Extreme E: How did women and men’s performances compare in Desert X-Prix?

For a climate-aware racing series which promised so much, Extreme E was never going to solve the world’s environmental woes in one dusty weekend in the Saudi desert.

But the new series’ other unique offering did deliver a sign of a new world order emerging – one which has needed addressing for some time: men and women racing equal machinery on as level a playing field as possible.

Split times show women matching men

The series has equality: one male and one female driver sharing the duties by driving one lap each with equal machinery – the battery-powered Odyssey 21 ‘SUV’, which delivers 550 brake horsepower through two motors, and goes from 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds.

Comparing each man and woman across nine teams after one race will never be an exact science – there are so many variables at stake, such as car reliability, changeable track conditions and differing levels of experience from other areas of motorsport.

In Saudi Arabia, roughly two-thirds of the overall lap times were driven faster by men. But this doesn’t really take into account the variables.

A summary of the three split times across every lap in all six sessions helps to tell us women are very much a match for their male counterparts.

Those worth a mention include Christine Giampaoli Zonca of Italy for the Hispano Suiza team, often beating Britain’s Oliver Bennett across split times in probably the tightest battle between team-mates all weekend.

And Britain’s Catie Munnings of Andretti United recorded better split times across the final than her team-mate Timmy Hansen, despite the Swede having the upper hand in earlier sessions.

Munnings also kept the team in the hunt for the final after nursing the car home with a puncture during qualifying.

“Extreme E offers an amazing platform for female drivers,” said Munnings after the final race. “It’s super cool to be racing against such fast girls.

“It’s been really nice to see everyone coming together, encouraging each other and creating a competitive environment, and all of us – men and women alike – have been learning on the job and having a great time while doing it.”

Was the racing any good?

There was plenty of entertaining all-electric racing jeopardy to prove this was no sanitised publicity stunt, as cars crashed at high speed and highly experienced ex-champions were, at times, made to look ordinary.

Each session saw teams complete two 8.8km laps around a desert circuit in Saudi’s Medina region, which included changeable sand and gravel surfaces and two huge sandy descents.

The winners of the first of five ‘X-Prixs’ this year – all in remote locations affected by climate change – were Australia’s Molly Taylor and Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson of the RXR team, owned and managed by 2016 Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg.

So it’s 1-0 to Rosberg in the semi-reignited battle with old Mercedes F1 team-mate Lewis Hamilton, whose X44 team – piloted by nine-time world rally champions Sebastien Loeb and Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez – came third behind Munnings’ Andretti squad.

Who had a shocker?

The overall winner of the weekend was probably the sand. Any hope of there being a prolonged battle for the lead was over within the first few seconds of each race, as the lead car’s trail of dust meant it was almost impossible to follow.

It did, however, help cause some spectacular incidents, especially in the second of two frightening 100-metre descents near the end of the lap, causing Kyle Leduc’s Chip Ganassi car to smash into the back of the Abt Cupra of Germany’s Claudia Hurtgen.

In fact, Hurtgen’s miserable weekend began with a huge shunt in the same place, when her front wheel dug into deep sand, rolling the car several times.

Britain’s Jamie Chadwick didn’t even get a chance to drive for her London-based Veloce team after team-mate Stephane Sarrazin also took their car for a tumble in the first qualifying session, causing irrevocable damage to the chassis.

Chadwick’s response: “Bring on [next race] Senegal.”

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