F1: Beyond The Grid is a podcast hosted by Tom Clarkson, which has opened up the world of Formula 1 in a whole host of ways. The tone was set back in its first episode which featured Lewis Hamilton (at that time a 4-time World Champion) discussing his dog Roscoe’s modelling career, as opposed to his driving style. The audience was also treated to hearing of countries Hamilton would deliberately not explore until he retires so that he has not seen everything. At a time with so much uncertainty on the 2020 F1 calendar, it was very timely that the latest episode was entitled ‘Inside the thrilling world of F1 Esports’ seeing how many fans have already suggested F1 talents battle it out in a virtual world when real races like Shanghai are postponed. Well, there is certainly no sign of that coming to pass but seeing how no COVID-19 outbreak would theoretically impact the F1 Esports calendar, F1 is preparing itself for new fans being drawn to this evolving sport.
Scuderia Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto recently announced in a preview released to the media by Ferrari that:
"At what is a difficult time for Italy and the world as a whole, as part of a global sport, it is our obligation to try and put a smile on people's faces as they prepare to watch the first race of the season with the same sense of anticipation as ourselves."
However, even if Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel cannot manage to do this in Melbourne, current F1 Esports Champion David Tonizza already put a smile on many a fan of Ferrari’s face having secured the Driver’s Championship Title in the manufacturers’ first season venturing into the Esports world -racing for Ferrari Driver Academy.
Lewis Hamilton’s rags to riches story is well known from Stevenage to Monaco and Tonizza’s tale is also the stuff of fairytales having not been picked by a team in the previous year – to then claim the title aged 17 at his first attempt.
As David Tonizza says on Beyond The Grid prior to taking the Esports title:
“I was a bit upset when I didn’t get picked so I started to train really hard… This year I got picked by Ferrari, so it’s a relief!”
So, for those new to the sport, what is F1 Esports? Allow F1’s Head of Esports Dr. Julian Tan to explain:
“Formula 1 Esports is our flagship virtual championship involving the ten Formula 1 teams competing on the official Formula 1 game. The first stage being qualifications and qualifications primarily take place online. The second stage is Pro Draft whereby the qualifiers from across the world, the best of the very best are flown in and take part in what is essentially a week long boot camp…it all culminates into a live final show where 10 of the official F1 teams will pick their drivers. Then we go into the third stage which is the Pro Series and here this where the official F1 teams compete against each other in a similar way as they do on a real-life grid…in 12 races across the season.
With a prize fund of half a million dollars it is little wonder that this competition drew so much interest in 2019 and the sport is continuing to rise in popularity.
F1 is a business and we know all about sponsors and the Esports series already has a title sponsor with New Balance. Back in the real world, F1 has added 188bet and F1's Managing Director of Motorsport Ross Brawn spoke at this event mentioning the rise of F1 Esports:
"Eracing, for instance, is a fascinating crossover…The new generation are very engaged in Esports of all sorts. And we want to make the connection between F1 and Esports. Our Esports initiative has been a fantastic success. All of the F1 teams have put teams forward. And it's really engaging a new area, a new age group, and a new interest in the sport."
At the moment, when a race is postponed, it is very unlikely to see an F1 World Championship race occur online with the racers from the grid. However, we already know Max Verstappen and Lando Norris are avid gamers – so an online race in the future could become a real possibility.
COVID-19 has hit the 2020 F1 calendar hard and what was meant to be the longest season in many years…seems to be being reduced rapidly. Such uncertainty can be frustrating for fans and with the virtual world providing regular wheel to wheel racing – even if it is pixelated – the expectation of record audience figures become more likely and 2020 is certain to be F1 Esports’ biggest year yet.