Fastest woman in the world? At least, that’s what ex-Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg says about Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky. The reigning Extreme E champion has to smile when she’s asked about the compliment from her Rosberg X Racing team boss.
“I was definitely very honored when he said this,” says the 31-year-old. “Being offered the opportunity to be a driver in his team RXR in Extreme E was a big deal for me.”
When Ahlin-Kottulinsky joined the team in 2022, he had already taken the inaugural crown. She had very little off-road experience, but she and team-mate Johan Kristoffersson were a powerful force during season two, only narrowly missing out on giving RXR another title. That experience only made her stronger, and the following season she approached things very differently, which ultimately led to her and Kristoffersson securing the title last December.
“I’ve worked with a mental coach for many years,” she reveals. “Staying in the moment helps me to stay calm. Personally, the title means a lot to me. I’ve won races before and had strong seasons where I finished second or third. But it was such a calming feeling to know that I can win a championship.”
Ahlin-Kottulinsky, who lives in Karlstad, Sweden, doesn’t just aim to be the fastest woman; her dream is to be the fastest driver in general. She believes Extreme E’s requirement to have a male and female driver share each car has provided a crucial opportunity.
“What Extreme E did was so clever because it brought female drivers to a top level of motorsport,” she states. “Of course, you can play football in flip-flops, but if you don’t have proper shoes you are not going to be the best. It is so important to have the right circumstances and support.
Ahlin-Kottulinsky has considerable background in circuit racing, including racing a GT3 Audi in the ADAC GT Masters
Photo by: ADAC Motorsport
“When you compare the gaps to the male drivers between season one and season three, the speed increased by 86%. That is because you have the opportunity to work with the best.”
That wasn’t always the case in her career, even though she comes from a motorsport family. When Ahlin-Kottulinsky clinched her first championship under the expansive Chilean sky, she took a moment to look upwards, reflecting on how her triumph marked a full-circle moment. Her grandfather, Freddy Kottulinsky, conquered the 1980 Dakar Rally in a VW Iltis and shared race tracks with legends such as Keke Rosberg and Ronnie Peterson, competing in series including Formula 2 and Formula Super Vee.
Rallying runs in her blood, with both her mother, Susanne, and her father, Jerry, having also made their mark on the sport. But unlike her rally driver brother Frederik, her path into the sport was not necessarily predetermined: “My brother knew from the get-go that he wanted to be rally driver, whereas I was not so into motorsport. “I was into gymnastics and dancing.”
“When I did the first race in 2021, I just thought, ‘What have I got myself into? This is not my thing’. I was kind of terrified the first laps. But then I enjoyed it” Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky
Her first attempt at karting ended badly – the kart broke down after an accident, her brother cried, and she cried too. Now she laughs about it. Her second attempt followed six years later at the age of 12, and two years later she celebrated her first podium finish. This was followed by stints in the DTM-supporting VW Scirocco R-Cup, where she became the first woman to win, that series’ successor the Audi TT Cup, Germany’s ADAC GT Masters GT3 series, and in Scandinavian Touring Cars.
Ahlin-Kottulinsky is happy to venture into new terrain. Like many other Scandinavian racing drivers, she loves variety and switches back and forth between circuit and off-road. In 2023, she raced in Extreme E, RX2e, Porsche Carrera Cup and SSX Nordic. Not only was she following in the footsteps of her grandfather, but her team-mate Kristoffersson was also a role model of sorts.
“Johan didn’t do any karting and started late with motorsport just when he was 17,” she explains. “But he has done so many different things and he can switch. This is the reason why I want to try all the different things. The more you drive, the more you learn, and the better it is.”
She also got involved as a test driver for Continental, helping to develop the tires for Extreme E and thereby creating a link to the then-new series. Shortly afterwards, she was selected as a driver for Jenson Button’s JBXE team.
Ahlin-Kottulinsky remembers feeling out of her comfort zone when she joined Jenson Button’s JBXE team for the inaugural season of XE in 2021
Photo by: Colin McMaster / Motorsport Images
“I have to admit, when I did the first race in 2021, I just thought, ‘What have I got myself into?’ This is not my thing,’” she adds. “I was kind of terrified the first lapses. But then I enjoyed it.”
Not only that, but she and team-mate Kevin Hansen ended the season with the most podium finishes and fourth place in the championship: “It opened up a new world to me and I felt I want to continue this gravel and off-road part .”
Today, Rosberg X Racing team-mate Kristoffersson is almost like family.
“I straight away felt comfortable with him as a team-mate because he was so much like my brother and I knew how to handle him. The way they communicate, and they work a lot with sarcasm. “He has kids and so he also has a lot of patience with me as I ask a lot of questions,” she laughs.
Team boss Rosberg is also a great support, even if he can’t always be on site.
“We were talking about how to change the mindset, the way we think about things,” adds Ahlin-Kottulinsky. “In the end he was one of the team-mates to beat Lewis Hamilton in the same car and win the world championship. He is very much into details. For example, he analyzes our starts and driving styles. Most of the time he watches the races on TV, but he joins us online in the debriefs and was on site in Sardinia.”
This season, she’s once again under contract with RXR. The goal is to defend her title, of course, and to be an inspiration to other young women: “It is so important that young girls can see us in Extreme E. They need to know this is something they can achieve. But it’s also about representation in media and having initiatives like FIA Women in Motorsport.
“I was lucky enough to have a mother who was a rally driver. But not everyone has this.”
Ahlin-Kottulinsky says representation of female drivers in Extreme E is hugely important to inspire future generations
Photo by: Charly Lopez / Motorsport Images
Ahlin-Kottulinsky also considers programs such as W Series or the F1 Academy to be extremely important for gaining initial experience and contacts in motorsport. After that, however, it’s crucial that young female drivers continue to have a program and not just an introduction. For her, the fact that no woman has made a career in Formula 1 yet is just a matter of statistics.
“If you give 150 boys the chance to come into Formula 1, we have to also give 150 females the chance,” she claims.
“It is so important that young girls can see us in Extreme E. They need to know this is something they can achieve” Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky
How can this work? By more people asking themselves what contribution they can make: “The responsibility should not be only on the females in motorsports. Everyone needs to ask themselves that question about being inclusive. Nico, for example, is pushing for females in motorsports. As a team boss you can be more inclusive and also as a sponsor.”
F1 is no longer an issue for Ahlin-Kottulinsky. Instead, her dreams of taking part in the Dakar Rally:
“This is a dream to get that experience but I need more understanding to do something like Dakar. You have to read the dunes, find that limit, and you have to know how much to push.”
Ahlin-Kottulinsky has one eye on a future participation in the Dakar
Photo by: Colin McMaster / Motorsport Images
Q&A with Nico Rosberg; Rosberg X Racing boss and 2016 F1 champion
What was the key to winning the title in Extreme E in 2023?
It has become a lot more difficult to win the championship now compared to two years ago. A key was the driver pairing. Mikaela has made so much progress. She has a strong mental approach, which we really like. And she did some super sectors this past season where she was beating Sebastien Loeb. Three years ago, before Mikaela was confirmed as a driver for JBXE, she was a test driver for the championship’s founding partner, Continental, and she did a shootout for another team but didn’t make it because she didn’t have the experience. Now, she is the fastest woman out there.
So you saw its potential and are a fan of developing drivers?
Yes, she just needs more mileage. Laia Sanz and Cristina Gutierrez have deals for the entire season. That is so special about Extreme E to give this opportunity to women. The women become the superstars of the sport together with men. I’m also sure that one day a woman will compete in Formula 1. It is just a matter of time. It would just be easier to find a special talent when we’d have more girls trying to get there.
How could you support Mikaela and female drivers in general?
As an advocate for equality in motorsports and as a father of a girl, I firmly believe in fostering a supportive environment for female drivers. One of the ways I can support this is by doing interviews like this to make people understand at what level the women in Extreme E are competing and how awesome that is. But honestly, the best support for Mikaela has been Johan [Kristoffersson]. It is so essential for the two drivers to work together, make progress in terms of driving lines and approaching the corners, set-up and everything.
What can you contribute now in the Extreme E team from your time in F1?
One of my greatest strengths as a Formula 1 driver was observing and using data for my advantage and making progress. So, I have a look even on TV when I see the line that Mikaela is driving and give her feedback.
There is also a bit of criticism around Extreme E. What do you think about it?
The racing is exciting to watch, and Extreme E’s purpose is to raise awareness about climate change and sustainability everywhere we race. The drivers also take their own time to get involved in projects. In sport we have such a big following that it should be a responsibility for us to use sport for common good instead of just entertainment. And Extreme E is being a role model in that.
What do you plan to do with your team in Extreme E in the future, especially in the hydrogen era from 2025?
I’m a big advocate for electrification. But I’m also open-minded for other technological avenues. And hydrogen certainly can be very interesting for the longer-term future. Our current focus remains on Extreme E, but Extreme H is definitely an exciting venture to consider.
Rosberg remains committed to Extreme E
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images