaniard's economic ties with the kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula have been obvious for years. For example, since the second season, Extreme E has held its season opener in the Saudi planned city of Neom. This is developed by a joint-stock company that is 100 per cent owned by the Saudi state. Its subsidiary Enowa - responsible for renewable energies and hydrogen - also prominently sponsors the Extreme E: the driving mode in which the drivers can call up more power is officially called Enowa Hyperdrive.
No interest in hydrogen: are Cupra and GM getting out?
While some teams, including Acciona Sainz, Andretti and Rosberg X Racing, are in favour of the switch and want to push ahead, there are also some who are more interested in electric rather than hydrogen vehicles. ABT Cupra and Chip Ganassi Racing, which is sponsored by the GM-owned off-road brand Hummer, would possibly turn their backs on the series in this case. Hydrogen is not an issue for the title sponsors of either team.
"Cupra's ambition is to be present in all electric racing competitions to prove that performance and electrification are a perfect match," said Antonino Labate, Cupra's Director of Strategy and Business Operations, a few months ago in exclusive interview with e-Formula.news. For his part, Chip Ganassi team principal Dave Berkenfield confirmed to MotorSportMagazine.com: "We want to be part of the championship, but go where the manufacturers go."
A risk Agag is willing to take: "I think if we go hydrogen we would then probably lose both GM and Cupra – it’s a fact. I’ve had discussions with both: one is definitely leaving, I might be able to persuade one to stay." After all, the Spaniard has three potential manufacturers in mind who could even develop their own powertrains for the Extreme H in the future. His idea is that manufacturers - similar to Formula E - would have to make their powertrains available to interested customer teams for a fixed price.
Toyota, Hyundai, BMW: new manufacturers in focus
"I would love to talk to Toyota, I would love to talk to Hyundai," Agag further describes. But a German car manufacturer is also high on the Spaniard's list of priorities: "BMW’s going into hydrogen now – you could have three teams each (per manufacturer). We have time to figure it out."
When we will see the Extreme H car in action for the first time is completely unclear at the moment. The season finale of the current Extreme-E season - exclusively with battery-powered vehicles - will take place in Chile in early December. A race calendar for 2024 has not yet been presented. It is quite possible that the season opener will take place much later in the year in order to get the hydrogen vehicle race-ready by then.