Interview by Umut Yelbaşı, edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Ahead of the Extreme E Season 2 finale in Uruguay, I had the chance to ask my questions to the Rosberg X Racing duo, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Johann Kristoffersson. We talked about their entry to Extreme E, past successes, present projects, and the future.
Huge thanks to both drivers as well as the Rosberg X Racing team for finding the time to answer my questions in the middle of a championship decider.
Q1: Extreme E is a huge initiative that aims to make a difference, while also making no compromises when it comes to on-the-limit racing. How did you get involved in the series? How does it feel being the pioneers of something like this?
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky: I got involved in Extreme E via Continental. I was working with them as an ambassador, and then I got the question if I wanted to be a test driver for their tyres for season one, which I did. I drove the car for the first time in 2019,and then I joined JBX for season one, and then I was approached by RXR for season two, which I'm very happy about. But for me, it was a non-question that I wanted to be part of the series from the very beginning. First of all, first 50-50 equal female and male motorsport championship ever. And then also with all the messages that Extreme E has, I really feel we're bringing something much more than just racing.
UY: Mikaela, you were a test driver for Continental and you helped Extreme E finalise the design of both the tyres and the Odyssey 21. How did the car and tyres evolve from their initial versions? What did the manufacturers focus on when designing the Extreme E package?
MA-K: I was part of the process with the tyres, and we did the first tyre testing in France in 2019. We realised that we had to build the sidewalls a bit more robust, because we were expecting there to be a lot of forces and also a lot of tough surfaces, which we then changed for Season One. And for Season Two, we changed the material to be one-third of sustainable material, which was a big step, but the performance is just exactly the same. Also, for example, we have up to 80 recycled bottles in each tyre, which I think is really amazing. But like I said, performance wise, it's just the same as in Season 1.
UY: Johann, you and your teammate for Season 1, Molly Taylor, were the first ever champions of Extreme E, and now together with Mikaela you are going for the second consecutive championship. Going into the final round, how do you feel considering you might become consecutive team champions of the first two seasons of a special racing series, like Extreme E?
Johann Kristoffersson: Yeah, that’s correct, and the target as a championship defender is of course to try and defend the title. I think me and Mikaela have done a good job up until the last race now, so we are in a good position to try and defend it. But at the same time, the competition is really high. In the end, you know, we can only just focus on ourselves and try to do the best weekend that we possibly can and maximize our performance and see how it goes really. Of course the target would be to win the championship, but we are humble for the competition. Yeah, it will be a tight one, but we will do our best.
UY: Extreme E has been sort of an All Stars championship where drivers from many different backgrounds and with experiences in different racing series came together. As far as you could observe, is there any difference to how drivers with different backgrounds approach these cars and races? How do you approach a race weekend?
JK: Yeah, it is from a lot of different backgrounds. I think, I mean, in the end, it's great to have all the versatility from the different series coming into Extreme E. All of the drivers that are here have a lot of experience, and I think the series has also developed a lot since Season One, and I think the teams are becoming tighter and tighter and it's more and more competitive. All of the drivers are very professional, and they learn very quickly. If they feel like they're lacking something...
For example, in my case, when I went to the first Saudi Arabia event, I’d never driven in the sand dunes before, but the team gave me the opportunity to go and test that out before I went for the race. I assume the other teams are doing the same, and prepare as well as they can before every weekend.
But my approach is always to try and, you know, analyse what's going to be the challenge for the weekend. Obviously in Extreme E, it’s very difficult to anticipate the locations, as we don't really know until we are doing the track walk. But after the track walk, you try to find out where I can gain time, where are the most dangerous places, where are the overtaking opportunities. But I think that’s very similar to the rest of the drivers on the grid.
UY: Teams regularly attend the Extreme E Legacy Days, wherein you learn about the local environment and contribute to the preservation of it in some way, such as the recent visit to a wind farm in Uruguay, and another visit to the 2nd largest sea lion colony in the world in Punta del Este. How do these types of events affect your approach to the environment and to racing?
MA-K: For me, I already started to think about topics like environmental issues when I was young. I actually drove an electrical scooter by the age of 15, I started to recycle, and I would say in general, Scandinavians are pretty ahead when it comes to these questions. Just looking at the store, you see that a lot of companies are changing to renewable energy, and thinking about the way that they're producing their products and so on, but I believe with Extreme E, we are really spreading the message to a wider audience.
And therefore, I think from my side, I already thought about these questions when I was younger, but I have to say, going to these places with Extreme E and seeing how some places are really affected… Like in Senegal, you race on a beautiful beach, but on the other hand there was a lot of plastic on the beach.
I think it's important that we spread this message that we all have to be aware of the choices we make, and make good decisions for the planet. Because in the end, we're in this together. I think, for me, when you do these events ahead of race weekend, it gives you a good feeling. I mean, don't get me wrong, I always want to win, but you also feel that you contribute to something better ahead of the race weekend.
UY: Mikaela, you’ve recently announced with RXR that you and Nico Rosberg would be offering mentorship sessions to three young girls to encourage them to consider careers in motorsport, and to give them an opportunity to materialise their dreams. How was your experience moving forward in the world of motorsports, and what do you think fans, team leaders, and the motorsport industry should do to make sure everyone gets equal chances?
MA-K: I'm very happy to do this mentorship together with Nico, because, I mean, I would've been super happy to get advice from a Formula 1 world champion when I was between the age of 13 and 16, so, happy to do this. And I think, this is just one step forward, in order to promote and get females into motorsport, and give them the right circumstances and the right chances to really grow to be the best drivers that they can be.
I mean, it's about awareness for girls to really know that “we can drive as well in motorsport, just as good as the boys can do and be part of this world, and are also respected in this world.”
Initiatives like Extreme E doing this has really shown what great racing can be when you don't have to name it “female” or “male” drivers. And I also have to say, I find that a lot of racing series are taking responsibility, and other teams and sponsors are really promoting [this message].
Because in the end, it's a material sport and it's a team sport, so you need to have a good team, you need to have all the things in order to actually win a race and win a championship, and you need to get the right support. I definitely see that much more now compared to when I started.
UY: Johann, you raced for Sébastien Loeb’s racing team in 2019 in the FIA World Touring Car Cup, and you raced against Timmy Hansen in the World Rallycross Championship in 2021, after an amazing return to the championship in 2020. Does having raced against your current Extreme E opponents give you an advantage, even though the cars and the series are different?
JK: Yeah, I drove for Sébastien Loeb Racing in 2019, even though, Sebastian, I never saw him on the race weekends and didn't race against him there. But I raced against him in Rallycross for multiple years, Timmy Hansen and Kevin Hansen, as well as Fred McConnell. So yeah, for sure, you know your opponents a little bit better and yeah, the cars are different, but at the same time you know the one you're racing against. It's always good to know a little bit more about your opponents.
For example, I was 19 when I drove the touring car. I didn't know most of the drivers, which, in race situations, is a little bit more difficult to anticipate what's going to happen. But, if it gives us any advantage other than that you know them a little bit better, I'm not so sure, but it can be good to know your opponent.
UY: The Season 3 calendar was recently announced with new destinations. Which race weekend are you looking forward to the most in the XE 2023 season?
JK: Yeah, I've seen the new calendar, but I haven't really thought about it too much to be honest. First of all, I hope to be back in 2023 and I firstly would like just to focus on this race weekend and try to get this one out of the way, and then look forward to Season 3 later.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted after Friday practice, when none of the other sessions were run. Rosberg X Racing have since been disqualified from the Crazy Race for having too many team personnel in the Switch Zone. Look out for the final Season 2 championship results on our social channels!