Nico Rosberg’s team won the first race of the new electric Extreme E off-road series in Saudi Arabia on Sunday while Lewis Hamilton’s X44 outfit hit problems and finished third in a cloud of dust.
Retired 2016 Formula One champion Rosberg was in Al Ula to celebrate the Desert X Prix victory with Sweden’s triple rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson and Australian rally driver Molly Taylor.
Andretti United, run by Michael Andretti and McLaren F1 boss Zak Brown, were second in the three-car final with Sweden’s Timmy Hansen and Britain’s Catie Munnings 23.73 seconds off the pace.
Hamilton’s team of France’s nine times world rally champion Sebastien Loeb and Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez had been fastest in Saturday’s qualifying but suffered steering problems.
The seven times F1 world champion, who did not attend, sent a good luck message on Instagram before the race expressing his pride in what they had done so far.
Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula One champion, finished sixth after his JBXE team failed to make the final while triple Dakar winner Carlos Sainz was fourth.
Time trials had started on Saturday, around a sandy and rock-strewn track that also featured a plunging drop amid the dunes.
Kristoffersson made the best start in the final, leaving the others trailing in the dust, before Taylor put in a solid run after the handover to seal the win.
The pair had been fastest also in the semi-final when the identical ODYSSEY 21 cars went wheel to wheel for the first time.
Sunday saw the first multi-car collision, with Chip Ganassi’s Kyle Leduc and ABT Cupra driver Claudia Huertgen coming together.
Extreme E aims to highlight climate change and promote sustainability by racing in remote parts of the world affected by global warming or suffering environmental damage.
There are five rounds ranging from locations in the Arctic to the Amazon and every team must field a male and female driver.
The next round of the championship will take place in Senegal on May 29-30 and series owner Alejandro Agag is already considering changes to the format of the races to make them more exciting and to force teams to pit the female drivers directly against the male ones.
“I’m thinking of tweaks and I have two in my mind — one I just came up with while I was watching the shootout,” Agag said after Sunday’s race. “I’m thinking that maybe I do a draw, a lottery, for who races, so we mix female and male drivers for all the races.
“Otherwise we are seeing that the teams are lining up all the men at one point and the women second. But I will think about it, it’s just an idea.”
The only point at which a male and female driver were in direct competition came during the battle for seventh and eighth place, when Leduc was unsighted by dust and crashed into the back Huertgen’s car as he attempted to overtake.
“I think one of the most exciting moments of the weekend was when Kyle was catching Claudia and, sadly for them, they had an impact, but that’s also racing.
“Another possible change is to introduce some sector for doing a time trial [qualifying-style run] also on the Sunday in the three car race.
“We will go to Senegal and really check the dust level there. We came here a few months ago but the temperature has really risen a lot here [creating more dust], but his has changed less in Senegal.
“We are going to check in SUVs and see what the level of dust is and then take some decisions. I want to listen to as many people in our ecosystem as I can.
“Definitely there will be some tweaks, but I think the three car race today [instead of a time trial] was the right call.”