Hamilton vs Rosberg: The battle Resumes!

image courtesy of Extreme E

The 2016 Formula One World Championship winner, Nico Rosberg, has announced that he will enter a team into the new electric rally series, Extreme E. Rosberg Xtreme Racing will make its debut in January 2021 when the all new Extreme E racing series begins on the beaches of Lac Rose in Senegal.

Speaking about the announcement, Nico Rosberg has said “We are thrilled to unveil Rosberg Xtreme Racing as the latest edition to Extreme E. The series represents an amazing opportunity to not only drive awareness, but also inspire action against climate change…. Since retiring from F1 I have dedicated my career to sustainable technologies…. to combine these endeavours with my passion for racing is incredibly fulfilling.”

Indeed, since his shock retirement from F1 in 2016, Rosberg has invested in several successful sustainability initiatives, and in 2019, he founded the GREENTECH FESTIVAL, a place to show off what the latest advancements in sustainable technology can do.

Season 1 of Extreme E is now set to field nine teams with the likes of german racing team ABT, american outfit Chip Ganassi Racing, and 6 time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton’s team, X44, all in line to race across different, climate-struck locations around the globe. With Rosberg’s team joining the fray, fans are preparing to witness the revival of the Rosberg-Hamilton rivalry that fascinated audiences the world over from 2013-2016.

Many saw Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes in 2013 as a big gamble; even a mistake, but when the team nailed the new regulations in 2014, Mercedes were well clear of the pack. Thus ensued a three season long battle between the brit and the german, with Nico Rosberg finally getting the better of his teammate in 2016, clinching the driver’s title in a tense Abu Dhabi finale. Nico promptly announced his retirement from the sport and replacement Valtteri Bottas has struggled to match Hamilton to the extent of his predecessor. As a result, many fans have come to the realisation that the Lewis-Nico rivalry was something to be savoured. Now it returns in Extreme E, the excitement can start up again.

Extreme E has already announced a star-studded team entry list and a race calendar that has never been seen before. It is tipped to be an incredible series that you won’t want to miss when it begins on 23 and 24th January 2021.

A case for: Sim Racing Esports World Championship

Image courtesy of Virtual Competition Organisation

During the beginning portion of this year, we have been treated to some incredible racing in the virtual world. It provided an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the high level of ability from a lot of drivers who do compete in sim racing, as well as the high quality of racing you can witness at the fraction of the cost of the real thing.

We had countless examples of high profile races ranging from sanctioned events by existing series including the likes of Formula 1, MotoGP, Formula E and IndyCar, to completely new originals such as the very popular All-Star Series by The Race.

However Esports racing events are not an entirely new creation, as we have had plenty of championships that existed before this sim racing boom. Such examples include F1 Esports, the FIA-certified Gran Turismo Championships, and iRacing host many sanctioned sim racing series such as the Porsche Esports SuperCup and the eNASCAR iRacing Series. Then we also have the likes of Formula Sim Racing, the Grand Prix Virtual World Championship, league racing championships such as Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League, you get the idea.

So it’s not as if virtual racing fans are starved of action, if anything we are spoilt for choice! But with the quantity of races and championships that there is on offer, there’s a danger perhaps of a lack of prestige with any one particular championship. Do bear with me on this.

When I started to become interested in video game racing, I like many of you were blown away by the accessibility and thus seeing the amount of drivers who were taking to it in order to make advances in their racing career. Subsequently a lot of teams have popped up to compete and signed a lot of drivers to compete in various championships for them, and it just solidified the brilliance of the Esports racing.

So what is it that really sets apart virtual racing from real racing?

It of course goes without saying that real racing has the physical element which virtual racing could never really have. However because in the virtual world, cars and tracks can be picked from the touch of button, the advantage of that is not having to pay huge amounts of money to ship cars onto a cargo plane to a new track. Therefore whilst the physical factor isn’t a huge thing in Esports, there can be a mental factor.

In the week leading up to last weekend’s 24 hours of Le Mans, the Le Mans Esports Series had their Super Final which was stretched across a few days. In that, teams and drivers race multiple different eras of Le Mans-style cars on a variety of circuits, which is brilliant of course but I think it was their first season last year which really made me realise what was so brilliant about the format.

Of course this year, everything is being done remotely and thus there are some limitations. But in 2019 when the Le Mans Esports Series had its first Super Final and all the drivers were actually present at the Le Mans circuit for the event, they had about nine races varying from two to three hours long, in a variety of cars on a multitude of circuits, and it all took place within a 24 hour period.

They could just as well have had one race on the Circuit de la Sarthe and driven for 24 hours like the real thing but they didn’t. They took advantage of the fact that they could go to all these circuits and compete in all these vastly different cars, and really test the mental strength of these drivers, showing who can quickly adapt and prove their versatility in a short space of time.

What I’m saying is, whilst you could have a sim racing championship that does one circuit at a time with one type of car throughout the season and it would be perfectly legitimate, there are advantages presented by being able to quickly move to another type of car and track combination.  That’s why I want to present an example that demonstrated this concept brilliantly.

On the weekend of July 26th, I watched the Cup of Nations, an event that took place on iRacing and hosted by the Virtual Competition Organisation in collaboration with RaceSpotTV and Williams Esports. You can guess by the name that it was a competition held between nations, and you’d be correct in assuming that.

It was won in the end by Team Germany who had the driver with the highest iRacing driver rating in the world Maximilian Benecke, as one of their participants. However as appealing the concept of pitting nations against each other is (demonstrated by the likes of the FIA Motorsport Games and A1GP), it wasn’t that which caught my attention.

No, it was the fact that the car and track combinations were so heavily varied. You had the likes of Aussie Supercars, GT cars, Rallycross cars, single seaters and the many different types of race tracks such as ovals, dirt tracks and road courses. The people taking part only knew of the car and track combinations very little time in advance, so it eliminated the element of people getting more practice or even enough of it with a particular car and track combo.

Every driver that took part had to prove their worth in so many heavily contrasting environments. When I said earlier that the virtual racing world is currently lacking that one prestigious championship in which all the major aspiring and established sim racing drivers and the many Esports teams would want to compete in and win, I think this would be it.

I firmly believe that the VCO have showcased a diamond in a huge box already full of very valuable jewels. With some other elements borrowed from many other high profile Esports championships and if refined to iron out some rough edges, this concept would be – and I don’t mince my words here – the quintessential sim racing championship.

Picture if you will, the many big names from the real and virtual world both in regards to drivers and teams, looking to win the biggest prize in Esports racing, in the most prestigious championship for sim racers all over the world.

Open to anyone all over the world, teams entering with pre-selected drivers in a Pro driver category or players who qualify through iRacing and enter into an Am category. Either competing remotely in eight events across the year to match up to a total at the end, or entering into regional championships so no one region is left having to drive at 3am all the time. I would leave that up to the experts to decide which format works best.

Either way, it would end at the SimRacing Expo which takes place at the Nürburgring every year to crown the champions.

As far as a name goes, I’m divided between a few. There are the likes of, Sim Racing World Championship, Virtual Racing World Championship, eRacing/E-Racing World Championship.

In any case, I firmly believe that this championship would be incredible. It would not be a long shot to say that whoever would win this would be the world’s best sim racing driver or team, and we the viewers would also be major winners as we can see the peak of ability in all of sim racing.

Why you should watch the V10 R-League.

image courtesy of Red Bull Racing.

We all very much enjoyed the variety of Esports action in the beginning portion of this year whilst real world racing was on hold. We had so much virtual racing to enjoy –  ranging from officially sanctioned events by major motorsport championships such as F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, Aussie Supers, MotoGP and Formula E – to originals like the All-Star Series by The Race and the VCO Cup of Nations.

Then you have championships that existed long before the sim racing boom, such as Formula Sim Racing, the Grand Prix Virtual World Championship, and prominent league racing series such as Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League. Well now, a new championship is coming onto the scene with an interesting format and has attracted some of the biggest teams in the world of both real and virtual racing.

The Global Racing Series V10 R-League is a sim racing championship that takes place on Assetto Corsa with a very intriguing format. You have eight teams and three drivers each, one team takes on another in a series of races, the first of which is a head-to-head. In this event, teams match up their drivers in three short one-on-one races with the first team to win two races getting the first point.

What follows is a relay race where each driver heads out on track one at a time, swapping in the pits with a team mate, the fastest team across all three drivers scores the next point. Finally you have a sprint race, all six drivers take to the track with team scores for the round based on positions, the highest score gets the point.

I believe it may be a case of it being like a tournament format, starting off with eight teams in the first round, four in the second and then two for the final. I may be wrong.

Who are the teams? Well the V10 R-League, with its prize pool of £100,000 to be distributed across the eight teams depending on the result at the end of it, has attracted some very big names. They are as follows.

Teams from F1 such as Red Bull, Racing Point and Williams are competing as are the sim racing divisions of BMW, Ford and even Suzuki in collaboration with Jean Alesi’s Esports Academy. Then the other two are Team RedLine in partnership with Porsche and a new Esports team from the UAE, Yas Heat which is working with Veloce Esports.

Some well known drivers are taking part too. Red Bull have the likes of Graham Carroll and Joni Törmälä who both raced for Red Bull in the 2018 F1 Esports Pro Series. BMW has former Toro Rosso F1 Esports driver Cem Bölükbaşı, as well as Formula E Race At Home Challenge sim drivers grid winner Kevin Siggy and Gran Turismo World Tour regular Coque López.

Racing Point are running their current F1 Esports drivers Lucas Blakeley, Daniele Haddad and their Pro Draft pick Shanaka Clay. They also have former British Touring Car driver Mike Epps, who during the sim racing boom quickly established himself as one of the best professional racing drivers in the Esports sphere as he starred in many big sim racing events.

Williams have a selection of Nikodem Wisniewski and Kuba Brzezinski, the two Polish drivers who were part of the overall winning entry in the Le Mans 24 Virtual. They have also acquired the services of Michael Romanidis, who competed in the Pro Exhibition races for Williams, and former Haas F1 Esports driver Martin Štefanko.

Another Czech former Haas F1 Esports driver Michal Šmidl will race for Porsche24 RedLine as will Atze Kerkhof, sparring partner of Max Verstappen and was teammates with Max and Lando Norris in the Le Mans 24 Virtual. Then we have Jaroslav Honzik with Yas Heat, you may know him better as the sim racing content creator and streamer Jardier.

Now onto the part you lot may have been wondering once you saw the name of the series, V10 R-League. Yes, V10, the cars that will be raced in this will be powered by a V10 so you can hear it bellow in all its glory like it’s 2005 all over again. The cars utilise a 3.0-litre 900 horsepower V10 that will rev to 19,000rpm. And because they only weigh 700 kilograms, they’ll go like stink! The predicted top speed for these cars is 220mph, and when it all goes wrong, there’s no traction control or anti-lock brakes to save the drivers.

These cars will race at top line racing tracks from around the world. These include Vallelunga, Brands Hatch, Spa-Francorchamps, Laguna Seca, Monza, Nürburgring (and that’s including the 13-mile Nordschliefe) and Yas Marina. I have no doubt that these cars with their striking look will make for some great racing on these tracks, even Yas Marina!

So if this sounds like it’s right up your street, look for V10 R-League on social media which will lead you to their website and you can find out when and where to watch this happen. Watch team vs team, head-to-head, wheel-to-wheel, let’s bring the noise!

2020 F1 Esports Series season preview

The 2020 F1 Esports Series is almost upon us, and with it the official confirmation of who will race for all ten of the teams. Here’s your guide to who’ll be competing and what’s new ahead of the fourth F1 Esports season.

While drivers will be competing for individual honours, the teams will all be competing for a bigger share of the now $750,000 prize pool. Each team will consist of three drivers who will all take varying parts in the twelve race season between October and December.

In the annual F1 Esports Pro Draft which took place on August 27th, each of the ten teams must pick at least one driver who had qualified through the game, and the teams went in reverse championship order from the previous season.

Haas: Floris Wijers (NED), Cedric Thomé (FRA) and Simon Weigang (GER)

Haas have finished second-to-last and last in their first two seasons of competing, and will want to change that in 2020. Floris Wijers was their 2019 Pro Draft pick and Cedric Thomé raced last season for Renault which resulted in a victory on the Canadian GP circuit.

Simon Weigang is their Pro Draft pick for this year, he also raced last season for Renault. Wijers impressed in the first Pro Exhibition race earlier this year, and the two former Renault drivers are undoubtedly quick. Haas will want to lift themselves from the tail end of the virtual grid and finally now may be the time they do.

AlphaTauri: Joni Törmälä (FIN), Patrik Holzmann (GER) and Manuel Biancolilla (ITA)

After previously finishing runner-up in the team’s championship to Mercedes in 2018 primarily thanks to the efforts of Frederik Rasmussen, the cool-headed Dane’s move to Red Bull meant that the then-named Toro Rosso team didn’t fair brilliantly. They however have stuck to their guns with Patrik Holzmann and redrafting Manuel Biancolilla, and have also inherited Joni Törmälä from Red Bull.

Törmälä was part of the Red Bull team’s championship winning effort last season so he will be the one to watch in their B-Team now as he will be undoubtedly the one leading the charge for AlphaTauri. Whilst it may be seen as a demotion, they are all in equal cars so he will have every opportunity to prove Red Bull wrong for not having him in their main team.

Mercedes: Brendon Leigh (GBR), Bono Huis (NED) and Bardia Boroumand (IRN)

After dominating in 2018, two-time champion Brendon Leigh failed to win a race and Mercedes struggled after losing Dani Bereznay to Alfa Romeo. This seemed to coincide also with Leigh making the transition to real-life racing in the BRSCC National Formula Ford 1600 championship, where he finished fourth in his first race. However he proved in the Pro Exhibition race on the Chinese GP circuit that he’s not lost any commitment to Esports, and this season he has some very strong teammates.

Former McLaren driver Bono Huis joined Mercedes this year after finishing a respectable 7th in last year’s F1 Esports season. Joining them is the highly-rated Bardia Boroumand who starred in his stint in the Pro Exhibition races for Alfa Romeo, notably when he took pole for the race in support of the Virtual Spanish Grand Prix. Mercedes have a strong bunch of drivers to help them get back to winning ways.

BWT Racing Point: Lucas Blakeley (GBR), Daniele Haddad (ITA) and Shanaka Clay (GBR)

Lucas Blakely (Formula 1 esports)

After being drafted in 2019, Scottish driver Lucas Blakeley’s star power has only risen as he went from doing four races last year where he got a best of second at Suzuka, to being able to hold off the reigning champion David Tonizza in the Monaco Pro Exhibition race for an incredible win. Blakeley and Racing Point scored the most points for driver and team across all those races and he could upset the established order this season.

Alongside Blakeley is the reliable Daniele Haddad (who you’ll recognise as being the voice in Jimmy Broadbent’s ears during the Virtual Grand Prix races) and also Shanaka Clay, who really impressed when he won the Canada Pro Exhibition race in very tricky conditions. Clay being a former karting rival of Lando Norris and George Russell, and being only his second race when he won, will have some spring in his step come the start of the season.

McLaren Shadow: James Baldwin (GBR), Dani Moreno (ESP) and Matthias Cologon (FRA)

With an all-new line-up, McLaren Shadow will be putting their faith in a relatively inexperienced set of drivers. First up is World’s Fastest Gamer James Baldwin, who raced a few times for Alfa Romeo in the Pro Exhibition races. He will be doubling up his efforts in the F1 Esports Series with competing in the British GT for Jenson Button’s team, of which he’s already won a race, taken a few pole positions and is in contention for the championship.

Baldwin’s teammates are relatively unknown quantities. Moreno impressed in some Play-Off qualification races, and Cologon was in the Pro Draft in 2019 though he wasn’t picked, but McLaren see something beyond their inexperience in the F1 Esports Series. So while it may be a gamble, it could very well pay off.

Williams: Alvaro Carreton (ESP), Salih Saltunç (GBR) and Michael Romanidis (GRC)

Having been with Williams since the beginning, Alvaro Carreton has improved massively over the years to the point that he could challenge for the odd win or two so Williams were not wanting to let him go that easily. Michael Romanidis started racing for Williams this year in the Pro Exhibition races and also competed for them in the Le Mans 24 Virtual.

Saltunç joins from Alfa Romeo where was overshadowed by Dani Bereznay and will be looking to remind people why he was the only driver in 2018 other than Bereznay and Rasmussen to win a race over the dominant Brendon Leigh. A very highly rated driver, maybe a move to Williams was exactly what he needs.

Renault Vitality: Nicolas Longuet (FRA), Fabrizio Donoso Delgado (CHL) and Caspar Jansen (NED)

Having lost their star Jarno Opmeer, Renault quickly snapped up the services of former Red Bull driver Nicolas Longuet who only raced one time last season and got a podium finish out of it. He’s also joined by 2017 runner-up Fabrizio Donoso Delgado who sat out 2019 and will be hoping to remind everyone why he was the one who came close to denying Brendon Leigh the inaugural championship.

Renault’s final pick is Caspar Jansen, who has been performing very well in league racing and will undoubtedly benefit from Donoso’s experience to get him performing well in the Esports series too. A varied but balanced line-up at Renault that they think will help them hold onto or even improve on fourth in last year’s team championship standings.

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen: Dani Bereznay (HUN), Jarno Opmeer (NED) and Dominik Hofmann (GER)

When it was announced in the run-up to the Virtual Azerbaijan Grand Prix that Opmeer had signed for Alfa Romeo, I immediately said that Alfa would be the favourite for the team championship and I stand by that. Opmeer was fourth and Bereznay third in last year’s F1 Esports series and are both utter machines, I was concerned that whoever would be Alfa’s Pro Draft pick may get the short end of the stick.

Nevertheless, the highly-rated Dominik Hofmann is also very rapid so it’s odd to think he’s only been picked up now. It’s going to be interesting to see the dynamic within the team, as both Opmeer and Bereznay are capable of fighting for the championship though Hofmann will also be racing at some point. But like team manager Jamie MacLaurin stated on the Pro Draft broadcast, it’s a good problem to have.

FDA Hublot: David Tonizza (ITA), Enzo Bonito (ITA) and Filip Prešnajder (SVK)

Enzo Bonito and David Tonizza, FDA (Scuderia Ferrari Media)

Now onto Ferrari’s Esports team, having joined the virtual racing party a year later than everyone else and drafting the eventual champion in David Tonizza. The teams championship however eluded them as Tonizza was the only one amongst the three Ferrari drivers to score points.

To fix that, Ferrari have now signed former McLaren driver Enzo Bonito, and together both Tonizza and Bonito have been doing the Pro Exhibition races, competing together in the SRO GT E-Sports Series and even shared a Ferrari GTE car with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi in the Le Mans 24 Virtual.

As for their Pro Draft pick, Slovakian Filip Prešnajder was the one they went for after he impressed them with his speed in the play-off races on his gaming platform.

Red Bull: Frederik Rasmussen (DNK), Marcel Kiefer (GER) and Tino Naukarrinen (FIN)

The ever calm and cool character that is Frederik Rasmussen was third in 2018 and fell short of the championship last year, so it’s probably fair to say that the championship this year would be the most fitting result. He is joined by former Racing Point driver Marcel Kiefer, who won a race during the F1 Esports last year at Silverstone, and also won in the Pro Exhibition race around Interlagos.

Then we have Tino Naukarrinen, who was drafted after departing from Williams. All three drivers are proven quantities within the F1 Esports world and are very much capable of collecting very valuable points for Red Bull in their effort to retain the team’s championship.

What else is new?

After the outcry of the community to up the race length, the upcoming season will have races that are 35% distance of an F1 race (upwards of 25% from previous seasons) and will also have full knockout-style qualifying that will also be broadcast this year.

There will be four events with three races each so twelve races overall. Held on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the first event will take place on October 14-15 with races at the Bahrain, Vietnam and Chinese Grand Prix circuits.

The second batch of races will be on the Zandvoort, Montreal and Red Bull Ring circuits on November 4-5, followed by races at Silverstone, Spa and Monza on November 18-19. Then finally on December 9-10 will be Suzuka, Mexico City and São Paulo which will round off the fourth season.

You will be able to watch the F1 Esports drivers racing on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook pages as well as your appropriate TV channels.

(Featured image courtesy of F1 2020 game by Codemasters)

Opinion: Lando Norris is an important figure for F1’s future

We have been blessed over the last couple of years with a flurry of young and exciting talented drivers, including Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon. Fast and aggressive, they make up a new era and a changing of the guard, waiting to pick up where Lewis Hamilton leaves off after he retires.

However, there’s one driver in particular who I think is going to pick up the baton that Hamilton drops – that driver is Lando Norris.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Verstappen and Leclerc have the race wins and in a straight fight between the three 2019 F1 rookies, Norris lost out to Russell in the F2 championship but there’s more to it than that.

McLaren Media Centre

I first started taking note of Norris in the first round of the 2017 FIA F3 European championship, where won his first race. The name Lando Norris was not one you were likely to forget, and I tried to remember where I knew it from. After a quick internet search, I realised I knew him from his Ginetta Juniors days. I also realised I was there at Croft when he took his first win in the championship, on his way to third overall.

I then saw he was racking up junior formulae championships like it was kills in Call of Duty. 2015 MSA Formula champion, three separate titles in 2016 in the Toyota Racing Series and two separate Formula Renault championships, as well as being the youngest ever world karting champion. It’s safe to say I was in utter awe and also bewilderment, because how did I let this guy slip right under my nose?

I followed his progress throughout 2017 in European F3, a series almost completely dominated through its entire existence by Prema. Between 2012 and 2018, every team’s championship was won by the Italian outfit, and all but one of those driver’s titles was won by a Prema driver. That, is apart from one. Lando Norris.

Moving into F2, I wanted to see Norris perform a full clean sweep with Carlin, having won the F4 and F3 championships with them but unfortunately he couldn’t quite match George Russell. No matter, because Norris got the call up by McLaren to race for them in F1 the following year.

In his first season, Norris quite rightfully got the reputation for being a joker. His antics with team-mate Carlos Sainz and many other drivers earned him a legion of adoring fans. He seemed to be so uncompromised by the ever heavily monitored world of F1.

But he wasn’t just a joker, putting in some pretty remarkable performances. In only his second race at Bahrain he performed a hugely audacious move around the outside of Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly to finish sixth. He beat his vastly more experienced teammate in the qualifying head-to-head and was very unlucky not to score more than 49 points throughout the season.

Of course, we all know how this season began for Lando. He earned a podium in the delayed season opening Austrian Grand Prix. I was absolutely elated when it was confirmed he was on the right side of five seconds to the penalised Hamilton. However it was long before that when Lando really sealed his reputation as the future of F1.

Back when the Australian Grand Prix was called off, Norris and Max Verstappen committed very early to the replacement sim racing events. Both have been a strong presence in the virtual racing world and it was here where Norris really shone.

Streaming to his extremely popular Twitch channel, it really added a whole new layer to his character and so many of his fellow drivers have followed in his footsteps. During the lockdown, Norris took part in the likes of Veloce’s Not The GP series, the F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, IndyCar and Aussie Supercars iRacing races and the Le Mans 24 Virtual. He may not have been winning everything; certainly after Leclerc, Russell and Albon joined him in the F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, Lando quickly took a back seat to the trio whilst he fought hardware issues.

McLaren Media Centre

But had it not been for Norris, none of them would have had the opportunity to showcase a new side to themselves. Yes, they’re just playing video games but if anything, that makes it all the more important.

Darren Cox – the former head of Nismo and GT Academy – referenced a recent survey that found 72% of people who play video games got into motorsport as a result of racing games, and that the average age of racing fans is declining. He has a point. It’s how I got my foot into the door of motorsport, so F1 needs engaging personalities like Lando and the Esports world to help attract the next generation of racing fans.

Norris is important because of how active he is in the world of sim racing and interacting with his fans. When Lando was invited by IndyCar to compete in the iRacing Challenge round on the Circuit of the Americas he worked with his old performance engineer Andrew ‘Jarv’ Jarvis, who had taken a job in McLaren’s new IndyCar effort.

There are videos of Lando and Jarv from Twitch talking in such excessive and exquisite detail about the setup of the car which, considering how little access we have to racing teams and the process they go through to get the right setup, was extremely fascinating.

In the end, what else is it about Lando? Well, he’s just a very likeable, charismatic, unproblematic chap who is very unassuming, enthusiastic, personable, and has the raw ability to match that. He reminds me so much of Jenson Button, in that he seems so unafraid and easy-going. It takes a lot of effort to dislike him.

At the moment, Lewis Hamilton continues to bring new audiences to F1 and leads the charge for F1 to attract a more diverse, multicultural audience that will appeal to new markets. Once Lewis does hang up his helmet, not only will Lando along with the likes of Russell and Albon fill the grandstands at Silverstone, but Lando along with all these new young stars will be the leading lights, spearheading motorsport into the new age.

Oh, and one more thing. Lando Norris is just incredibly relatable. Everyone hears his jokey and enthusiastic radio calls and his infectious giggle, and we are reminded that he’s just like the rest of us. Whilst we would revere other-worldly figures like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, we relate to Lando and a lot of these younger drivers. We are reminded that they aren’t mighty men who we could never have a hope in hell of being like. Instead, we can be like them no matter what we set our minds to, that we are bound by nothing and we have no anchors holding us back.

 

[Featured image – McLaren Media Centre]

Virtual Le Mans – A spectacle in sim racing

As has been the case with a lot of the major motorsport championships during this pandemic, we have seen the rise of sim racing to fill that void. Had these motorsport events not been postponed, the weekend of June 14th would have been the season finale for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season with the 88th running of the 24 hours of Le Mans. That has been postponed until September, but in its original June slot will be a virtual rendition sanctioned officially by the FIA and ACO.

Normal Le Mans 24 will not happen til September 19th. Image courtesy of Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA Wec

Dubbed the Le Mans 24 Virtual, the race will be held using rFactor 2 and will feature 50 entries consisting of four drivers each across two classes; LMP2 will be the leading class with all entrants using the Oreca 07 and they will be accompanied by LMGTE cars from the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Corvette. It looks set to be the peak of sim racing already, as the list of drivers who have signed up to compete is absolutely incredible!

Where to begin? Perhaps with some prominent F1 drivers. Max Verstappen and Lando Norris are back again in a 24 hour virtual race, hoping to repeat their win in the iRacing Spa 24 hours only this time without Max’s brake pedal falling off 15 minutes from the end. They’re racing with Team RedLine once again, one of if not the most successful sim racing team of all time and they’ll be partnered up with sim racers Atze Kerkhof and Greger Huttu.

Team RedLine will also be running the two entries of the WEC team Jota Sport, featuring the likes of Formula E championship leader António Félix da Costa and 2019 IndyCar rookie of the year Felix Rosenqvist alongside two very successful sim racers. The sim racers being inaugural World’s Fastest Gamer winner and former McLaren simulator driver Rudy van Buren, who is Mahindra’s Formula E simulator development driver and will be racing this year in Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland, and the other being McLaren Shadow Project Final winner Kevin Siggy who is currently leading the Formula E Race at Home Challenge for sim racers.

Another prominent team in the world of sim racing is Veloce Esports, and they’re fielding three entrants in the top class with current and former F1 drivers: Pierre Gasly, Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Éric Vergne. F1 Esports race winner Jarno Opmeer, 14-year old Veloce Academy protégé Tomek ‘Hyperz’ Poradzisz, and the second World’s Fastest Gamer winner James Baldwin who is set to race this year in the GT World Challenge for Jenson Button’s Team Rocket squad.

Speaking of Jenson Button, he’s also racing in this, as are his former F1 teammates Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello. Even the likes of Indy 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud are competing. Let’s just hope the latter doesn’t try to take Lando out again!

Two other current F1 drivers are competing, that being Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, and they’re paired up with Ferrari’s current F1 and SRO GT Esports drivers, reigning F1 Esports champion David Tonizza and 2018 eRace of Champions winner Enzo Bonito. Alongside them in the GT class will be Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella, who are racing an entry backed by Strong Together, a foundation set up by Charlene, Princess of Monaco.

The FIA’s Women In Motorsport is represented by Katherine Legge, Sophia Flörsch, Tatiana Calderón and Emily Jones with the Richard Mille Racing Team. However the most notable woman in racing right now, W Series champion Jamie Chadwick is also racing and she’s going to be sharing driving duties with YouTube sim racing royalty Jimmy Broadbent!

The 2020 Virtual Le Mans entry list. Image courtesy of Fia Wec
Second part of the 2020 Virtual Le Mans entry list. Image courtesy of Fia Wec

Other notable drivers taking part include Pietro Fittipaldi and also F2 drivers Louis Delétraz and Jack Aitken who are both racing for Williams and Rebellion’s collaboration effort. Former F1 driver Olivier Panis is also competing, and that’s before we even get onto some of the regulars of the WEC and the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Toyota drivers Sébastien Buemi, Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, José María López and Brendon Hartley will be in the top class. Along with the likes of André Lotterer, Nicki Thiim, Will Stevens, Bruno Senna, Neel Jani, Norman Nato, Nicolas Lapierre, Darren Turner, Nick Tandy, Dries Vanthoor, Filipe Albuquerque, Nicky Catsburg, Jan Magnussen, Miguel Molina, Tommy Milner and Thomas Laurent, all of these are just some of the 200 names you will see when you tune in to the Virtual 24 hours of Le Mans on June 13th!

So how do you watch? It will be streamed on the official Motorsport TV website and possibly Twitch as well? TV scheduling may or may not happen and will vary between country, you will need to check back on social media, Fia Wec’s website

But what does this really mean? This is probably the biggest sim race of all time in terms of driver caliber, and it’s just absolutely incredible to behold. It could open up doors to potentially get more of these sim races to happen in the future during the off-season and maybe for a great cause too!

Yes we’re probably all fed up of sim racing and a lot of the controversies to come along with it, but you can’t deny it’s better than just twiddling our thumbs waiting for real racing to begin again. Sim racing has been immense during this wait, and it doesn’t look set to be slowing down even when real racing gets back going again.

So until that happens, I hope you will join me as a viewer of this landmark sim race. A real spectacle in sim racing!

Featured image courtesy of FIA Wec

Sim racing’s life beyond real racing’s return

As a lot of you will have been saying, I’ve been the one championing sim racing’s rise to the fore in the absence of real-world action and it’s still going strong of course. However, we must now turn our attention to how sim racing fits in with a post-sim racing world, if you will. A lot of people tend to be quite absent-minded about how sim racing is being treated, and make very ignorant statements assuming it’s trying to replace the real deal.

This all started the weekend that the Australian GP was cancelled. We had The Race with their All-Star event and Veloce Esports hosting their first rendition of the Not The GP. Since then, so much more has happened! Off the top of my head, we’ve had Formula E’s Race At Home Challenge on rFactor 2 and IndyCar and Aussie SuperCars hosting their own championships on iRacing. Then there’s also FIA World Rallycross Championship have doing races on DIRT Rally 2.0, DTM and WTCR have their Esports series on RaceRoom, GT World Challenge doing the SRO E-sports GT Series on Assetto Corsa Competizione, MotoGP’s Virtual Races on the MotoGP 20 game and last but not least, Formula One’s own Virtual Grand Prix events on F1 2019, with the addition of the F1 Esports drivers doing their Pro Exhibition event and now drivers from a plethora of junior formulae competing in the F2 Virtual races.

There’s definitely more I’ve missed, but at least you understand the vast scale of the impact of Esports. Not only that, we’ve started to see a lot of drivers turn to streaming on Twitch, with Lando Norris leading the charge and being joined by a lot of his peers including Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alex Albon and many more. Just last Friday, I saw those four all playing Rocket League together; it was so indescribable, the joy I felt seeing four of my favourite F1 drivers playing car football.

This difficult time for all of us will hopefully soon be over. There are plans for the F1 season to finally begin in Austria on the weekend of July 5th, with efforts in place to hopefully prevent anyone from contracting the virus and with no crowds. By that point, you could say that we don’t need sim racing and in a sense you’re right. It wouldn’t be filling any voids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to stop.

When racing isn’t going on during the traditional European winter, you would have Formula E as well as some other winter series like F3 Asia or Toyota Racing Series. But I think sim racing can still work very well in that time-frame, maybe not with a lot of the same active pro drivers but I still definitely think a few will still want to take part.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The trouble would come by making it an obligation. We’ve seen drivers being made to take part and losing sponsorship from treating a properly sanctioned event too casually. Whilst we would expect a broadcast and sponsored race to have some form of etiquette and professionalism, the trouble would come when these drivers are told to compete when they just want some down-time.

We’ve seen some casual races from a few of these guys looking to mess around. The famous clips of Alex Albon being punted off in some way by George Russell in lawnmower race or on the F1 game coupled with the sound “GEEOORRGGEEE!!!” come to mind, and as long as they mind don’t use abhorrent words (think of Kyle Larson) then that’s all good. But, for some fun yet still sporting events that drivers can compete in, they should be able to decide during their own time whether they want to do them or not.

We could even see in the future, a lot of championships adopting a type of sim racing to fit in with their race meetings. Formula E have been doing that for years, where a pick of their drivers go to a sim racing tent in the paddock between qualifying and the race and go up against a group of fans who have entered into it through some kind of qualification.

Mercedes AMG Esports

Those may not be the most professional of races but it’s something. A lot of the sim races that have been going on are treated as their own thing and are being held with the philosophy of entertaining fans first and foremost, and even though it’s never going to match up with the real thing, it’s a better than nothing at all.

Also, keep it online for free. The brilliance of sim racing is that it’s so easily accessible both as a viewer and a competitor, and I don’t want to see a paywall for sim racing. I get it for real racing, but I’ll be very disappointed if a championship is not streamed to YouTube/Twitch etc. and is only on a channel like Sky Sports, BT Sport or Eurosport.

Heading forward, organisers can still use sim racing to compliment the real racing. Both as entertainment during a point where the real racing isn’t happening that can be open to entry, or in the lead up to a real world event. Plus why not throughout the week? Who is to say that there should only be racing at the weekend?

There’s nothing wrong with something more. If it isn’t your thing, you don’t have to watch it.

IndyCar’s disgrace of an iRace

There was a lot to be enjoyed in the Esports races on Saturday. Firstly there was the second round of the Formula E Stay At Home Challenge, taking place on rFactor 2 with Studio 397’s own circuit Electric Docks which made for some incredible high speed racing. Then we had the first of a set of rounds that made up a new season of the All-Star Esports Series by The Race where Pros, Sim drivers and Legends all raced at Sepang to contend for their own championships and it even included brands such as Mercedes, BMW, Bentley, Aston Martin, Williams and Venturi officially taking part in it too. Finally, we also saw two races in Veloce’s Not The GP series where Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had some incredible battles on the Hockenheim circuit with some of the top names from the world of Formula 1 Esports and Online Content Creation.

But we are talking about the final round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, racing 70 laps of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. McLaren’s own Lando Norris was participating after making a guest appearance in last week’s race at the Circuit of the Americas, and despite spinning in the middle of the race, he still blitzed the field. This seemingly ruffled a few feathers.

Norris qualified second for the defacto ‘Indy 175’ to Aussie SuperCars champion Scott McLaughlin and despite never having done oval racing before, he was doing very good. He had put an immense amount of practice in with the help of his former F1 engineer Andrew Jarvis, who left McLaren’s F1 division to a new role in their upcoming IndyCar programme.

At one point in the race, a caution period had come out and Lando had just pitted so he had the grippiest rubber out of all the leading group so he looked to be in the best position to win. Ahead of him is reigning Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, who in all the previous IndyCar iRacing Challenge events, had won all the oval races and was looking to get a clean sweep.

Pagenaud and Graham Rahal were fighting for the lead and Norris went low on both of them, there was a noticeable gap between Norris and Rahal, but there is an unfortunate thing that happens in online racing called netcode, where there’s a slight lag in connection and subsequently, it feels like there is a collision when there isn’t. So Rahal unfortunately was netcode hit by Norris even though Norris didn’t do such a thing, and Rahal collided with Pagenaud and it ruined their races. A shame all round because I was looking forward to watching the battle between all these top-level professionals, but that term seems to not apply now, at least to Pagenaud.

Through I believe Pagenaud’s engineer’s Twitch stream, they seemed to joke about wanting to take out Norris and were badmouthing him as if he actually had done something wrong. But as clear as day in the video I’m going to provide of Lando watching a replay of that Twitch stream after the race, Pagenaud turned in on him heading into the last lap and what seemed to be an all-but-certain victory for Lando was taken from him. Pagenaud even tried to play it off as trying to go to the pits..

You’ll also hear in that clip, Lando was in an online chat with fellow Team RedLine sim racing drivers Graham Carroll, Bono Huis and Max Verstappen, and it was Max who suggested they settle these incidents with a boxing match. Rather amusing.

Not only what Pagenaud did, but on the last lap, McLaren’s two other drivers got involved in incidents. Patricio O’Ward tried to overtake Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson heading into the last corner but was way too overly ambitious and desperate, it was never on and it cost Ericsson the victory. So it was left to McLaren’s third driver Oliver Askew to win the race for the team, but it wasn’t to be as the polarising Santino Ferrucci swerved across him on the run to the line, and there to pick up the pieces despite not being anywhere near the front for most of the last few laps, was pole-sitter Scott McLaughlin.

An absolute mess. Inevitably you’ll hear the “Just a game” argument, both from people like Ferrucci (who has form for doing this in real world racing as well!) who pull a David Perel and say it’s okay to be dirty in the virtual world since nobody gets hurt, and then you have the people who see this as insignificant because it’s some immature boy’s hobby to play video games so what’s the fuss about?

I love my virtual racing but this has just left a sour taste in my mouth. I’ve lost a lot of respect for Simon Pagenaud, and I didn’t have any for Ferrucci anyway since he was said to have been racist to his then-F2 teammate Arjun Maini back in 2018 and also purposely driving into him on the cooldown lap.

It’s also been disappointing seeing IndyCar commentator Paul Tracy put on his tin foil hat and claim that Ferrucci’s steering conveniently had been hacked or glitched on the run to the line. It’s not surprising honestly, they love him on the IndyCar coverage.

This doesn’t ruin Esports and sim racing for me, I’ll always love it but it’s not surprising at all to know that people from outside the virtual racing bubble don’t take this seriously. With all the progress being made by Esports whilst we don’t have real racing, this has been a huge step backwards for both Esports and also IndyCar.

Image courtesy of IndyCar

Driver Spotlight: Arthur Leclerc – Out of his brother’s shadow

I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that I am a huge Charles Leclerc fan, seeing his ascendency from joining the Ferrari Driver Academy, and winning the GP3 and Formula 2 championships then graduating to Formula 1 with Sauber and now a Grand Prix winner with Ferrari, it has truly been incredible.

He’s also been proving to be quite handy on the Esports side, racking up both wins in the last two F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, winning the Veloce Versus 1v1 event and also streaming on Twitch with the many other F1 drivers taking to Esports scene, raising money for charity in a set of races called ‘Race for the World’ which he also won.

However in all but the most recent Virtual GP, there has been a Ferrari being driven by another Leclerc, this being Charles’ younger brother Arthur. For this year, he was picked up by Ferrari to be on their driver academy like his sibling four years prior and it would be easy to assume that there is a bit of nepotism involved, considering other members of the academy include the sons of Michael Schumacher, Jean Alesi and the grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi.

I thought I’d run you all through why I think Arthur Leclerc could be one to look out for in the future and his recruitment to Ferrari’s young driver programme isn’t merely just because of being Charles’ younger brother.

Whilst Charles arrived into single seaters in 2014 off the back of major success in the karting scene, Arthur was only just starting out in karts despite only being three years younger than his highly rated brother. Arthur actually managed to win the Kart Racing Academy championship in France, but due to budgetary issues, he was out of racing for the next four years and in that time, Charles made that climb up the ladder and into F1.

The older Leclerc always had that issue early in his career, they never had a lot of money and if it weren’t for Nicolas Todt, his career would have been over. So it was the same case for younger Leclerc, who only got back into racing because of backing from his uncle, who set up an e-bike company. This helped him seal a place in the relatively low-budget French F4 championship in 2018.

Despite not racing for four years, it was like Arthur had never been away! He won a reverse-grid race in his first event, held his own in a battle with eventual dominant champion Caio Collet at the Pau circuit, took pole at a very wet Spa-Francorchamps and had it not been for some rotten luck in the final round, would have finished runner-up. That year, he also became a part of the Venturi Formula E team’s junior programme, alongside a selection of drivers from single seaters, karting and Esports.

For 2019, he stepped up to the German-based ADAC F4 championship and took his first victory at Hockenheim which supported the German Grand Prix, and Charles was there to greet him when he pulled up into parc fermé. Arthur raced for the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz, and even with the single victory he finished third in the championship, behind the highly rated pair of Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger and the champion Théo Pourchaire, one of Leclerc’s teammates.

That result is mightily impressive considering the level of talent in that field, and the fact he had nowhere near the amount of racing experience of his peers. Despite being three years older than Pourchaire, he had eight years less racing experience, so bearing all that in mind, that makes Leclerc’s results even more impressive.

Whilst Pourchaire and Hauger are stepping up to the Grand Prix-supporting FIA Formula 3 for this season, Leclerc has gone in another direction and joined up with Prema – the team that his brother won the 2017 FIA Formula 2 championship with – in the Formula Regional European Championship. A lower tier F3 series that races for the most part in Italy.

Arthur is now 19, the same age Charles was when he won the GP3 championship. The Prema team was very much a dominant force in Formula Regional last season and even with highly rated teammates like Roman Staněk, Oliver Rasmussen and fellow Ferrari junior Gianluca Petecof, I am very confident that Arthur is the favourite for the championship.

Last time we had an F1 driver called Charles, he also had a racing driver brother called Arthur, I’m referring to the Pic brothers. Charles Pic raced for tailender teams Marussia and Caterham between 2012 and 2013, whilst his brother Arthur Pic got as high as GP2. This time round, Charles Leclerc is in F1 and is one of the top drivers, and with his recruitment to Ferrari’s programme, would it be so absurd to liken the Leclerc brothers to the Márquez brothers in MotoGP?

Marc and Álex Márquez won a championship apiece in the lower and intermediate classes of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and now they are teammates at the Repsol Honda team that Marc has won all but one MotoGP world championship with since joining them in 2013. Could Arthur join Charles at Ferrari in the next few years? It’s not out of the question! But I won’t get ahead of myself. For the time being, let’s see how Arthur does and see if skill and excellence is in his blood.

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Team.

An introduction to F1 Esports drivers.

Over the weekend of what should have been the Vietnam Grand Prix, we were treated to some Esports action as we have come to expect. The highlight of the weekend arguably was the second rendition of the F1 Virtual Grand Prix. Following on from the first event which took place over the weekend of the Bahrain Grand Prix, where two of the real-world regular drivers Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi were joined by other pro drivers and even a golfer, and Olympic cyclist and a member of One Direction.

However for this event, Norris and Latifi were joined by the likes of Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, George Russell, Antonio Giovinazzi, and even 2009 world champion Jenson Button. It was held on the Australian GP circuit (since Vietnam was a new addition to the calendar and thus not on the F1 2019 game they were using) and was won rather convincingly by Leclerc, ahead of Renault F2 driver Christian Lundgaard and Russell was P3 in the Williams. Yes, that did happen, though there is equal performance with all the cars.

However I’d like to bring some spotlight to the race following that, the Pro Exhibition. All of the F1 teams let their Esports racers off of their leash to showcase some of the best in virtual racing, just like they’ve been doing in the F1 Esports Series that has been running since 2017.

In the inaugural season, 40 drivers went through qualifications and made it to the semi-finals and 20 of them went to compete in the finals held alongside that year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. After the three 25% distance races held across two days, it was then-kitchen manager Brendon Leigh who performed an incredible move on Fabrizio Donoso to seal the first championship ahead of Donoso and Sven Zurner.

For the 2018 season, all but one of the teams got involved and would pick players who entered through online qualifications and an evaluation process, and they would go on to compete in a full 10-race season held exclusively in London’s Gfinity Esports Arena across three live shows. Drivers would go for individual glory, whilst a prize pot of $200,000 would be distributed among the team’s for their position in the final standings.

Again, it was Brendon Leigh who would come out on top in a dominant display driving for Mercedes, winning six out of 10 races with the other races being won by Merc teammate Dani Bereznay, Toro Rosso’s Frederik Rasmussen and Sauber’s Salih Saltunç. With it, Merc also won the constructor’s champions.

For 2019, the team that didn’t want to take part finally caught the Esports bug, Ferrari. This may have been a stroke of genius because as a result, they got first pickings in the Pro Draft, and selected David Tonizza. A driver who failed to get picked by anyone in 2018, but came back and immediately hit the ground running.

Even with the onslaught of talent around him including the likes of Rasmussen and Bereznay – who had moved to Red Bull and Alfa Romeo respectively – as well as former Renault Junior driver turned Renault Esports driver Jarno Opmeer and the now two-time champion Brendon Leigh, Tonizza was unfazed and racked up three victories from the twelve races to just pip a late-charging Rasmussen to the title in the last race. However, due to Red Bull’s drivers scoring more points than Ferrari’s due to Tonizza’s teammates not scoring any points, Red Bull won the team’s championship and with it, the majority of the now $500,000 prize pot.

As you can imagine, a lot of gamers want to make their way into the Esports series but it’s only two drivers per team in one race. So three drivers are signed and you’ll see some drivers prioritising more time on some tracks over others to get the best possible result, albeit that does come with its downside. Both 2018 and 2019, Frederik Rasmussen lost out on being runner-up and a shot at the championship respectively because he elected to step down and have his teammates race.

Then on the flip side of that, former Sauber driver Allert van der Wal was drafted by McLaren Shadow in 2019 but he didn’t compete in any race, at least I don’t remember seeing him. Plus, Red Bull drafted a guy called Nicolas Longuet but he only did the one race at Monza where he managed to finish in the top three!

The system is flawed but can be worked on, especially now since we have this unprecedented opportunity to polish the rough spots. We now have these proper online races taking place and in the Pro Exhibition, Frederik Rasmussen won from David Tonizza and Haas Esports driver Floris Wijers. We now have another upcoming Pro Exhibition race this weekend on the Shanghai circuit, which will take place before the Virtual Grand Prix race.

We have so many top-line drivers who can win and be successful in F1 Esports, and I’d love to see a full on championship held every week similar to that of a lot of online League championships, such as Apex Online Racing. As much as I like the idea of the three races in one event, F1 Esports seems a bit safe and lacking behind the FIA Gran Turismo Championships in many departments.

Nevertheless, I hope you lot feel compelled to watch the F1 team’s Esports drivers tackling the Chinese GP circuit on Sunday potentially before the Virtual Grand Prix Series race.

Be on the lookout for Formula 1’s own social media channels for how you can watch these races…

Images taken from actual game play…