Extreme E attracted three Formula 1 World Champions to set up a team in the championship, among them is seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. For his Extreme E adventure X44, Lewis Hamilton announced the dream line-up of Dakar stage winner Cristina Gutiérrez and nine-time WRC World Champion Sébastien Loeb. X44 kicked off the season in Saudi Arabia with a first in Qualifying and third in the Final. During Ocean X Prix, X44 dominated the two qualifying sessions. However, in the Final, Cristina’s race only lasted the beach front, before retiring due to a broken suspension.
We were able to catch up with Cristina before she headed off for Senegal, let’s see what she shared with us about Dakar and Extreme E.
Born into a family of medicine, and following the family into the study of dentistry, Cristina has also developed a passion beyond saving lives at a young age. As a child, Cristina has tried out many forms of motorsport, from bikes to karts, before finally becoming a professional rally driver. “When I was four years old, I loved a lot of things that were motorsport. I didn’t care if it was a bike or a car. My parents bought me my first motorcycle when I was six. Although for competitions, my mom was afraid of me riding motorcycles. I also love all types of cars, in the end, I trained myself enough to enter rallies.”
Cristina’s career in rally began in 2011 when she was 19 years old while still pursuing her study in dentistry. In the first few years, Cristina accumulated many titles in the female category in the All-Terrain Spanish Rally Championships. Then in 2015, she became the outright runner-up in the championship. Every rally driver perhaps dreams of racing Dakar. Cristina realized her dream in 2017, after winning the female category at Sealine Cross-Country Rally in Qatar and meeting Dakar legend Jutta Kleinschmidt the year before.
In her first outing in Dakar, she finished 44th and became the first Spanish female driver to finish Dakar Rally in the car category. In 2021, on her fifth Dakar outing, she made history again, becoming only the second female driver since Jutta Kleinschmidt to have won a stage in Dakar. Cristina also went through some drama like a mechanical failure during Dakar 2021, but in a marathon like Dakar, she is always prepared for everything. “It’s difficult, but normally we are used to managing different emotions during a race. Sometimes it’s difficult to simulate things, but in general, we work a lot on the mind to be prepared for all types of things. For example, we prepare our mind to be ready to stay up all night driving.”
In this year’s edition of Dakar, Cristina also switched categories from cars to light-weight vehicles, but adapting to the new category was not difficult at all for her. “I used to change a lot of cars in my career anyway. For me, it’s important because it makes me a very different driver. It’s important to learn about all the categories, and be prepared to have some changes.”
Not long before her history-making Dakar outing this year, Cristina joined Lewis Hamilton’s X44, teaming up with Sébastien Loeb for the electric Odyssey. As someone who has driven many different types of cars, Cristina’s first impression of the electrical SUV is ‘revolutionary’. ”The car is very revolutionary. It has nothing to do with any of the cars I’ve been driving before. It has great potential and ability to adapt to any surfaces. For me, the car is perfect.”
For the last two year’s Dakar, Cristina has been driving around the desert of Saudi Arabia. Did that help her prepare for Desert X Prix? According to her, the route felt very different from where she drove through for Dakar. “The surface is similar sometimes, but in the Extreme E race, we don’t have a lot of dunes like in Dakar and it’s a closed circuit in a way. Depend on the dunes, the sun, the hour of the race, you need to pass the dunes in different modes. You need to know some techniques about the crest of the dunes and the cut of the dunes, whether it’s broken or not. I think next year we will have more dunes.”
In addition, the racing distance is of course also very different for Extreme E. While Dakar is a two-week marathon, Desert X Prix was a one-lap timed sprint (two laps for the team after a driver switch). “The stages in Dakar are around 400km per day. It’s quite different here in Extreme E. The races are very short, from the first minute you have to go out with everything. You start with all your physical and mental potential with only 6 mins to compete. You need to be as competitive as you can. In Dakar, you have to conserve your energy because it’s an endurance race. You need to be controlled, and you need to understand how the race is, what type of stage it is. It’s totally different. For me, it’s important to know what type of race it is, because you need to change something one way or another. I think I learned a lot about the style of driving for Extreme E.”
Between Desert X Prix and Ocean X Prix, Cristina won Andalucia Rally in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. While not having Odyssey 21 to train for Extreme E, any types of racing prepares for the season. “I train like a normal race in Dakar, nothing specifically for Extreme E. I need to stay physically and mentally well. It’s important for me to stay in the car because I need to train a lot, understand the fast tracks, and race a lot. Besides my training, the team has meetings to prepare for the next round. I think in Senegal we will have two types of surfaces. It’s important for us to know the place. But I don’t have a lot of information. We need to get there to see the rest of the things.”
I think the most important thing is to stay all the time in the car if you can. Staying in the car is important to understand how to race and to stay competitive all the time.
Being a new championship, Extreme E is still shifting its racing format. For Ocean X Prix, the Final consists of four cars instead of three like in Desert X Prix. The championship might still evolve further to bring more exciting competition. For Cristina, the dust in Desert X Prix was problematic for the race. “I would like to see that the dust does not influence the race so much. Because for me, some of the emotions were lost in the Semi-final and Final because of the dust. I hope it doesn’t happen in Senegal.”
Among the complete Extreme E line-up, there are drivers like Carlos Sainz, Laia Sans, as well as her teammate Loeb who Cristina has been very familiar with through Dakar. For Ocean X Prix, Cristina even had the opportunity to race Dakar legend Jutta Kleinschmidt as Jutta replaced Abt Cupra’s Claudia Hürtgen who withdrew from a stomach bug. Then there are also drivers from other racing disciplines who Cristina met through the testing and races of Extreme E. Everyone is embarking on this new adventure trying to apply their experience and learn about new ideas. “I feel grateful I can stay with this type of drivers. I learned a lot about Carlos, about Sébastien, about Laia, I’m very happy to stay with them. For me, it’s a dream. When I was a child, I saw Carlos won, I saw Sébastien, I saw Laia competing in Dakar. I spoke with all the Extreme E drivers, everyone was like ‘I don’t know what happens if this or that’. The championship is new for everyone. It’s great because nobody knows everything. I love all categories, rally especially. I try my best to stay in races like this. We will see if I can get into other categories.”
Having been to wonderful places with Dakar, Cristina is about to experience even more amazing destinations with Extreme E. On the calendar, the next X Prix in Greenland is most special for her. “Greenland is the one I’m most looking forward to, because of the melting of the ice-cap and glaciers. I’ve never competed on a surface like that. I’m very excited to go to Greenland.”
Like always, we wrap up our conversation with three words why people should follow Extreme E. Here are Cristina’s three words – IT’S THE FUTURE. Enough said.
Now Extreme E goes into a long break before continuing with Arctic X Prix in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on August 28-29. Meanwhile, we will have our next installment in Extreme E Drivers Series on July 5th.