Russell bests Albon in Virtual British GP duel

Image courtesy of F1 2020 gameplay

After last weekend’s Virtual Grand Prix return at the Red Bull Ring, it was round two at Silverstone before the finale next weekend on the Interlagos circuit.

It was nine of the ten teams competing last weekend with Racing Point/Aston Martin electing to sit out, but despite coming perilously close to winning at the Austrian GP circuit with driver Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes chose to not compete in the second event.

The line-up for the event is as follows, with the driver competing in the main 50% distance race listed accordingly with the Formula 1 Esports driver doing the five-lap sprint race to determine their grid positions next to them in brackets:

Red Bull
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Liam Lawson (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (Josh Idowu)
Jimmy Broadbent (James Baldwin)

Alpine
Lucas ‘Squeezie’ Hauchard (Bence Szabó-Kónyi)
Aléthéa ‘Theamusante’ Boucq (Fabrizio Donoso)

Ferrari
Callum Ilott (Brendon Leigh)
Robert Shwartzman (Amos Laurito)

AlphaTauri
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘PieFace’ McDermott (Simon Weigang)

Haas
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Floris Wijers)

Williams
George Russell (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza was meant to be qualifying the car for Robert Shwartzman but had to withdraw due to a foot injury, and Nicolas Longuet had to withdraw from qualifying the car for Squeezie due to unknown reasons.

Before the five-lap sprint was a one-shot qualifying for the Esports drivers, and it was Marcel Kiefer who came out on top in that session looking to seal that position in the feature race for Alex Albon.

The sprint race began and Ferrari’s Brendon Leigh got up to third ahead of Floris Wijers whilst Kiefer held off Alessio Di Capua. Wijers spun heading into Village, whilst Leigh put an incredible move on Di Capua into The Loop and was now in second behind Kiefer.

Lap two and Haas’ other driver Samuel Libeert had just passed McLaren’s Josh Idowu and the Welshman wasn’t taking it lying down, he tried a move heading into Village but suddenly had the Williams of Álvaro Carretón and the Alfa Romeo of Simon Weigang either side of him coming out of The Loop. He held off Weigang but Carretón held his ground going onto the Wellington straight and pulled off an outside move into Brooklands.

Back at the front, Leigh looked to be weighing up a move on the leading Kiefer. Lap four heading into Brooklands, the two-time champion pulls off the maneauver into the lead looking to get fellow Brit and Ferrari reserve driver Callum Ilott pole position for their home Virtual Grand Prix.

Kiefer had no answer to Leigh and so it was the Ferrari driver winning on his home track, meanwhile just behind them Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay pulled off a pass on Alessio Di Capua, who then proceeded to spin right at the end which plummeted him from at the very least fourth to what would become twelfth at the line.

Thanks to Leigh’s efforts, Callum Ilott would start the feature race from pole ahead of Alex Albon, with the remainder of the top 10 consisting of Thibaut Courtois, Jimmy Broadbent, George Russell, PieFace, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Benjamin Daly, Pietro Fittipaldi and Squeezie. The previous Virtual Grand Prix winner Enzo Fittipaldi would have all the work to do as his sprint race teammate Floris Wijers couldn’t improve his position after his first-lap spin, thus the younger Fittipaldi brother would start 16th and last on the grid.

Onto the all-important Virtual Grand Prix main race, 26 laps around Silverstone.

At the start, Ilott elected to start on softs whilst Albon was on mediums, so Ilott got away well whilst Albon held off the charging Courtois. McLaren’s Jimmy Broadbent had a shocker, he had hardware issues as his racing wheel disconnected, undoing all the hard work by James Baldwin in the sprint race.

The other McLaren of fellow YouTube racing gamer Benjamin Daly spun coming through The Loop after potentially getting into contact with the Alfa Romeo of PieFace. So it was the worst possible start for the McLaren duo.

At the front, Ilott rocketed into an early lead and Albon was attempting to hold off a Real Madrid goalkeeper. Courtois was on the grippier softer tyres and seemed very eager to pass the two-time podium finisher, and subsequently used up a lot of his ERS in the process. He used it all to great effect though as he managed an outside move into Maggots! A stunning move. One that George Russell teased Albon about over their shared game chat.

Albon immediately attempted a move on Courtois heading into the Village-The Loop complex but it resulted in Russell getting the better of his childhood friend. Russell was now up to third, and a lap later once again on the Wellington straight with the help of DRS, he put a move on the Belgian goalkeeper who held his line, but relinquished the position after exiting Luffield. He then got immediately passed by Albon on the run up to Copse.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the fight was between Ilott, Russell and Albon. The Ferrari driver was on a different strategy and was trying to use up his softs in the first stint to get as big a gap on the other two who would then get the grippier tyres in the second stint.

Behind them though, the Haas drivers had gotten past Courtois. Enzo Fittipaldi inparticular benefited hugely from the first lap melee to get himself from last into a strong points paying position. His brother Pietro made inroads on Albon and attempted an audacious maneuver heading into Village but outbraked himself and the Red Bull driver got back past.

Further down the field, Benjamin Daly was holding off the advances of 2021 Formula 2 drivers Robert Shwartzman and Liam Lawson. First the Ferrari driver got through on the YouTuber and then Lawson attempted to follow but couldn’t avoid smacking the rear of the McLaren, sending the Aussie into a half-spin.

Laps 9 and 10 saw the Fittipaldi brothers pitting in, both of whom ran the soft tyres so it was clear that longtime race leader Callum Ilott would be pitting soon. Surely enough, the following lap saw Ilott pitting as Albon pulled off an overtake on Russell just in time to take the lead.

Ilott rejoined behind the AlphaTauri pair of Liuzzi and Salvadori, but he made quick work of Liuzzi and put himself in relatively clear air to ensure he could have the gap to Albon and Russell when they both pitted. Speaking of Albon, he was the first of the leading group to pick up a three-second time penalty for track limit warnings, which would prove later on to be pivotal.

The Thai driver came into the pits on lap 14 to fit the softs, and just rejoined ahead of the Fittipaldi duo and behind Ilott. Russell followed suit the next lap and slotted in behind Albon who was just eating into Ilott’s lead. Lap 17 and Albon managed to pull off an immense move on Ilott around the Abbey and Farm complex to run side by side with Ilott, held it on the outside through Village which turned to the inside of The Loop. He was now in the lead, but still had that three second penalty looming over him.

Later on in the lap, Russell caught Ilott but couldn’t pass him on the Hangar straight even with DRS assistance, so attempted again on the Wellington straight and made it stick. It was now inevitably a straight battle between Albon and Russell for the win.

Lap 23, a few laps from home and football game streamer PieFace elected to pit for softs to go for a fastest lap attempt, which despite being on a controller when everyone else was using a wheel and pedals, he actually managed to do! But Alex Albon quickly took that back later on to earn the point for fastest lap.

Back at the front on the following lap, George Russell pulled the pin when he didn’t have to, and overtook Albon for the lead. As long as Russell didn’t get a corner cutting penalty, he could have sat behind Albon and still win but he wanted to win it on track too.

It wasn’t long before Albon got it back, as with the usage of DRS on the Wellington straight on the last lap, he flew past Russell and brought it home first over the line. However of course on penalties, it meant that it was George Russell, the unofficial Virtual Grand Prix champion winning yet again. He won the last four Virtual Grand Prix races before the 2020 season got up and running, and made it five wins in his last five entries.

Joining Russell and Albon on the virtual podium was Callum Ilott, a valiant effort from who many believe to be deserving of a full time F1 seat. The top 10 were completed by Pietro and Enzo Fittipaldi, Liam Lawson, Nicholas Latifi, Robert Shwartzman, Benjamin Daly and Luca Salvadori.

In the team’s standings, Haas still lead the way on 57 points from Ferrari with 42 and Red Bull on 39. Williams get off the mark on 31 whilst the absent Mercedes hold 22. Then at the tail end of the standings we have Alpine on 6, AlphaTauri 3, and finally McLaren and Alfa Romeo tying on 2 points. Their finishing positions will dictate which of the team’s elected charities will net the most money from F1’s £100,000 prize pool after next weekend’s finale around the Interlagos circuit.

Be sure to tune in next Sunday at 6pm UK time to F1’s official Twitch, YouTube and Facebook social media channels and potentially your country’s F1 broadcasting channel to see who will come out on top in this Virtual Grand Prix series.

Enzo Fittipaldi victorious in Virtual Austrian Grand Prix

Image courtesy of Red Bull Racing

After a successful first run of virtual races during the extended off-season, Formula 1 has brought back the Virtual Grand Prix for a three-race mini championship to sustain us until lights go out in Bahrain on March 28th. The first event was held at the Red Bull Ring and featured a star-studded line-up.

Nine of the ten teams competed with their official Esports drivers from the F1 Esports Series taking to the track for a five-lap sprint race to determine the grid order for their feature race counterparts. Each team are competing for a share of a £100,000 prize pot, the better their results in the feature race, the more money they get to go toward a charity of their choice.

The line-up is as follows, with the feature race driver and then their sprint race counterpart in brackets:

Mercedes:
Stoffel Vandoorne (Jarno Opmeer)
Anthony Davidson (Dani Moreno)

Red Bull:
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Jeffrey Herlings (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren:
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (James Baldwin)
Jimmy Broadbent (Josh Idowu)

Alpine:
Christian Lundgaard (Fabrizio Donoso)
Oscar Piastri (Nicholas Longuet)

Ferrari:
Marcus Armstrong (David Tonizza)
Arthur Leclerc (Brendon Leigh)

AlphaTauri:
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo:
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘Pieface23’ McDermott (Thijmen Schutte)

Haas:
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Cedric Thomé)

Williams:
Alejandro ‘Flowstreet’ Pérez (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: George Russell was meant to be driving for Williams alongside Latifi but due to unknown reasons, was forced to withdraw last minute. Also, Aston Martin elected to not take part most likely due to the F1 2020 game still housing their BWT-branded Racing Point livery.

Before the sprint race started, a one-lap qualifying determined the grid and it was David Tonizza who would start on pole looking to seal that slot for F2 driver Armstrong. The race got underway and Tonizza held off the advances of Mercedes’ Dani Moreno and Red Bull’s Marcel Kiefer.

Further back it was carnage as Williams’ Álvaro Carretón was sent into a spin after he tapped Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay, and AlphaTauri’s Manuel Biancolilla also got caught in an incident and both subsequently went to the back of the field. The very fast and rapid Red Bull Ring being only 2.7-miles long meant the race was over with quite quickly but it didn’t stop there being battles.

2017 and 2018 F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh who has just moved to Ferrari for this year, pulled off an incredible move on Marcel Kiefer on the last lap by going round the outside at turn four, and holding his line into turn five to guarantee Arthur Leclerc a third place start behind Davidson and Armstrong.

Now onto the 36 lap feature race. The race began with predictably some chaos, as Motocross champion Jeffrey Herlings either forgot to calibrate his brake pedal or just decided to not brake, and he collected a few drivers in the process. Meanwhile, the Ferrari academy drivers got away well but Davidson in the Merc seemed to be suffering from some technical issues as his car was all over the place.

But Jimmy Broadbent starred in the opening laps. Thanks to the efforts of Josh Idowu, he lined up fifth on the grid and opted to start on the mediums, and was up to third when he dispatched of the lag-strewn Davidson. As Armstrong and Leclerc established an early lead, it was Broadbent ahead of a group featuring the Fittipaldi brothers, Vandoorne and Courtois.

Up at the front, no team orders were holding back the Ferrari drivers. Arthur Leclerc put a move on Armstrong for the lead, and then Enzo Fittipaldi passed Broadbent to take third which would prove pivotal later on.

Rather inevitably, drivers would begin to rack up penalties due to track extending, with the only exception being Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri. It got so bad, former F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi even got disqualified for racking up so many penalties. This would also play a part in deciding the eventual winner.

Leclerc was the first to bite the penalty cherry of the leading group heading onto lap 11, which put Armstrong in a good position to take advantage. A few laps later, Leclerc was in to the pits and held off Enzo Fittipaldi who had stopped a few laps prior to Leclerc, but when Armstrong pitted to cover off his team mate, he didn’t slow down in time for the pit entry line and got a five second penalty. To add insult to injury, he not only rejoined behind his team mate but also Enzo Fittipaldi.

Stoffel Vandoorne was heading the field having started on the medium tyres and would come to pit on lap 22. This began a charge from Vandoorne propelling him past Pietro Fittipaldi and Marcus Armstrong.

Heading into the last ten laps, Enzo Fittipaldi tailed Arthur Leclerc and it was hotting up between them. The pin was pulled on lap 28 as Enzo tapped Leclerc in the rear heading into turn three and sent the Ferrari driver wide, and he took quick advantage. Three laps later, Leclerc repasses him at the same corner.

He would later rack up another track extension penalty which meant up until that point when Leclerc and Enzo Fittipaldi both had the single three-second penalty, the Ferrari driver now had two of them. This was immediately followed by a wheel banging tussle from the start of the lap all the way up to turn four, and they continued to battle all the way up until Leclerc attempted an extremely over-optimistic move into turn three on the last lap which sent him wide.

That left the Haas driver to take victory, Leclerc followed him home but due to penalties, lost second-place to Stoffel Vandoorne who had caught up to the pair of them incredibly and had the race gone on for an extra lap, he could very well have won with the pace he had.

Alex Albon was classified fourth ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi, Marcus Armstrong, Oscar Piastri, Anthony Davidson, Luca Salvadori and Thibaut Courtois who also scored an extra point for fastest lap.

An immensely entertaining race and there’s more where that came from! The Virtual Grand Prix racing will return this Sunday at Silverstone, and then the finale will be Interlagos the Sunday afterwards. To watch, check F1’s official social media channels (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook) as well as your appropriate F1 broadcast channels in your country at 6pm UK time to watch the rest of this virtual madness.

eWales Rally 2020 – Virtual Rally!

Last month, after a year of very little rallying, and no Wales Rally GB as well, my good rally friends Heather (@CooperKinetix) and Corey (@WorldRallyApp) are @Kinetix AF on Instagram and organised this event!!

‘After a year of hardly any rallying, most of the of the motorsport world turned to eSports and rallying was no different. Our choice was simple, Dirt Rally 2.0 or WRC8 and like many others we opted for DR2.0. With the cancellation of Wales Rally GB but Welsh star Elfyn Evans on the verge of an apparent 1st championship, we (Kinetix AF) teamed up with rising Welsh rally star James Williams to host eRally Wales 2020. Our plan was to give those who took part a small taste of the Welsh stages.

Competitors would battle in both R5 and R2 classes over six stages that were picked to represent the essence of a classic Wales Rally GB. Stages had mixed weather conditions, with a notorious couple of back-to-back stages that were wet that proved to be challenging for the drivers.

The event got started at 7pm on Friday December 4th and continued until 7pm on Sunday December 6th. To welcome as many competitors as possible, all platforms were included; Xbox, Playstation and PC gamers.

The event had a good response and attracted both serious rally competitors and serious eSports competitors as well.

Some of the rally names: WRC3 co-driver Alex Kihurani, BRC co-drivers Dai Roberts, Richard Crozier and Richard Bliss. Former JBRC driver Cameron Davies, Norwegian RallyX Nordic Champion Thomas Holmen.

eSport Names: Pro eSports driver & Italian Dirt Rally champion Nicolo Ardizzone, Sven Grube who finished in the top 10 of the eBRC.

Countries – competitors came from more than 22 countries!

Onto the action then, with six stages ahead of the crews.

Pant Mawr was the first stage and Here Lindberg took the stage victory from Sven Grube, whilst Przemek Rudzki was third fastest. All three were pedalling Fiesta R2’s. In the R5 class, Nicolo Ardizzone was fastest, with Davide Leonardi second and Lester Bromley third.

Stage two, River Severn Valley was taken by Sven Grube, with Tommie Lindberg second and Neil Jones in third. Tommie put an Adam R2 in second. Sven also won the R5 class, with Rhys Cadwaladr in a Citroen C3 R5, and Alex Kihurani third.

Stage three, Geufron Forest was taken by Sven Grube, with Neil Jones and Tommie Lindberg second and third fastest. Sven was building quite a lead with Neil in his Fiesta R2 now 34 seconds from the leader. In the R5 class Sven Grube was fastest from Lester Bromley, with Alex Kihurani.

Stage four, Bronfelen saw Sven continue his domination, taking his third stage win from Edgars Luznieks, and Tommie in the Adam R2 was once again third. Sven was so dominant, that he also won the R5 category from Alex Kihurani, with Lester Bromley with the third fastest time. All three of them were driving Fiesta R5 MK2’s.

The penultimate stage, Bidnor Moorland Reverse, was taken by Sven, his fifth stage win, with Edgars and Tommie once again second and third. Sven now had a lead of over a minute over second placed Edgars. In the R5 class, Sven was fastest as well. Could anyone catch him? Lester and Alex were second and third, but their positions were swapped in the battle to finish second, with that position held by Alex. Lester had closed the gap though to just 1.3 seconds.

The final stage then, Sweet Lamb. Sven completed his domination, taking the final stage from Tommie and Neil completing the top three in the stage. Sven also took the R5 stage win from Lester and Alex. There was a change for second place in the final stage, with Lester eclipsing Alex for second place. He’d been closing the gap for a while, and nabbed the position right at the end!

Here’s an example of the Fiesta R5 at speed. Photo: Drew Gibson

Sven ended up winning the R2 class from Tommie by almost a minute and a half, with Neil Jones around three and a bit seconds further back in third. In the R5 class, Sven was also victorious, winning by over a minute from Lester who’d clinched second place on the final stage, with Alex taking third, just 1.3 seconds from second place.

 

Let’s hear from the top three!

Winner of both the R5 and R2 class: Sven Grube (UK)

“I would just like to thanks the organisers for setting up this event, I had consistent runs in both classes and im happy with my performance, using the stick setup on the R5 Fiesta worked really well, and the R2 Fiesta was lovely to drive on these Welsh stages!”

Lester Bromley- 2nd place in R5 (UK)

Well done to everyone that took part. I do love Wales being welsh! [I] managed to finish a rally that’s unlike me lost it on stage 2. Lost 23 secs and stage 4 puncture lost 34 secs. Not a bad second though behind Sven Grube, he’s super-fast, so well happy.

Alex Kihurani – 3rd place in the R5 class (USA)

“A bit frustrated with some really silly mistakes that ultimately cost me 2nd place by 1 second, but I’m happy to be on the podium, and even happier with my miraculous hair growth! 3rd is where I ended up in the actual Wales Rally GB last year in the JWRC, so the game must be quite realistic if I’m 3rd in the virtual version.”

Alex Kihurani co-drove Sean Johnston to third in the JWRC class in the 2019 Wales Rally GB. Photo credit, M-Sport.

Here’s some of the other competitors!

Tommie Lindberg – 2nd R2 finished his run-on Saturday 5th (SWE)

On finishing his run-on Saturday 5th said “Gone through both events, at the moment holding 4th in R5 and 2nd in R2. I had a good time, especially R2’s was pretty much spot on, some mistakes in the Polo but still happy. Thanks for a nice event and looking forward to more of them coming!”

Chris Wheeler – Participant (UK)

2016 BRC3 champ Chris Wheeler unfortunately did not finish the event. Speaking afterwards he told us he was running as high as 9th during the earlier stages. “I had a good run with a few minor offs but I sadly retired on the last stage after I got a puncture. These things happen unfortunately.”

Lot’s of UK fans will know Chris Wheeler.

Andrew Coley – Participant (UK)

Not the best to be honest! Rolled on the first corner in the dark, tore off my lamp pod, had a puncture on two stages… I’m actually surprised it lasted until stage three!

Thomas Holmen – Participant (NOR)

I think I’ll keep myself to the track! I knew it wasn’t going well by the first split! Then a DNF on SS4, think my suspension fell apart! Never mind, looking forward to the next one!

 

Round Up.

Well, that sounded like a lot of fun! Hope you enjoyed my round up of this eRally! It’s fair to say that Sven certainly had some serious pace on the stages. Lester and Alex battled it out for second overall, and Lester took the spot right at the end!

GT World Challenge to pioneer initiative integrating real-world and virtual racing

It was announced yesterday that the SRO Motorsports Group – the promoter of the GT World Challenge – will be forming a partnership with sim-racing hardware developers Fanatec, who provide the wheels for all the drivers in the F1 Esports Series. Fanatec will become the title sponsor for the GT World Challenge (across all regions) as well as this year’s new GT2 European Series.

However, the main announcement was a revolutionary, world first amalgamation of both real-world and virtual racing. At all five rounds of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup including the flagship 24 hours of Spa, there will also be a designated zone in the paddock for simulators with the official GT World Challenge game Assetto Corsa Competizione.

The teams that compete in the Pro Cup and Silver Cup classes will nominate a driver within their line-up to compete in a race that will count towards points in the team’s championship. Thus making the GTWCE Endurance Cup the first series to have virtual racing count for points in a real-world racing series.

Image courtesy of Assetto Corsa Competizione gameplay

Last year during the halt on real world racing, both professional and sim drivers competed in their own championships. SRO ran its own GT E-Sport Series in which F2 driver Louis Delétraz won over McLaren factory driver Ben Barnicoat. However the races they did were not then counted for points towards the real-world racing that returned later that year, this is a world first to see virtual racing count towards a championship in real world motorsport.

But it’s not like it hasn’t been attempted before. After the success of the Las Vegas eRace in which sim drivers competed against full-time Formula E drivers in a standalone race, Formula E were evaluating whether to have a sim race to replace a cancelled ePrix and have it count towards the championship. There was also potentially some suggestion of some sim races making up a part of the NASCAR Euro Series schedule, but the idea of doing that is not an extremely popular one amongst drivers and fans alike.

Will it work?

I love sim racing and as much as I love seeing the barriers between the two be broken down, it’s definitely a different ballpark from real-world racing and I don’t think it’s a good idea to combine them together if it means the drivers are obligated to do both. I’d personally opt to keep them separate so no one driver is disadvantaged in the sim racing side that would negatively impact their chances in the real-racing championship.

There is a vastly different set of skills needed to succeed in Esports racing and the fact now that there is a chance that a real-world racing championship can be decided by points from a sim race is very conflicting to me. All I can say is, I’m glad it’s only towards the team’s championship and not the driver’s championship.

Image courtesy of Assetto Corsa Competizione gameplay

It does seem to be a bit of a missed opportunity that instead of the real world drivers doing these races, that the manufacturers and teams don’t instead have a sim driver compete for them. At the very least, a professional driver and a sim driver could share the driving duties, like maybe reigning GTWCE Endurance Cup champion Alessandro Pier Guidi could swap out the virtual Ferrari 488 he’s driving halfway through a race with, for example, 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza.

A bit like what Tonizza and his many F1 Esports counterparts will be doing when the F1 Virtual Grand Prix series returns at the end of this month. That being where the Esports racers will do a five-lap qualification race to decide the grid, and then hand it to the F1 drivers and other competitors racing in the VGP itself.

What I’m saying is, the concept could certainly have been executed much worse. But in the end, I feel rather conflicted because I love seeing the Esports racing side being embraced but having the real world drivers compete for points that will end up affecting the real-world racing championship, it’ll certainly be a challenge for a lot of them, that’s for sure. But I’m still not sure exactly how to feel about this.

For better or for worse, this will certainly be an interesting experiment but I certainly hope it doesn’t become the norm. Nevertheless I’ll be watching when this format takes shape, which will be at the opening round of the GTWCE Endurance Cup at Monza on the weekend of April 18th.

Feature image courtesy of SRO / Patrick Hecq Photography

F1 Virtual Grand Prix Series to return

During last year’s extended off-season, F1 put on a set of Virtual Grand Prix races to sustain our appetite for racing whilst we couldn’t do that in real life. It ran between the weekend of what would have been the Bahrain Grand Prix to the weekend when the Canadian Grand Prix would have taken place, before F1 returned to real racing three weeks afterward.

The races were entertaining and there was hope we could see the Virtual Grand Prix return during the winter off-season. Well, now it’s back!

Starting at the end of this month, a run of three consecutive weeks will see more drivers, other notable sporting athletes and celebrities compete on the F1 game. The first race will take place on January 31st on the Red Bull Ring, the second on February 7th on Silverstone and the last round on February 14th on Interlagos.

Unlike the 2020 events which all ran as standalone races, all three events will keep a points tally and have a champion at the end of it. Had points been counted last year, Williams driver George Russell would have been the unofficial winner with four wins in the last four races, but this time a champion will officially be crowned.

For the three-race championship, the format has been given a little shake-up. Before the official race, the drivers of the F1 Esports series will take to the virtual track in a five-lap sprint which will essentially be a qualification race to determine the grid.

In support of last year’s Virtual Grand Prix events, the F1 Esports drivers such as eventual 2020 champion Jarno Opmeer, his predecessors David Tonizza and Brendon Leigh among the many other talented racers would compete in a Pro Exhibition race. Now they’ll be playing a much more direct part in the event itself, perhaps enticing more people to seek out the F1 Esports series when it returns for its fifth season later this year.

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

After the grid is determined, the usual crowd will take over and compete in a 50% distance race. All ten teams will battle for points and will nominate a charity for F1 to send a donation to after the three-race season ends, with all the drivers playing a part in getting the best possible result and earning their selected charity some money.

So who will compete? F1 says to keep your eyes on their social media channels for driver announcements in the upcoming weeks. Expect a fair amount of celebrities and other sporting athletes to compete alongside drivers both in F1 and from other categories.

13 of the 23 drivers from last season competed in at least one race in the first run of Virtual Grand Prix races: Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alexander Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez and even the super subs Pietro Fittipaldi and Nico Hülkenberg.

Expect that a few of these will take part. Despite being some of the first to commit to them, Norris and Leclerc are both currently recovering from COVID-19 and Norris has even stated he would be taking a step back from any committed sim racing events in the off-season.

Other notable drivers who competed include former drivers like Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Johnny Herbert and Stoffel Vandoorne, DTM driver Phillip Eng, F2 driver and Renault junior Guanyu Zhou, and many Ferrari Driver Academy members like Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Gianluca Petecof and Arthur Leclerc. BTCC driver Nicolas Hamilton even did a couple of races with his brother’s former team McLaren.

Many guest drivers from outside of motorsport drove during the first leg of Virtual Grand Prix races—some with more success than others—such as surfer Kai Lenny (pictured in the feature image above driving for Red Bull). Some standout performances from top athletes in other sports include Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and professional golfer Ian Poulter, who both also competed in many of Veloce Esports’ Not The GP races.

Some other popular additions to the grid would include YouTubers such as Jimmy Broadbent who did a few races with Racing Point, and also Tiametmarduk who competed in the last two Virtual GP events for McLaren after becoming their Esports team’s brand ambassador.

Ultimately, the Virtual Grand Prix races were an immense success even if they could have been conducted better. But with the lack of time to plan in advance and how the F1 schedule was changing all the time, we got the best we could. Now though, this three-race mini championship promises to provide us with some immense entertainment as we prepare for the 2021 F1 season.

Keep an eye out on F1’s social media channels to find out who will represent the 10 teams and expect to be able to watch the three events in the three successive weeks beginning on January 31st on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook pages.

My league racing journey

Image courtesy of F1 2020 gameplay

 

So the motor racing season has ended and we’re all twiddling our thumbs waiting for it to come back. I’m sure we’ve all got things to keep us occupied, like watching YouTube videos and playing video games perhaps? I know I certainly have. But more than playing video games, I’ve been participating in league racing.

What is league racing I hear you ask? Well it’s organised competitive racing that takes place on driving games including but not limited to the F1 games, Gran Turismo Sport, Assetto Corsa Competizione, Project CARS, iRacing, rFactor 2… you get the idea.

The league racing scene when it comes to the Codemasters F1 games, is often where you will find F1 Esports hopefuls competing looking to remain sharp or get their foot in the door. Some of the top-line F1 gaming leagues include Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League. It was always something I knew I wanted to get involved in, but for the longest time I never felt I could do, however 2020 was the year I finally decided to dip my toes in to the online racing scene.

It all began with my friend Oscar telling me about some racing he was doing with a league he was involved in on Gran Turismo Sport called RaceSquare, and what enticed me was that they were using Super Formula cars. These are the cars used in Japan’s top-level single-seater championship which I really enjoyed driving, and I ended up doing rather well in my first race. It was at Suzuka and I was one of the leading drivers; a guy called Matt absolutely schooled me though.

The highlight for me of that particular season was a race at Monza. We have caution periods where we all bunch up and go slow to ensure nobody who got hit off loses too much, and I absolutely aced a restart and got from ninth to fifth. I then immediately drove around another competitor in the second part of the Rettifilio chicane. Before long, I pass the guys in third, second and then finally the leader and I don’t relinquish that lead. My first victory in online competitive racing, and in a very strong field as well.

Image courtesy of Gran Turismo sport gameplay

The race itself was never broadcast, but if you own Gran Turismo Sport then you can go to the Discover tab on the game and search in the Replays section with the Search tags: ‘league’, ‘superformula’ and ‘racesquare’, you’ll be able to find a video of it that I shared and you can give it a watch for yourself.

I did okay for a first-timer but my contacts with RaceSquare went a bit dry after that. We tried doing a series of races with the Red Bull X2014 Junior car but that died off pretty quickly, however I still hold the utmost gratitude towards them and have fond memories of my time there.

Not long after F1 2020 was released, The PitCrew Online’s own Rob Kershaw made me aware of a league starting up called The Optimal Racing League that he was a commentator for. Rob lends his voice to many F1 gaming leagues; he even commentates on a league called The Formula PlayStation League that our very own Jack Prentice took part in and he managed to finish third in the championship last season.

He put me in touch with the guys heading that up and I was placed in the second tier. I qualified rather well for my first race and barring a careless maneuver I did which spun a competitor out, to whom I apologised immediately after the race, it was a great drive from myself. I finished third on my F1 game league racing debut – best of the rest behind the two drivers in the McLaren cars. I pitted near the end to get the fastest lap and I did just that.

The next race was much of the same. I pitted near the end as I was so far behind the two McLaren drivers and getting a podium and fastest lap, except I actually managed somehow to qualify on pole position.

I unfortunately never really did improve much after that – they were my high points. I do firmly try to keep myself grounded and remember I’m doing this because I want to do it and that I enjoy it, but I’d be lying if that illusive first victory in an F1 2020 league wasn’t something I desperately wanted. It all culminated in the last round of Optimal Racing League at Silverstone where I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. It went badly.

Coming to the end of the race, we had a safety car period and everyone in front of me pitted as I had already done so a few laps before. I got very flustered and couldn’t keep tyre temperature, and on the restart I kept the overtake button on and drained my battery by mistake. A competitor then tried to pass me and I tried to move across to defend my line but they couldn’t avoid me. I attempted to relinquish the position but they were wedged on my car and lost a whole chunk of positions. I felt terrible about it, so I drove off and crashed, left the lobby and the league’s Discord server.

The next few months, I never went anywhere near league racing as I didn’t want to be the reason why someone’s race is ruined. However it was JessGames95 on Twitter who I’ve been friendly with for a while, that brought me back into the league racing scene. She’s a well known and much beloved commentator in the league racing community, having done commentary for Apex Online Racing, Online Racing League and Inside Line Racing, and she was advertising a league called PSGL that peaked my interest.

Known at the time as PlayStation Gaming League – now known as Premier Sim Gaming League – I decided to sign up on a whim thinking I had no chance. After submitting the evaluation material, they placed me in the 11th and bottom tier as I still need some driver aids. I joined for their penultimate race at the US Grand Prix circuit and qualified a very respectable third, then somehow I put in a stonking performance.

Aside from some contact with another competitor which cost them a bit of their front wing (which I again apologised for), I held my own against the guy who would go on to win the championship throughout the whole race, hounding him after a safety car period and had it not been for one in-game penalty which I got in a very careless manner, I would have won!

Image courtesy of Formula 1 2020 gameplay

My confidence is back and now I’m in PSGL’s F1 2020 tier 11 series full-time driving the McLaren and you can watch me on their YouTube channel every Thursday at 7pm UK time. So far this season, I haven’t had the results to reflect how I feel I’ve performed, as I’ve had some strategic blunders on my side and gotten involved in some clumsy incidents which have sometimes been my fault, sometimes not.

But what matters is, I enjoy it. I’m not trying to become the next F1 Esports champion, I’m not going to be the next Brendon Leigh, David Tonizza or Jarno Opmeer, I’m just a noob who wants to race on a clean, level playing field with some likeminded people.

Like a majority of people who go league racing, it isn’t just those who are the best who spend hours changing setups in-game and obsessively go through time trial trying to nail every corner. I for one don’t try to practice too much so I don’t let it overconsume my life.

Also it’s not all about who has all the best equipment like a top line racing wheel and monitors. I have a Logitech G29 wheel. It’s nowhere near as amazing to use I imagine as the Fanatec made wheels they use in F1 Esports, but you don’t even need a wheel to be good! My teammate in PSGL is called Mark, he’s extremely good and he uses a controller. He embarrasses me every week!

So if you’re sick of open lobbies on racing games, I implore all of you to start seeking for a league that is at your skill level as there is certainly one out there for everyone. I hope more and more leagues accommodate for the casual player, ones who need some driver aids and aren’t particularly savvy in setting up their car.

Regardless if you are the next F1 Esports hopeful or a scrub like me, racing is for everyone.

What We Learned From Formula E Testing

image courtesy of Sergio Sette Formula e

Earlier this week saw the return of Formula E, as the teams took to the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia to test their cars ahead of the 2020/21 Season. BMWi Andretti’s Maximilian Guenther was the quickest of all over one lap, but what can we actually learn from Formula E testing? Let’s find out!

Changes to Testing

Last year, the Ricardo Tormo circuit implemented a tight chicane into the first corner, in order to try and replicate some of the characteristics of Formula E’s famous (or infamous) street circuits. This year, though, that was removed in an attempt to minimise the risk of the cars sustaining damage. That wasn’t the only change either. Due to the somewhat creative interpretations of where the track limit was last year, it was decided that this year they would monitor it using sensors. The increased awareness of track limits also helped with the batteries’ operating temperatures. Unfortunately, because of all the changes to the track, comparing times with last year would not give an accurate representation of how the technology has developed since then.

Rookies Impressed:

Every year the quality of the Formula E Grid seems to get better and better and this year is no different. The new faces this year, Venturi’s Norman Nato, Andretti’s Jake Dennis, and Virgin’s Nick Cassidy, sprinted out of the starting blocks, posting competitive times almost immediately. By the end of testing, their quickest laps were all within 4 tenths of the overall fastest, Max Guenther, with Cassidy and Nato both quicker than their more experienced teammates.

NIO Resurgence:

It’s fair to say NIO have struggled to be competitive in recent years, often being the slowest car on the grid. However, that seems to have changed this year, as an all-new powertrain helped Oliver Turvey finish testing 10th quickest. NIO also completed the most laps of anyone with a total 535 across all three days; valuable data to help get to grips with the new system. As spectators, we can but hope that the clear improvement in one-lap pace, also means an improvement to their long run pace.

As Tight As Ever:

One of the best things about Formula E is the closeness of the racing, and this year it’s set to be the closest field ever. At the end of testing, all the drivers were covered by a little over half a second. The young Max Guenther lead the pack, but Audi’s Lucas Di Grassi brought up the rear just a mere 0.578 seconds behind. Audi themselves seemed to be a tad behind the others, perhaps as a result of their decision to pull out of the all electric series after this season, so that they can focus on Le Mans. With a field covered by so little, however, this season is going to be as close as ever. Any championship hopefuls will need to be incredibly consistent.

So now that testing has concluded, we have learned many things about what to expect in this coming season. NIO look like they can be competitive again, and anybody can win any race. We look destined to witness one of the best seasons of Formula E to date: you won’t want to miss it when it kicks off in Santiago on January 16th.

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!