Hydrogen racing: Extreme H leads with first championship. Will F1 follow?

Extreme E

A 'hydrogen working group', focusing on using the 'green' energy in racing, has now been established with leading figures from F1 – but it's being driven by an outsider racing series

Extreme E Sardinia start 2

Extreme E appears to be racing towards a hydrogen future

Extreme E

Thrusting eco-entrepreneur Alejandro Agag was the driving force behind the first-ever electric racing series, Formula E. He went on to create the off-road equivalent, Extreme E, and an electric powerboat series.

Now, the person who has done more than anyone else to promote electric racing says that he’s going ditch the battery and turn Extreme E into a hydrogen-powered championship i.e. ‘Extreme H’.

The waves made by Agag are now being felt in other areas of motor sport, with significant effect: plans to establish a cross-discipline ‘hydrogen working group’ have been announced, with main players from top categories involved.

F1 chief technical officer Pat Symonds and FIA single seater director Nikolas Tombazis will be involved, as well as Extreme E/H technical director Mark Grain.

“With climate change mitigation at the forefront of everyone’s mind we are committed to promoting sustainability and therefore need to explore all areas of decarbonisation of the mobility sector,” said Symonds.

“This must include sustainable liquid hydrocarbon fuels, electrification and hydrogen. This working group enables a collaboration which will allow us to gain first-hand experience and contribute to the understanding and development of the many aspects of hydrogen propulsion that Extreme H will embrace.”

F1’s former sporting chief chief Ross Brawn has previously mulled the idea of the series going completely hydrogen in 2030, while Le Mans has tentative plans for their to be hydrogen prototypes at Le Mans by 2027.

But it’s Extreme E that plans to have its first fully hydrogen race in 2025, gaining FIA world championship status the following year – and it appears that substantial backing from Saudi Arabia is pushing the move.

It’s now ten years since Formula E was launched by Agag and then-FIA president Jean Todt. Following five years of Formula E, Agag then had a new pet project: Extreme E. This off-road rallycross series, using Dakar-style electric 4×4 monsters, sails to and supposedly races at the furthest reaches of the planet to its environmental plight Jacques Cousteau-style.

Extreme E FIA president Mohammed bin Salman Arabia Alejandro Agag team

Extreme H is set to become an FIA world championship from 2026

Extreme E

Now though, with ten seasons of Formula E and almost three of Extreme E in the rear view mirror, the visionary and architect behind what was once the future has turned his back on electric racing to apparently go all in with hydrogen instead.

“I think Extreme E will just transition to H and then disappear” Alejandro Agag

Earlier this year Extreme E put out a carefully-worded statement about the launch of Extreme H in which the future of its electric counterpart was unclear – would it continue at the same time as its hydrogen sibling?

“I think Extreme E will just transition to H and then disappear,” said Agag at the most recent Extreme E round, blowing the painstakingly vague press release to pieces. “We haven’t made the final decision yet, we still want to talk to all the teams.

“We’ve been looking at ways to run both ‘E’ and ‘H’ series at the same time – but my view is that we should just focus on hydrogen – so, depending on final discussions, we’ll do a transition year, [running an electric championship but with the possibility of some electric-branded teams leaving, testing of hydrogen prototype, before all hydrogen in 2025].”

So enamoured is Agag with this new power supply that he is comfortable with sacrificing EV-associated teams – one has already left – from a championship that has only recently found stability after a revolving door of locations, drivers and participants.

Extreme E Sardinia start

First hydrogen prototype has already been shaken down

Extreme E

But why is the electric artist now abandoning everything he knows?

Agag and other senior Extreme E staff are adept at framing the change as a push to develop technology, which it certainly is doing: the first hydrogen prototype has already had a shakedown. But it’s clear that the championship is after something else: money.

RXR team boss and former F1 champ Nico Rosberg revealed at a previous Extreme E round that “90%” of the corporate guests were linked to hydrogen, and it’s a rich seam that Agag – previously mentioning “unique business opportunities” – is very interested in. His championship is rumoured to want to steady itself after straying onto an uncertain financial footing.

“I think the interesting thing is to be the only one,” he says. “The potential for sponsorship of a hydrogen championship is bigger than the current potential we have.

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“Le Mans has used hydrogen, Dakar [too] but they’re not going to be all-hydrogen championships.

“We are going to be the only hydrogen championship for many years [through an exclusivity deal with the FIA] – that gives us a unique position.”

Agag is keen to point out where would-be partnership funds could come from – “Ineos [Mercedes F1 sponsor and co-owner], they don’t want to touch batteries, but if you go to their website the first thing they speak about is hydrogen. They are all over it, many [companies] are.

“What is also interesting is what is going on outside the car. The big hope for hydrogen: it’s used to transport green energy. Store the power of the sun from solar panels in countries with deserts like Namibia, Chile, Saudi then take it elsewhere. A championship like Extreme H could be a platform where all these technologies can be tested.”

The final country mentioned by Agag is key – the hydrogen arm of Saudi’s proposed tech city Neom is a big partner of Extreme E. It sponsors both the 60sec ‘Hyperdrive’ power boost available to drivers mid-race and its branding is plastered everywhere at championship events. The opening round of every season has been held in Saudi Arabia, the latter two at Neom.

Next year Neom opens its first hydrogen plant producing the fuel source for domestic vehicles. A larger factory focused on exports will operate from 2026.

Extreme E Sardinia Veloce team

Saudi Arabia’s hydrogen company Enowa has heavy branding at Extreme E, and opens its first plant next year

Extreme E

The country’s officials appear highly enthusiastic for Extreme E’s hydrogen change, with its energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud emphasising that it intends to become the top exporter as it diversifies its energy portfolio.

“We want to showcase ourselves as an energy exporting country, because we will be working hard in exporting hydrogen along with oil, along with liquid gases,” he told Reuters last year.

Motor Sport put it to Extreme E managing director Ali Russell, who has been with Agag for the duration of Formula E and Extreme E, that “unique business opportunities” might be behind the rapid switch to hydrogen.

“This isn’t something that Alejandro just dreamt up in the shower – we’ve seen the value in being first to the market”

“This isn’t something that Alejandro just dreamt up in the shower,” he replied.

“This is something that’s a very considered and calculated move and something we’ve discussed for many years now.

“I think we’ve seen with Formula E the value of being first to market, and I think we really want to do that on hydrogen development.”

When Saudi Arabia’s influence over the championship’s direction was mooted, he said: “There are many governments around the world looking at how they can move into it.

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“You’ve got countries like Morocco, Namibia, Brazil – there’s a huge amount looking at the opportunities that hydrogen presents, and that’s what’s so interesting about it.”

The championship plans to modify its existing Spark Odyssey 21 car, switching out the existing battery packs for onboard fuel cells which convert hydrogen to water, releasing electrical energy which then powers the vehicles. The car will also have q much longer ranger than its current electric predecessor.

Rosberg is not the only team boss on board with the change.

Michael Andretti has said “he would love” to move to a new energy frontier. Acciona Sainz principal Joan Orus agreed, citing the business opportunities available for its zero-emissions vehicle-manufacturing backer QEV. But both he and team owner, WRC legend Carlos Sainz, are behind a hydrogen-only series with the latter telling Motor Sport “we don’t want two championships fighting one another.”

However certain Extreme E teams are largely in the series due to its promotion of electric mobility, and their future involvement looks uncertain at best.

Extreme E Saudi Arabia Alejandro Agag team

Saudi Arabia has hosted the opening round of every Extreme E season, and appears linked with the move

Extreme E

“I think if we go hydrogen we would then probably lose both GM and Cupra – it’s a fact,” he says.

“I’ve had discussions with both: one is definitely leaving, I might be able to persuade one to stay.”

The Abt-run Cupra team has already confirmed its exit, while a question mark remains over the Chip Ganassi squad which is sponsored by Hummer; neither brand produces hydrogen-powered customer vehicles. McLaren is also thought to have mixed feelings about the switch away from racing EVs.

Ganassi team principal Dave Berkenfield told Motor Sport: “We want to be part of the championship” but that “Chip goes where the manufacturers go.”

Agag appears unconcerned, apparently confident in the benefits hydrogen will reap.

He suggests that after a period the technology on the ‘spec’ car could be opened up for development by manufacturers, similar to the path followed by Formula E where different powertrains are now used in a mandatory chassis.

Extreme E Sardinia Abt Cupra

Manufacturers such as Cupra are unlikely to want to pursue a hydrogen racing championship

Extreme E

“I would love to talk to Toyota, I would love to talk to Hyundai, BMW’s going into hydrogen now – you could have three teams each [per brand, using their power trains]. We have time to figure it out.”

But will the car be ready on time? Extreme E’s technical director Mark Grain explained the development for the hydrogen mule car – a machine which is set to race in February 2025 has so far only had a run around the Spark factory car park, and is still having its safety regulations defined by the FIA as it goes along.

“A lot of ground-breaking work with the FIA has been done with this car,” he says.

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“Regarding the current infrastructure in the hydrogen fuel cell and so on, for how all that can sustain a large impact in racing conditions, we’ve been working very closely with the FIA to understand and define different tests, speeds, G-ratings, what the impact structure will look like and where those impacts also take place in the car.

“We’ve demonstrated EVs can cope with very harsh environments and racing in hard conditions, so moving to Extreme H is a natural progression. We want demonstrate to the world that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be exciting, they can be rugged, they can be very robust. We want to carry through that development.”

Grain also refutes the idea that hydrogen vehicles are less efficient, saying performance levels “will at least match” the current car’s 0-60mph time of 4.5sec and top speed of 124mph.

Will it all be ready with a rapid race to February 2025? Time will tell.


Le Mans and Formula 1 look at hydrogen 

The idea of hydrogen racing has been mooted in other disciplines of motor sport. Le Mans has now slated 2027 – delayed from 2026 – for a hydrogen category, with the plan to make the top class fully hydrogen by 2030.

Toyota has already unveiled a LMP1/Hypercar-style hydrogen prototype, and believes it could win with a hydrogen car first time out.

“Everything is possible with a technological push,” team principal Pascal Vasselon said to Autosport at this year’s La Sarthe event.

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Toyota has unveiled its hydrogen concept


Though F1’s hybrid engine rules are set in stone for 2026, former sporting director Ross Brawn has tentatively opened up the possibility of switching to hydrogen in 2030.

“Maybe hydrogen is the route that Formula 1 can have where we keep the noise, we keep the emotion but we move into a different solution,” Brawn suggested to the BBC.

Former Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi has previously said hydrogen is an interesting option for a manufacturer which is attempting to modernise its image.

“To us, it’s kind of like a good way to kill a lot of birds with one stone. It’s cleaner, for sure,” he said last year. “It’s not fully clean, granted, but it’s much more improved compared to traditional fuel.