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)

Listen: PitCast interview with Sabré Cook

In the latest special episode of the PitCast, we caught up with Indy Pro 2000 and W Series driver Sabré Cook.

Fresh off the back of the second round of the Indy Pro 2000 season at Mid-Ohio, we spoke to Sabré about her Road to Indy journey, her W Series goals and involvement in their esports league, and her work with the Renault F1 team and Infiniti Engineering Academy last year.

Sabré is currently competing part-time in the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 championship with Team Benik and was due to race in the second season of the W Series before its cancellation earlier in the year.

You can listen to the latest episode of the PitCast below, and also here on YouTube. Catch up on all our past episodes here.

 

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]

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.

Driver Spotlight: Igor Fraga and the power of Esports | Part Two

For 2019, Igor Fraga competed in the inaugural Formula Regional European Championship, an F3-level series which competed in Italy for the most part with rounds also in France, Spain, Hungary and Austria.

The season was dominated for the most part by Prema with their trio of drivers consisting of Frederik Vesti, Enzo Fittipaldi and Olli Caldwell.

Fraga was undeterred, and with his team of DR Formula by RP Motorsport, he took four wins, four poles, three fastest laps and eleven podiums in 23 races, ending the season an incredibly impressive third behind Fittipaldi and champion Vesti.

Back in the virtual world, things went a little sour. The new format of the Gran Turismo championships meant that if you won overall in one particular event, you wouldn’t have to go qualify to participate in the World Finals at Monaco. After messing up his chances in the first round in Paris, he won the second event which took place at the Nürburgring supporting the 24-hour race. However it was the following event that really put a major downer on things.

The third event took place in New York and Fraga, having already guaranteed himself a place in the World Final, was racing in the event final against Mikail Hizal. They were driving at Spa and Hizal had better tyres. With the long drag from La Source all the way to the Kemmel Straight, it looked like a foregone conclusion that Hizal would pass Fraga.

However, Fraga first employed a tactic of getting off the throttle and letting Hizal through after La Source, only to immediately use the slipstream and get back past, which is tad sketchy but not inherently illegal.

Then he did something which really was wrong. He lifted off the throttle going up Eau Rouge and Hizal couldn’t avoid hitting him. After that, Hizal had to preserve fuel and dropped back by over five seconds. That last part is important.

Fraga was penalised. Although he didn’t actually lose anything, he was given a five-second penalty and kept his victory.

Three weeks later, and round four of the Grand Turismo championship took place at the Red Bull Hangar-7 in Austria. The debate was still centred on Fraga’s move in Italy, but to their credit, both Fraga and Hizal had taken to social media to address it. Fraga apologised, and Hizal encouraged people not to attack him, insisting he had learned from his mistake.

I had gotten into a bit of a war of words over Twitter regarding the incident with both Gran Turismo championships regular Fabian Portilla and also David Perel, a real-world driver who frequently plays Gran Turismo. Perel insisted that because it was not real-world racing and that there was no inherent danger, it meant doing such a thing was okay.

Nonetheless, Fraga participated in the GT World Finals, and to everyone’s shock, he spun out of contention in his semi-final and didn’t even make it into contention for a repechage race, unable to retain his crown. However, there was still the Manufacturers Series, a secondary competition where three drivers sign in-game with a manufacturer prior to each live event and the ones who qualify represent that manufacturer.

Fraga, alongside Tomoaki Yamanaka and Rayan Derrouiche, represented Toyota, and they became Manufacturer Series champions. This probably didn’t soften the blow of not being able to have the chance to defend his Nations Cup crown, which was won in the end quite fittingly by Mikail Hizal.

For 2020, Fraga was announced to be competing in the F1 Grand Prix-supporting FIA Formula 3 championship with Charouz Racing System, alongside F3 regular Niko Kari and fellow Formula Regional graduate David Schumacher. This was immediately generating headlines with the official F1 website crediting Fraga as ‘F1 Esports finalist joins F3’, but there was also what would come even before turning a wheel at an F1 Grand Prix.

It was announced that in preparation for the upcoming season, Fraga would participate in the New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series, which is designed to keep drivers who usually compete in Europe sharp over the winter when there is no racing. The series has been won in the past by drivers such as current Jaguar Formula E driver Mitch Evans, and also current F1 drivers Lance Stroll and Lando Norris. Igor was placed into the M2 Competition team with the previous season’s champion Liam Lawson, and he really surprised everyone.

He really held his own against Lawson, going toe-to-toe with him when everyone was expecting the New Zealander to dominate. Lawson ended up winning five times to Fraga’s four, but due to Lawson’s one DNF and Fraga scoring in every round, Fraga ended the season as champion.

Not only that, Fraga won the New Zealand Grand Prix, an illustrious race that is one of only two races outside F1 to hold the title of a national Grand Prix along with the Macau Grand Prix. He did so whilst the first event of the 2020 FIA Gran Turismo championships was about to start just across the Tasman Sea in Sydney, Australia.

In spite of everything that may be thrown in the direction of Esports by racing ‘purists’, we have a fine example of how virtual racing can really open up doors of opportunity.

It all began for Fraga when his dad bought him Gran Turismo 4 on PlayStation 2 with a cheap wheel and pedals for him to practice on between sessions in his go-kart.

Yes, Fraga is not the prime example of what you think of when you hear ‘gamer turned racer’. He has a background in motorsport before getting involved in sim racing so he isn’t like GT Academy graduate Jann Mardenborough.

But before F1 Esports, the Gran Turismo Championships and McLaren Shadow Project final, Fraga did not have much chance of racing in Europe and thus pursuing his F1 dream. Now, however, he is a step closer to that. Especially now it has been confirmed he will be joining Red Bull’s junior program!

Fraga is an exciting driver who has proven that he isn’t just a PlayStation gamer looking to mix it with the big boys. He’s a racing driver first, and has proven that gaming and sim racing are not just a gimmick.

Just after he won the 2018 Gran Turismo World Championship, a video was released on Fraga’s YouTube channel which really does encapsulate the brilliance of everything:

Driving is for everyone. Whether you race karts at the weekends, or you’re a professional who is paid to race, or even if you drive digital versions of them, the beauty of racing is that it is well and truly a universal language. More than ever, we are seeing more people picking up online racing to fuel their desire to compete. It’s creating more opportunities than ever before, and that shouldn’t be dismissed.

I see so much in the way of gate-keeping in regard to Esports. Whether you like it or not, it’s an inexpensive alternative to real racing and it is here to stay. It’s up to you whether to embrace it or not, but you can’t deny it isn’t already proving its worth.

We have had Formula E doing a one-off sim race in Las Vegas with both sim drivers and regular-series drivers going head to head for a cash prize of $1,000,000. This was won by now-McLaren Shadow driver Bono Huis ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, who raced at the time for Mahindra in Formula E.

McLaren also partnered up with a competition called World’s Fastest Gamer in which kitchen sales-manager and former Dutch karting driver Rudy van Buren became McLaren simulator and development driver, he has since become Mahindra’s Formula E simulator driver now he’s looking to compete this year in Porsche SuperCup or Carrera Cup Germany.

The Race of Champions opened up an event for sim racers to participate in in 2018, in which also now-McLaren Shadow driver Enzo Bonito won. He made headlines a year later when he raced and defeated former Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and former IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in their heat races.

Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Lando Norris both like to participate in big iRacing endurance races too, having taken the win at last year’s iRacing Spa 24 hours even if Max’s broken brake pedal tried to sabotage that! Many other top-line drivers are also starting their own Esports teams, including Fernando Alonso, Jean Alesi, and even Jean-Éric Vergne who along with his old Carlin F3 teammate Rupert Svendson-Cook are the founders of Veloce Esports, who run the Esports teams of both Alonso and Alfa Romeo F1.

Jann Mardenborough is also worth a mention. He entered GT Academy when taking a gap year before university, and ended up winning it. As a result, he has driven cars including Nissan GT3s and various single-seaters, won a GP3 race in 2014, took a class podium finish at the 24 hours of Le Mans, and he nearly won championships in the Toyota Racing Series and Japanese F3. He’s now racing in Japan having competed in Super Formula and now mainly Super GT.

Finally, the FIA recognised the potential of virtual racing by giving certified status to the Gran Turismo championships and also by including it in the Olympic-style inaugural FIA Motorsport Games.

I’m British, so I was following Team UK’s entry into the Digital Cup. James Baldwin was our representative, but that’s an article for another day.

I hope you all feel compelled to seek out some virtual racing, whether it be to watch or to compete yourself. I hope I’ve convinced at least one person who wasn’t already convinced by Esports to check it out, and if so then that would be mission accomplished as far as I am concerned.

Especially with the cancelled motorsport events, it has been Esports that has come to the rescue! Veloce Esports and The Race have organised events that took place last Sunday which featured big names from the world of motorsport, and no doubt will there be more over the next few months.

I am certain that in the next couple of years, we will find an F1 champion or a 24 hours of Le Mans winner who started out in gaming. Whether that’ll be Igor or someone else entirely, they are bound by nothing.

 

[Featured image – FIA]

 

Driver Spotlight: Igor Fraga and the power of Esports | Part One

This weekend was supposed to be the first round of the FIA Formula 3 championship, supporting the F1 and F2 rounds at the Bahrain Grand Prix. However, due to obvious health concerns, there has been a delay to proceedings.

We here at The Pit Crew Online wish everyone well during this time, and we respect that the health of everyone should be the foremost concern above anything else, including motorsport.

Anyway, today I want to talk about a certain driver who is going to be participating in the F3 championship this year, which was previously known as GP3.

The FIA’s rebranding of GP3 and the subsequent disagreements among the motorsport community as to what is rightfully an F3 championship have all been major talking points. This is especially so because it led to the demise of the beloved former F3 European Championship that raced alongside DTM, from where the likes of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris all came from.

Irrespective of how you feel about F3, I’m of the opinion that having the F3 name alongside F2 and F1 during Grand Prix weekends is a great thing, and I think we can all agree that the 3.4-litre naturally aspirated V6 is a sound to behold. Not only that, but the grid quality this year is extremely high!

The dominant Prema team have signed Oscar Piastri, Frederik Vesti and Logan Sargeant, the first two being the reigning champions in Formula Renault and the European F3 Regional series, whilst the latter took an amazing podium finish at Macau last year. Beyond Prema, we have the team that nobody expected to hold a slight candle to them, Hitech Grand Prix.

After Red Bull junior Jüri Vips gave the Prema trio of Robert Shwartzman, Marcus Armstrong and Jehan Daruvala some competition whilst racing for Hitech last year in F3, Red Bull seemed to conclude that Hitech was the best place to have two of their juniors. They’ve moved Liam Lawson over from MP, and promoted Norway’s Dennis Hauger from F4. They’ll be joined by Renault junior Max Fewtrell, who raced last year for ART Grand Prix.

Speaking of ART, they are housing another exciting talent jumping up from F4: 16-year old Théo Pourchaire, who denied Hauger the chance at being the first driver to win both the German and Italian F4 championships in the same year. Then there’s Enaam Ahmed, David Schumacher, Sophia Flörsch, Enzo Fittipaldi and Jack Doohan, so there are many drivers to get excited about for this season of F3.

However, none of them may generate more headlines than Igor Fraga.

Fraga was born in Japan back in 1998, to his Brazilian father and his Brazilian-Japanese mother. By the age of three he was already driving karts and did his first championship race aged five. It didn’t take him long to begin racking up championships – he won seven karting championships in Japan and also the Asian Karting Open Championship in 2008, but it was after returning to his native Brazil when it became clear that things would not be plain sailing.

When he was 15, he began competing in entry level formulae. He competed part time in Formula 1600, in which he took a victory, pole and fastest lap, as well as two races in Formula Vee which netted two podium finishes.

That got the attention of Prop Car Racing, who entered him into the Brazilian F3 championship’s secondary class, in which he won four out of 16 races and finished third in the standings.

Fraga then attempted to move to the primary class of F3 Brazil for the following season, but due to factors outside of their control and despite Fraga’s best efforts – which heralded a podium finish – they couldn’t continue in the category and pulled out after just four races.

After sitting out the rest of 2016, Fraga returned to Brazilian F3’s secondary class for 2017 and it was well worth the wait. Fraga took 10 wins, 13 podiums and seven poles in 16 races on his way to the secondary class championship. Prop Car knew Fraga had potential, so they decided to put in the effort to ensure Fraga could compete in the Mexican-based NACAM F4 Championship between September 2017 and June 2018.

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Photo by amigo Julio #formula3 #automobilismo

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Being outside his native Brazil, Fraga did all that he could to learn the tracks, including the Mexican Grand Prix circuit. How did he go about doing that? By buying the most recent F1 game installment by Codemasters of course!

It was around this time that I first heard about him, as he entered the inaugural F1 Esports Series and qualified for the semi-finals in London, which took place in early October.

Fraga was up against now two-time F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh as well as a lot of other highly-rated racers. He finished fourth in the first race at Silverstone and second at Interlagos, and as a result he had qualified for the final, which took place alongside the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

By participating in this, Fraga missed one of the NACAM F4 rounds – would it be worth it? Unfortunately, he did not do too brilliantly. He finished 18th out of 20, failing to score in the first two races and then only picking up points in the final race when the points were changed to allow every classified driver to score.

Back in the world of physical racing, Fraga completed his NACAM F4 campaign as runner-up, over 100 points behind champion Moisés de la Vara. Fraga, however, was already concentrating on primary 2018 campaign.

He attracted the attention of former F1 and IndyCar driver Roberto Moreno, who invited Fraga to stay at his place in America and personally invested his own money to help him get a drive in the USF2000 Championship, the first step on the Road To Indy program. Racing for the Exclusive Autosport team, Fraga took home three podiums on his way to fourth in the final standings. His big moment, however, was yet to come.

He once again saw an Esports opportunity when he entered into the inaugural FIA-certified Gran Turismo Championships Americas regional final. He got a top two finish in his split, guaranteeing him a place in the World Final before going on to become the Americas regional champion with a crushing dominance in the last race on the Interlagos circuit. This set him up as one of the favourites heading into the World Final in Monaco.

He won his split in the semi-finals and qualified for the Final’s four races. He won the first race, held in road-going sports cars, and was leading the second race at Interlagos in GT3-style cars when a late charge by a rival forced Fraga into a mistake on the last lap. He tumbled down from first to fourth at the line.

Race three was even more of a nightmare. Held at Monza in Le Mans prototype cars, Fraga tumbled from fourth to tenth which meant he was to start tenth for the final race, which was worth double the points of previous races. It was not going to be easy.

The last race’s car of choice was the fictional Red Bull X2014, and they would do battle on the Circuit de la Sarthe. I remember watching this race live and being convinced that Fraga would find a way to win, and what happened next just beggars belief.

In the Nations Cup races, drivers have to use every compound of dry-weather tyre. Fraga had tactically put the slowest tyre type on first and due to the high-speed nature of the circuit, he remained in the slipstream of the cars ahead and was lapping as quick if not quicker than the frontrunners on the best tyres. By the time they all made their stops and used every type of tyre, Fraga was now on the best compound and amongst the leaders, who were now on the worst compound.

He got up to second and already had enough points to seal the world championship, but that didn’t deter him. He went for the lead and he won the race and with it, became FIA Gran Turismo Nations Cup world champion. Fraga was on top of the world, and he wasn’t done yet.

Igor Fraga wins the FIA Gran Turismo Americas Final

Only two months later, Fraga once again competed in an Esports competition. McLaren held a unique event where seven drivers who had qualified through a variety of different platforms would go head to head in a cross-discipline set of races consisting of sim racing, console driving, virtual reality and mobile gaming. All of this would determine which one of them would become a member of the McLaren Shadow Esports team.

Not only would Fraga and his fellow Shadow finalists be racing on a variety of racing games, they’d also be put to the test in a real-world McLaren GT4 car, the top-secret McLaren simulator, and human performance analysis to test physical and mental strength.

In this unprecedented format, the finalists competed on various virtual platforms, racing different spec cars at various circuits on iRacing, Forza Motorsport 7, Real Racing 3, Project CARS 2 and rFactor 2.

Unbelievably consistent, Fraga racked up points and eased into contention. He was easily in the top three, and competed in the race that would decide who would earn the place in the Esports team. The final decider was held on rFactor 2 and Fraga won with ease.

Fraga began 2019 on the back of becoming the first FIA Gran Turismo World Champion and earning a place on McLaren’s Esports team. As a result of this, both Gran Turismo and McLaren Shadow agreed to back his real-world racing campaign that year. So as a direct result of Esports, Fraga had become a very well-known name in the motorsport world and was now able to fulfil his dream of racing in Europe.

 

[Featured image – Gran Turismo]

F1 wants to use eSports racers to trial new sporting regulations

F1’s rulemakers are planning to use drivers from its eSports series to trial any major changes to the sporting regulations, to ensure they work as planned before being introduced.

Speaking at Autosport International, F1 technical consultant Pat Symonds said the idea is part of plans to make sure new rules in the future don’t have unintended negative consequences on the sport, by putting them through the same evidence-based simulations as his technical team used to refine 2021’s new aerodynamic regulations.

“We’re working a lot with simulation. We’ve produced what I think is a world-first in an overtaking simulation, but we found a problem with it in that [the AI driver] is too good.

“So what we want to do now is use the physics of those simulations but put real drivers in a virtual environment, racing against each other, so we can see whether these changes to the sporting regulations are good. What I’m hoping…is that we’ll use some of our elite gaming racers from our eSports series to test out some of our ideas.”

Ferrari Media

One of the ideas Symonds said F1 were keen to test out in simulation was alternative grid formations, while sprint races to determine grid position could also be trialled in this way despite teams rejecting early proposals for this last year.

Symonds also said that F1 is using technology to analyse viewers’ responses to races, to better understand which areas of the sporting regulations actually need addressing:

“We have people wired up while they’re watching races and we look at their galvanic skin response, we look at their emotions. By looking at all these various research areas, we can really start to build a picture of what makes good racing.”

MotoGP eSports 2018 Final: Trastevere73 Becomes Double World Champion in Valencia

After several rounds of qualifying and two semi-finals, the twelve fastest MotoGP 18 riders arrived in Valencia for the final of the 2018 MotoGP eSports Championship.

Ahead of the final race of the second season of MotoGP eSports, there was a ten-minute qualifying session, in which reigning champion Trastevere73 took pole position on the factory Ducati GP18. EleGhosT555 (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) and Cristianmm17 (Repsol Honda) joined him on the front row for the final. Meanwhile, paul_ig7 (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha), AndrewZh (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Luigi48GP (Gresini Racing Aprilia) made up row two; Vindex813 (Givi LCR Honda), ADRIAAN_26 (Pramac Ducati) and timothymcgarden (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completed the third row. The fourth and final row of the grid featured Davidegallina23 (Angel Nieto Team Ducati), RLLORCA26 (Reale Avintia Ducati) and XxBoMbeR_45xX (Ecstar Suzuki) who completed the grid, 0.5 seconds off pole position.
Between qualifying and the race, pole sitter Trastevere73 received his Tissot pole position watch from Jorge Lorenzo.

 

Trastevere73 receives a Tissot watch from Jorge Lorenzo. Photo curtesy of MotoGP.com

 

The start of the ten lap race was extremely action-packed, with two riders going down before the first two turns: Cristianmm17 dropping the Repsol Honda in turn one, before Davidegallina23 crashed the Angel Nieto Team Ducati on the exit of the first turn. It was unclear from the cameras, but it seemed like contact may have been involved in both of these incidents. This isn’t surprising with such a tightly-compacted group going into the opening corners, and the pressure involved in a situation like this too; a pressure which was only heightened by the addition of Marc Marquez in the commentary box.

From an early stage, it was clear that Trastevere73 and EleGhosT555 had a pace advantage on the field, maybe with the exception of AndrewZh. The gap between the Ducati Team rider and the EG 0,0 Marc VDS pilot went back and forth for the entire race, and it never looked like any other rider could get involved.

What became clear were three things: track limits, with all riders looking to maximise their lap time; the pace between all the riders was very close, as had appeared in qualifying; and that in turn caused overtaking to be extremely tough. Especially because of the incredibly short braking zones, and the high amount of time the riders were spending on the side of the tyre, at maximum lean angle.

From experience playing this year’s MotoGP game, I can say that it is not possible to brake a little bit later than your limit because you lose the front very fast and have no chance to save it. Since these riders were on the absolute limit (the front tyres were completely locked for 20 metres or more on almost every corner entry), braking later was not much of an option. The slipstream effect also seemed almost completely negligible from more than a bike length or two. So, the riders found it difficult to get alongside one another in a straight line to make a pass. EleGhosT555, therefore, spent the entirety of the MotoGP eSports Final staring down the virtual exhaust pipe of Trastevere73, unable to do anything about it.

 

Trastevere73 wins the MotoGP 2018 eSports Championship, his prize is a BMW M240i. Photo curtesy of MotoGP.com

 

So, with a lights to flag win, Trastevere73 took the second MotoGP eSports crown in history, and the second of his career. If you like, it was also Ducati’s first MotoGP World Championship since 2007, and their first win at Valencia since 2008. It also seemed like a precursor to Sunday’s premier class race, which Andrea Dovizioso won for Ducati to end the 2018 season.
EleGhosT555 was just 0.298 seconds away from the MotoGP eSports crown in second place, ahead of AndrewZh who completed the podium.

Fourth place went to timothymcgarden, ahead of paul_ig7 in fifth; then came Luigi48GP, Cristianmm17, Vindex813, RLLORCA26, XxBoMbeR_45xX, Davidegallina23 and ADRIAAN_26 who was the last of the 12 riders.

eSports tends to get flack from some motorsports purists, but whatever your opinion on it, you cannot deny that the emotion is there. Trastevere73’s celebrations were a prime example of that. For a lot of people video games are just that: games, but for the elite players, who dedicate themselves to it, it is a way to show their talent. Now with MotoGP eSports it is possible for these gamers to showcase their skills on the world stage, in front of a live audience who are the same as them: MotoGP fans (as well as people like Marc Marquez and Paolo Ciabatti).

 

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Project CARS 2 Review

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 Slightly Mad, Beautifully Authentic
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Project CARS 2 is a sequel to the original game released in May 2015. Once more developed and published by Slightly Mad Studios, the game doubles in car size, now boasting 182 cars from 38 different manufacturers with additions from Ferrari and Porsche. Electronic Arts lost their exclusive contract with Porsche recently, the manufacturer now appearing on all new driving releases, Slightly Mad used RUF in 2015.
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It now holds the record, taking it from the first edition for most tracks, 46 locations and 121 different formats, Knockhill in Scotland, Long Beach in America and historic tracks such as the high speed Hockenheim in Germany which you can see above.
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It is the first game in recent years to have secured a contract with Verizon who own Indycar, boasting the full 2016 car roster and liveries with the Indy 500 as an official event. This is a tier 1 category in career mode. All cars and tracks are available on single player and online from the start so no need to do any unlocking if you are a casual gamer.
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The weather/physics system they use, Livetrack, is in its third form a truly dynamic approach to rain, and especially to dirt and snow taking a leaf from Codemasters’ critically acclaimed DiRT series with Rallycross entering the fray.
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Because of such unique situations, where puddles form and dry out individually, the track never seems static, always evolving in the process throughout the race. A true challenge especially in the lower categories. As you can see below the spray in the Formula rookie series around Watkins Glen. You can also see from this the lovely graphics the game has and graphical interface of position on track, track map and speedometer.
The career mode which was such a success on the first game is just polished further, having the tiers of category, starting low down in tier 6 with Go-Karts or Formula Rookie, heading towards the heights of Indycar and the World Endurance series.
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Depending on your success, you will be invited to a series of invitationals, so much so you might do a Nico Hulkenburg or Fernando Alonso and attempt the historic events of the Le Mans 24 Hours and Indy 500, of which if you fancy can be the full duration, but shortened down to a smaller time if you wish.
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The most fine tuned cars on the gaming market. The noise and handing of them are so realistic, the way you could tune the setups for the cars is amazing. There are probably thousands of different setups, where a 0.1psi change on a tyre makes a huge difference.
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They have also got eSport interest and will be streaming events on the internet. Qualification for these events will begin shortly. For all you gamer nerds the achievements on Xbox and trophies on Playstation are a slight challenge, but doing these give you the full appreciation of the game.
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Project CARS 2 is everything you wish for a sequel to be, bigger, better and amazing. One of, if not the best driving simulator I have ever driven on! Further DLC is announced, so more tracks and cars to get aswell! Gaming at its highest level.
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Chris Lord
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Pictures are captures on a Playstation 4, from @C_Lordy91 twitter.  This game is out on PC, PS4 and Xbox One from 22/09/2017.