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Extreme E keeps closing the gender gap

The newly-released Extreme E sustainability report offers an insight on how the series' unique approach to gender equality has resulted in a performance improvement - by a significant 50.6% over the three seasons - from female drivers.

Extreme E 2023
Photo credits: Sam Bagnall / Extreme E

Extreme E released its sustainability report this week and the document features a detailed section on the championship's gender equal format.

Launched three years ago, Extreme E was in fact not only the first fully electric off-road championship, aimed at raising awareness on global environmental issues – but has also pioneered since its inception a fully-gender equal format, with each team requiring one male driver and one female driver. In doing so, Extreme E became the first ever motorsport series to reach a 50% male-female participation.

Extreme E is therefore taking an innovative approach to the issue of gender imbalance in motor racing which makes the early progress data particularly interesting to monitor.

By taking a different route, the format promotes inclusivity in competition, with female drivers effectively learning by racing together; the opportunity to compare data with their teammates and having to find the best cooperation to be competitive as a duo and ultimately win races has proved to be effective and, while drivers started at different level of experience three years ago, sizable improvements are being made – with trends now backed by data.

"We strongly believe that the most effective combination of drivers, team, engineers, and car will rise to the top – and that has been proven since the very beginning" – series CEO Alejandro Agag commented in the report.

"The performance between all of the drivers on the Extreme E grid is incredibly close, and that should be attributed to the greater platform for women drivers created by our pioneering series – and there is still more we can do."

Extreme E, which states it will continue to strive for gender equality on and off the racing course, has been collecting data on the performance gap between male and female drivers, using the Continental Traction Challenge as benchmark. The Traction Challenge – called Super Sector in the first season – was introduced in the second race of the first season and is a time trial that offers extra points for the fastest sector time. Each drivers' chase of pure performance in the Continental Traction Challenge is thus used to measure the delta between drivers across the three seasons. By using this benchmark as opposed to the overall lap time, the stat aims to eliminate anomalies such as crashes or car breakdowns.

Extreme E 2023
Photo credits: Sam Bloxham / Extreme E

In season 1, the male/female driver time difference was on average at 6.51%, with the biggest margins recorded at the Island X Prix: female media time was at 9.16% – interestingly despite the sector being the shortest in time compared to the Ocean X Prix - where the male median time was on average 8.47% quicker. The gaps progressively decreased in the second season – by an impressive 29.8%.

The average male to female median times in fact was down to 4.58% across the whole second year – with a peak of 6.38% at round 1 in Saudi, to a 3.07% of the final round in Uruguay. While the courses – and thus the fast sector times – became slightly shorter compared to season 1, the trend was undoubtedly visible from round to round, actually ending with the second-longest sector in Punta del Este.

And the trend continued at pretty much consistent pace: the study shows that the third season of the championship again featured a 29.7% improvement from the previous year - in a remarkable 50.6% progression from season 1.

The male/female gap is now in fact down from 4.5 seconds average to 1.5 second across the racing season, in a 3.22% average difference. Starting from a peak 4.47% of the Copper X Prix - which was nevertheless lower than the average of the previous year, to a 1.77% record of the Hydro X Prix in Scotland, including four more rounds well under the 3%.

"The knowledge of the girls started on a lower level" – explained Cristina Gutiérrez, one of the drivers that have contested all the Extreme E races and who went on to be crowned champion in the second season. "In the beginning, you could see a lot of difference between the men and women in seconds, but now it is getting closer and closer, and there are times where we are even faster", she continued. "As you can see now, it is more mixed and there is more equality in the competition, and this is good to see."

Cristina Gutierrez, Extreme E
Photo credits: Colin McMaster / Extreme E

Indeed, on seven occasions a female driver ended up faster than her teammate in the final classification of a round's Continental Traction Challenge – topping the overall sector times on three occasions.

While this analysis might be influenced by the certainly limited dataset – as admitted by Extreme E themselves – or potentially drivers specifically focusing on the Continental Traction Challenge which may result in a possible overestimation of the trend, the improvements are indisputable.

The cooperation between teammates, which also included some highly experienced drivers, was arguably one of the main factors in this positive curve.

"I still think about when I raced against Sébastien Loeb in Sardinia and was able to sit down and look at the data with a nine-time world champion and compare myself to him", Klara Andersson echoed. "That was pretty cool."

Coming from limited experience in off road racing, Andersson showed one of the most evident developments as she took a podium at debut, only to win her second ever race in Extreme E.

Data: Extreme E 2023 Sustainability Report

Another factor in the significant decrease in time disparities might also be the result of a format change, which now sees double headers at each round, thus granting more track time to the drivers and therefore a faster improvement between teammates.

Despite the relatively small calendars compared to other racing series and the frequent line up changes, a 50.6% improvement in just three years represents remarkable and encouraging data – which seems to support Extreme E's approach in regards to mandating gender-equal line ups.

At the same time, this progress was reflected in the viewership data: Extreme E reports that the split between male and female viewers has shifted as well, with now women making up for 34% of the audience. This is a considerable increase from season 2, where the gender split was 71% male to 29% female. Again, the Extreme E's data seems to back other studies – such as the More Than Equal surveys – which clearly showed how female fans would be more inclined to follow motorsport series with more female competitors involved.

This is also an important trend that may open to a plethora of commercial opportunities with traditionally women-oriented brands.

Entering its fourth season, Extreme E remains an interesting case study due to its unique format, which could offer more valuable data and insights in order to keep breaking barriers across the different disciplines of the sport.

Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinksy and Laia Sanz, Extreme E 2023
Photo credits: Sam Bloxham / Extreme E



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