Extreme E testing begins - with Lewis Hamilton entering his X44 team

By Matt WarwickBBC Sport
Valtteri Bottas
Bottas tested the Extreme E car in France

For sports involving very fast cars, launching a new racing series can feel a little like turning around an oil tanker.

But, following the announcement Lewis Hamilton will enter his X44 team into the new climate-aware Extreme E, some of the world's best drivers are getting even more involved than the six-time F1 world champion.

The all-electric off-road series is due to begin next year, and with promises of racing in remote corners of the world affected by climate change, drivers have been getting their hands dirty - including Hamilton's Mercedes F1 team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

The Finn, an erstwhile runner-up to the driver regarded by many as the greatest of all time, is a substantial talent himself - which was demonstrated during testing of the new Extreme E Odyssey 21 E-SUV.

The session took place on a dirt track at Chateau de Lastours in the south of France, and although Bottas' participation was private, he was said to have absolutely loved it.

Having competed in several rallies already during his career, it's not clear if Bottas, 31, will compete in any other of the scheduled five races next year - including ones in Greenland and the Amazon in Brazil.

With such remote 'pop-up' races and no spectators, it is hard to envisage exactly what the races will look like. But several other curious drivers were at the test to put the car through its paces, including British driver Billy Monger and two-time Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne.

"I enjoyed it - I had never learned how to slide a car," he said. "What I know from a career on tarmac is to drive to the limit of the car and not slide - this is completely different, but my progression curve has been very good.

"It's the first time I've looked, not through the windscreen, but through the side window, whilst driving."

Vergne is part of another of the teams set to take part in the championship, Veloce Racing, who also have F1 design legend Adrian Newey as part of their set-up.

New Extreme E climate-aware SUV unleashed

"It's something I have no idea about how it will look," added Vergne. "It's going to be very exciting and a new concept for people."

Along with raising awareness about climate change across the globe and using its own 'floating paddock' ship - the St Helena - to house the teams and cars, the series claims to pride itself on diversity. Each team must run one female and one male driver during races.

German Formula 3 and Le Mans driver Sophia Floersch was also at the test. "This is my first time driving off-road and the first time driving such a big SUV race car, but it was fun. It was great to be part of it all."

Monger, who is part of the Extreme E drivers' selection programme, said: "Getting to drive the car was really cool. The whole experience was completely out of my comfort zone but I like a challenge and it was great fun."

Jean-Eric Vergne
Vergne has not decided if he will drive for his Veloce Racing team yet

The 21-year-old requires changes to the way the car drives after losing both legs in a Formula 4 crash in 2017.

"The adaptations for me came on the throttle. I had a hand throttle on the steering wheel on a big paddle which the guys at [car builders] Spark created after I visited their factory earlier this year.

"Extreme E stands for a lot of the things I do, so it's definitely something I'm looking to explore. Anyone who knows Lewis Hamilton will be involved knows he'll want to win and set up a pretty damn good team, so I think any driver interested in doing the series is definitely going to be interested in having that seat."

St Helena is ready to sail - exactly how many teams there will be and who the drivers are remains to be seen.

RMS St Helena
The RMS St Helena will become a 'floating paddock' for Extreme E
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