‘Extreme E is not ending, it’s getting better’: Ali Russell clarifies the series’ hydrogen-powered future

With the Extreme E name being retired after 2024 amid its hydrogen transition, Ali Russell, the managing director of soon-to-be Extreme H, chats to BlackBook Motorsport to clear up some of the confusion around the future of the off-road SUV championship and discuss what the recent investment from PIF means for the series.
Extreme E

Rebrands are rarely easy, and so it has proved for Ali Russell and the wider team behind Extreme E. The purpose-driven championship’s managing director is acutely aware of the confusion on the back of the news that Extreme E is being discontinued.

It certainly wasn’t helped by comments made by Andy Welch, Extreme E’s utilities manager, at the Autosport International Show, where he suggested Extreme E “will stop” after this season. But it was an unfortunate media storm that centred on an answer given to the press, rather than a grand reveal of the series’ future plans.

In reality, the power source is changing, but the championship is very much alive and seeking further growth, with a small jump down the alphabet to become Extreme ‘H’.

“Extreme H is Extreme E 2.0,” Russell tells BlackBook Motorsport. “It’s an evolution: we’re taking all the great brand messages and moving into what will be a better vehicle for racing.”

Those brand messages that have been key to the championship’s identity – racing in remote locations to raise awareness of climate change, promoting gender equality and diversity, and avoiding mammoth logistical emissions by travelling to events on its floating headquarters, the St Helena – are all set to remain part of Extreme E’s new era.

That will ensure that Extreme H has strong foundations for when it becomes the first major hydrogen-based motorsport series in 2025.

Why is Extreme E evolving?

Extreme E has been making use of hydrogen power for three seasons now, with Enowa – the energy, water and hydrogen subsidiary of Aramco-owned Neom – powering on-site operations and infrastructure at each race location.

The series also signed a partnership last year with Siemens and its renewable energy subsidiary GeoPura to help with the upcoming transition to hydrogen power. So, in many ways, this isn’t a new frontier for the championship.

With this knowledge, the chance to become the world’s first hydrogen-powered motorsport was too good to pass up. Much like Formula E established itself as the founding all-electric series, the transition to hydrogen gives Russell and his team the same opportunity.

“What we’re hoping is that we go into hydrogen with the same philosophy [as Formula E], the same mindset to deliver,” explains Russell. “What we find is our partners love that journey. They love the fact that not everything is figured out at this moment in time, but then it evolves in a positive way.”

The hope is this move will benefit the wider world, with the development of hydrogen having far-reaching implications, especially as 30 per cent of global emissions come from transportation.

Why the change in approach?

When BlackBook Motorsport sat down with Russell in August last year, the messaging was that Extreme H was not “a silver bullet”. The original plan was for Extreme E and Extreme H to co-exist, but the obvious issues around branding conflicts have resulted in a change in attitude.

“With the same brand formats for both championships, there was going to be a lot of cannibalisation,” explains Russell. “We need to clear up that this is a clear transition from Extreme E, and Extreme E 2.0 is being called Extreme H.

“Extreme E is not ending at all, it’s getting better. The technology is improving, the racing format’s improving but, fundamentally, it’s the same proposition and same brand values.”

Another likely contributor to the decision to focus solely on Extreme H was the news it would become an official world championship in 2026, ratified by the International Automobile Federation (FIA).

On top of this, the FIA, Formula One and Extreme H have established a joint hydrogen working group to evaluate developments and potential applications for hydrogen within motorsport.

“We’re really excited about the technical working group,” Russell adds. “It’s been interesting to see how many people have been interested in what we’re doing and how we’re developing. There’s definitely an opportunity when you’re first to market [and] others will follow as they have done in the electric space.”

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What has the championship achieved so far?

Ultimately, there would be no Extreme H if not for the groundwork laid by Extreme E, and Russell is proud of the landmarks achieved by the series so far.

“When people watch it they really like it, and I think that’s showing up in our TV numbers and our digital numbers,” he explains. “There’s been huge growth, I think it will be close to 200 million in terms of [global] audience this year, which is incredible when you think that we’re three years old and it’s already a top five motorsport proposition.”

Russell points out that the series has also had to overcome adversity, with the inaugural season getting underway in the middle of the Covid pandemic. But attracting the calibre of teams and drivers that it did helped the series to both initially survive and then grow its audience as it went on.

“Carlos Sainz Sr won Dakar this year, Nasser [Al-Attiyah] won it last year, Sebastien Loeb is the greatest of all time, we’ve had [Johan] Kristoffersson dominating with two [Extreme E] championships,” Russell highlights.

“We’re incredibly positive in terms of the sporting proposition, with great teams like McLaren, Andretti, and Rosberg Racing. The quality [from across the world of motorsport] is like the Avengers Assembled from the Marvel films.”

What does PIF’s involvement mean for the future?

Moving forward, the series will have substantial backing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). The sovereign wealth fund already owned 55 per cent of the total share value of the series before it became the principal sponsor of the championship as part of the recently announced ‘Electric 360’ partnership, which also encompasses Formula E and the E1 powerboat championship.

While the name may cause confusion given Extreme E’s imminent switch from electric-powered racing to hydrogen, Russell explains that there will still be an electric component to the series moving forward.

“In many ways, there is no change [with the move to Extreme H],” he says. “This is still e-mobility. What we’re doing is moving to a fuel cell within the car, the fuel cell was out of the car before but it’s very similar. It’s still a battery electric, but fuelled through hydrogen fuel cell.”

While positive progress in the space is good, questions will always arise around partnerships with Saudi Arabia, especially when centred around sustainability. For Russell, this presents a chance to advance conversations in the space.

“We’re really happy with the innovation and the change that is coming in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he says. “Look at this investment in our series [and Formula E and E1] that are ultimately supporting decarbonisation and more sustainable solutions. In many ways, I can’t see why anyone would criticise this.”


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