BlackBook Bulletin 07/04: Sustainable series Extreme E launches in desert sands of Saudi Arabia 

The latest monthly BlackBook Bulletin also covers Formula One’s record-breaking race, the manufacturers committing to Formula E’s next gen cars and Covid-19 calendar adjustments.

The highly anticipated season opener of brand-new electric SUV series in Extreme E took place under the Saudi Arabian sun last weekend in Al Ula.  

Nine teams competed in the challenging desert terrain, seeking victory in the first ever X Prix, all with the collective goal of raising awareness about climate change and demonstrating that racing can be both exciting and sustainable. Huge racing names including Chip Ganassi, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have all got involved, drawing the motorsport world’s attention.

Broadcasters are clearly interested too. The series’ unique approach to topics such as sustainability and electrification made it the target of several successful partners looking to diversify and invest in a more sustainable future. Series owner Alejandro Agag helped Extreme E to secure broadcast deals with the BBC, ITV, DAZN, Eurosport, Sky Sports, Globo, Fox Sports and ESPN to name a few.

Looking to modernise its approach to fan engagement, Extreme E has also secured a deal with popular short form video content platform TikTok to show race highlights and draw attention to the series’ defining climate change-driven message.

“We're all here to push in the same way for things to change, for people to understand the problems that we're facing today and I think it's a fantastic way to push those messages through sport and especially through Extreme E,” said Jean-Eric Vergne, co-founder of the series’ Veloce Racing team in a recent interview.

The series did suffer a few hiccups during its first race weekend, including a last-minute scheduling change due to the demanding desert terrain, but it is clear that partners and broadcasters see a strong future in Extreme E and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

Sky’s Bahrain record breaker

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s heated on-track battle was certainly the return to Formula One that we wanted, and 2.23 million British viewers agreed. Sky Sports reported that reaching this figure broke records for its dedicated Formula One channel. It was the first race on the channel to break the two million mark and far outscored the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, which was watched by an average of 1.39 million viewers.

It was not just the race people tuned in for, though. A record-breaking peak of 1.34 million watched the opening weekend’s qualifying session which saw Verstappen steal away pole from under Hamilton’s nose. Certainly a strong start for the series and the broadcaster in 2021, you feel the on-track battle between Hamilton and Verstappen will be key in maintaining momentum for the rest of the season. 

Impact of Drive to Survive

Netflix’s popular Formula One-focused series Drive to Survive has been a hit with the recent release of its third season in March, and this isn’t the first time. The first two seasons of the show, documenting the 2018 and 2019 racing seasons, have been cited as one of the reasons for rapid growth of interest in Formula One, according to data provided by Nielsen Sports.

Nielsen’s data suggests that Formula One is on course to reach one billion fans in 2022, with engagement in the 16-35 age bracket driving 77 per cent of the series’ growth in 2020. This age group represents 46 per cent of the Formula One’s interest pool, therefore reflecting the youth-driven initiative that Formula One has recently implemented, such as ‘We Race as One’ and the Virtual Grand Prix in 2020.

Sustainable racing roundup

As the popularity and desire for electric racing grows stronger among fans and the motorsport community, more companies and manufacturers are reaffirming their commitment to sustainability and electrification. Formula E manufacturers Porsche and Nissan have both announced their intention to commit to the series’ next generation, set to implement lighter vehicles, faster charging and improved cost management.

Looking to Extreme E, Veloce Racing have announced their intention to offset all  pre-season carbon emissions with series partner Allcot by securing forestry and planting new trees in Brazil. As the World Rally Championship makes the announcement to switch to hybrid cars in 2022, all three current manufacturers – Hyundai, M-Sport Ford and Toyota – have committed to the series.

The Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup has also announced that it will introduce sustainable efuels in 2022, something the series has been working on since 2019. For the upcoming 2021 season, the cars will run on biofuel manufactured from food waste. It is clear that these manufacturers and series are serious about their promises to reduce their carbon footprints and make the sustainable switch. What impact will it have on the racing itself? We shall see.

Formula One’s broadcast boost

Formula One is planning to bolster its broadcast package throughout 2021 and beyond. The series has planned to conduct a series of high dynamic range (HDR) tests throughout the current season. Formula One’s current UK broadcast provider, Sky Sports, is planning to implement HDR infrastructure by the summer.

Formula One’s popular over-the-top (OTT) broadcast offering, known as F1 TV Pro, is now being requested by the series’ broadcast partners for integration. The more intense fanbase that consume the racing via this platform are more monetisable to Formula One, therefore making them more valuable to the series and, potentially, broadcasters. However, watertight broadcast deals could pose challenges for this kind of integration.

Covid calendar concerns

The Covid-19 pandemic proved to be a threat to the running of nearly every motorsport series globally throughout 2020. Going into 2021, the pandemic still poses a serious threat and multiple series have been forced to amend their calendars to work around quarantine rules and safety protocol. Formula E has announced that the Italian and Spanish rounds of the 2021 season will become double headers and is still yet to announce its full calendar for this season.

Looking to World Rallycross, the championship has amended its 2021 calendar to eight rounds down from ten, now opening at Norway’s Hell circuit in June. The original season opener at Spa-Francorchamps has now been moved to the end of the campaign. 

Read more:  

Long read… ‘We have to play a role and educate’: Jean-Éric Vergne on motorsport’s new environmental direction  

The Formula E champion and Veloce Racing co-founder speaks about the impact that raising awareness about sustainability is having on motorsport and his personal push for success in Extreme E.  

Read the full story here

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