On the weekend of what would have been the 60th birthday of Ayrton Senna, one of his most famous sayings was circulated around social media: “I am not designed to come in second or third. I am designed to win.” Another racer with a similar mindset is Max Verstappen and he made clear that he would not be part of Formula One’s official inaugural Virtual GP as he did not feel he had a chance of performing well. So, was this the right decision and will Max Verstappen be thinking of changing his mind for the virtual Australia GP in 2 weeks’ time?
Due to the events of COVID-19 impacting everyday life of society, Formula One chose to respond to the break in action by presenting live virtual GPs – having been inspired to do so following the success of Veloce Esports’ event ‘Not The Aus GP’ held the previous weekend.
Lando Norris was quick to sign up and the organisers would have had their eyes set on snaring Max Verstappen as well for this glamorous event. Verstappen though made clear early on that he would not participate in the event when the question was posed to him during an interview for Ziggo TV:
“No, I won’t…Especially since I never play that game. It will take days to understand the game just a little bit better. And I don’t want to get into it right now…Also because I’m very busy with the other racing games. So, switching between all those games just doesn’t work for me.”
Max Verstappen is a huge fan of simulation racing and has logged many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on the iRacing servers but Verstappen only races when he knows he will be a strong competitor.
“And on top of that I always race to win. I’m not going to drive around somewhere at the back. Then I’d rather not participate at all.”
As the event date drew closer, music artist Liam Payne, professional golfer Ian Poulter and six-time Olympic Gold medalist Sir Chris Hoy were all late confirmations to the virtual Bahrain GP – almost as if Formula 1 was hoping to tempt some more current F1 racers to the event than just Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi. As such, there was limited time for the non-professional racers to get much practice in – an admirable effort by all though despite the fact that Liam Payne’s race pace was close to a minute slower in lap time compared to the other racers towards the back of the grid. Also, for the previous member of One Direction, shortly after a spin after lights out, he was soon facing the wrong direction – not sure we will see him back at the event any time soon. However, his presence has opened the door for his bandmates, and should Harry Styles be tempted – those are ratings F1 could not turn away.
This previous paragraph sums up F1’s current state of play. An organization desperate to entertain but faced with drivers who by and large would rather not. As the lead commentator Tom Deacon said, several times during the broadcast, the event was very much the beta version and they were still working out the kinks…of which there were many?
- Question marks over the decision to have ‘damage on’ as Lando Norris stated on his Twitch feed to over 100,000 followers: ‘Look, you can’t have damage on when you’ve got golfers in the race; you’ve got cyclists in the race; you’ve got people who have ever driven cars before and you’ve got singers in the race.”
- Anthony Davidson, having been well publicised as one of the entrants, never made the start of the race tweeting to his followers: ‘’Well I had a lovely time driving around for 29 laps completely unaware the original race got re-started…”
- The original 28 laps (50% race distance) was reduced to 14 laps due to technical issues with Lando Norris’ rig linking up with the Official F1 2019 game and as such the commentating panel found themselves filling close to 20 minutes of airtime speculating over Nico Hulkenberg getting a podium. Due to contact on the opening lap – he didn’t – finished 11th
In spite of the kinks, this was an entertaining event. There was good wheel to wheel battling lower down the field and race winner Guanyu Zhou (Renault’s F1 test driver) showed excellent pace to take a commanding victory. Plus, Johnny Herbert completely cutting turn 1 after lights out and returning to the track in the lead, having started at the back, would have made everyone looking on smile - at a time with very little to smile about.
Having been beamed across: Formula 1 YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels, as well as F1.com. The Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix was also broadcast live with international broadcast partners including in the UK on Sky Sports F1 and other channels. As such, the audience was large, and they were certainly entertained but something you can be sure of – they will expect more next time and so will Max Verstappen before being tempted to perform in this particular F1 circus.