At a time of a changing environmental climate, on a daily basis, there are more and more reports that lockdown will soon be eased globally. So much so, that recently the Italian F1 GP organisers were bold enough to confirm a revised date of September 6th for what will hopefully be another classic Monza GP – approval pending from the Spanish Government of course. In reality, all that is certain in the world of F1, is the world of virtual reality seeing how this weekend brings yet another official F1 Virtual Grand Prix. For this latest encounter on the simulators, six drivers from the current F1 grid will be joined by professional footballers (and other celebrities) navigating the Circuit de Catalunya for a virtual Spanish Grand Prix.
When the first F1 Virtual Grand Prix took place in Bahrain back in March, Charles Leclerc was nowhere to be seen and there was certainly no Twitch channel run by the Monegasque. Now though, with several thousand subscribers devoted to watching the Scuderia Ferrari racer’s daily streams, there will be many confident that Leclerc will head back to the top step of the podium having been bested by Alex Albon last time out. The duel between the latest generation of F1 superstars around Interlagos - representing the F1 Virtual Netherlands GP – was the best encounter yet and anticipation is high that Sunday could be even better.
Last weekend’s F1 Virtual Dutch Grand Prix reached 2.5 million views across F1’s digital platforms. This shows that there is clearly an audience out there for this temporary incarnation of Formula 1. So much so, that the four events of the series have received a staggering total of over 15.4 million views on F1’s own channels. Not only that, when combined with television estimates, the press release tells us that over 18.9 million people have tuned in for the four races to date, here also can the information of some of Sunday’s participants be found:
“Formula 1 drivers Alex Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi, George Russell, Nicholas Latifi, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc will be joined by football stars Sergio Aguero, Thibaut Courtois and Arthur Melo for this weekend’s Virtual Spanish Grand Prix… Drivers will join the race remotely, with a host broadcast live from the Gfinity Esports Arena from 6:00pm (BST) on Sunday May 10th 2020.”
As F1 Esports reaches this unprecedented level of popularity, it is safe to assume other current racers from the 2020 F1 grid will be tempted to join the action either this weekend or in the coming races. In doing so, they would reclaim their racing seat from the plethora of footballers, cricketers and YouTube personalities currently sat in it.
Last week, Sebastian Vettel joined the Legends Trophy Grid (organised by The Race) for his first foray into sim-racing – finishing 15th and 12th in two incident-filled races. Certainly, the sight of the Scuderia Ferrari talisman joining the virtual ranks was a sight many did not expect to see. In these unexpected times you can be sure the F1 Esports powers that be are desperate to recruit the 4-time F1 champion to the virtual grid alongside his real-world teammate Charles Leclerc…time will tell.
Julian Tan, Head of Digital Business Initiatives and Esports, reflected on the success the series has had so far in recent tweets and made clear his intention is to attract more of the 2020 F1 grid to the virtual world:
“What phenomenal entertainment lap after lap this #F1Esports #Virtual GP…would love for the whole grid to come together eventually.”
One racer of the 2020 F1 lineup not yet racing virtually for F1 is Daniil Kvyat which may be a surprise seeing how in 2019, the Russian racer was the Scuderia Ferrari simulator driver. Following revelations made on Instagram live with Will Buxton, it seems unlikely that the AlphaTauri racer will line up on the virtual F1 grid anytime soon despite having a racing simulator with him in Monaco:
“No, I’m not watching, I am not the biggest fan of this. I have my sim here and it has some trouble with connection. But I still find some lap times from other series and try to beat some world records. It’s good to try to learn some new tracks, like the long version of Nürburgring took me two days to remember all the corners – it’s quite hard.”
The Virtual GPs are certainly an enjoyable form of entertainment and it is great to have the drivers connect with their fans and in the case of the friendship of Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon, reconnect with one another. Whilst so many people wait to see what circumstances lead to racing recommencing, Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle, speaking on a recent Sky F1 vodcast, summarised the huge challenge F1 faces:
“I do think we’ve got a bigger problem than say, a National Championship or a European Championship, in that we’ve gotta just grab 3000 very cosmopolitan people and drop them around the globe with all the challenges of, will our companies, are we allowed to go and if we go, will they let us in when we get there? If we drop into one place does it prevent us from going to another? There are so many hoops to jump through and so many filters to get through that you do fear, hang on, can this ever get up and running…we’ve got to, we’ve got to get this show back on the road otherwise there will be nothing left at the end of it.”
As frustrating as it may be to have no real-world racing, this pandemic has shown us the importance of not taking daily life events for granted. Of course, more importantly, we have been reminded of the courage of all those involved in health care as they continue to put themselves at risk for others.
We should count ourselves fortunate that we have our health and so much entertainment to occupy our time and more importantly our mind. So, do not overthink things, settle in and over the weekend enjoy seeing more virtual wheel to wheel battles and the almost inevitable commentator announcement of “Agueroooooo!”.