F1 drivers to race eSports stars virtually in place of coronavirus-postponed grands prix

Zac Palmer



This year's Formula One races are getting canceled left and right, but the series has a temporary solution for everyone ravenous to watch some racing: eSports. Starting this Sunday (March 22), F1 drivers and celebrities will be virtually taking to the track in Bahrain to race in a video game.

All the racing will take place on F1 2019, the official F1 PC video game, and it will begin at 4 p.m. ET Sunday. Formula One hasn't specified which drivers and celebrities will be joining, but we can hope that a majority of the drivers join in. F1 says to expect an announcement soon. The virtual race will be 28 laps, half the usual distance of the real one under the Sakhir floodlights.

You'll be able to watch on the official Formula One YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels. The racing is expected to run for 90 minutes with a qualifying session at the start to set the grid. It won't be as cutthroat as a real F1 race weekend for obvious reasons. Drivers will all enter the race "with fixed setups, reduced vehicle damage, and optional anti-lock brakes and traction control for those less familiar with the game." All the cars will have the same performance, which is almost never the case in an F1 race weekend.

NASCAR has already made a similar announcement, as some of its drivers have decided to take to video games. It's becoming a trend, as even drivers from the Nürburgring Endurance Series are doing the same.

 

"Every subsequent race weekend will see the postponed real-world Formula One race replaced with a Virtual Grand Prix," Formula One said in a statement.

The Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series will run until May. The season-opening Australian and showcase Monaco grands prix have been cancelled along with the races in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands and Spain.

The season is not due to start until the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on June 7, at the earliest.

"The first race of the series will see current F1 drivers line up on the grid alongside a host of stars to be announced in due course," said Formula One, whose existing esports world championship starts later in the year.

"In order to guarantee the participants safety at this time, each driver will join the race remotely, with a host broadcast live from (London's) Gfinity Esports Arena."

"Due to the wide variety of gaming skill levels amongst the drivers, game settings will be configured in such a way to encourage competitive and entertaining racing," Formula One added.

Exhibition races on the off weekends

Formula One said it will also host online exhibition races, allowing fans to go head-to-head with real F1 drivers, on non-race weekends.

"We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action," said Julian Tan, Formula One's head of Esports.

"With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of esports and the incredible skill that’s on show."

Formula One will be one of several offerings aiming to fill the gap this weekend, with some Formula One drivers also involved in those.

"Super Sim Saturday" will see three virtual races in quick succession -- the Nürburgring Endurance Series, IMSA Super Sebring and THE RACE All-Stars Esports Battle.

The All-Stars event, first organized at short notice by Torque Esports and http://www.the-race.com last Sunday when Australia was cancelled and featuring Red Bull's Max Verstappen, has moved from Sunday to Saturday to avoid a clash with F1.

Veloce Esports are also running a 'Not the Bah GP' at  2 p.m. EDT Sunday after an initial 'Not the Aus GP' with McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris last weekend.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

 

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