One week ago Formula 1 had just scrapped its first race of the season in Melbourne. Today, with the next six race dates also on hold, the sport has confirmed plans for its first ever Virtual Grand Prix.the Chinese Grand Prix was called off on April 12th, F1’s head of digital business initiatives and ESports Julian Tan told RaceFans.
“We’ve been hard at work putting up a proposition to come up with how we can use ESports on that weekend as an alternative racing entertainment,” he said. However the developments of the past week meant “obviously things escalated quite quickly” and “we’ve had to adapt very, very quickly”.
The plan is to fill each of the 10 two-car teams as seen in F1 2019. However there are a few obstacles to that between now and Sunday’s first race.
“Obviously timing is a factor in all of this,” said Tan. “We’ve had to move very quickly and in turn the teams have moved very quickly.
“The beauty of this solution is that participation can be done remotely. We’re still working through all of the logistical points for participation. I think the realities around timing and things around logistics might prohibit some participation but we’re hoping to get as many drivers to participate as possible.”
At the time of wiring just one of this year’s drivers – Nicholas Latifi, ironically one of only two not featured in the game – is confirmed on the grid for Sunday, having recently splashed out on the necessary hardware. The regular race drivers from AlphaTauri, Haas and Racing Point will not compete.
F1 has a back-up plan to replace the missing race drivers. “We will be speaking to influencers in the field, potentially young motor sports stars and other wider sports stars as well in terms of filling up that grid,” said Tan.
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An additional series of races will be held on the weekends in between those which were due to hold grands prix. These will also give fans the chance to join in.
“For the non-race weekends, we have a separate ESports proposition that we’re also going to kick off starting next weekend,” said Tan. “We’re looking at putting together a challenge and F1 driving concept to kind of give fans a chance to race against the drivers as well.”
Drivers who don’t join in this weekend will have the opportunity to join in as the series will continue in place of other abandoned 2020 race dates. The next of those – Vietnam’s cancelled April 5th race – was going to take place at a track which does not feature in F1 2019.
Tan says the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne is likely to take its place. The question of which track to use as a substitute for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort may be put to a fan poll, he added.
The game will be configured to offer a level playing field in terms of car performance, while also compensating for varying levels of game experience between the drivers. In other words, and to the chagrin of some dedicated simracers, drivers will be allowed to use aids such as traction control and anti-lock brakes, and the damage setting will be lowered.
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“Coming up with the proposition, what we really wanted [was that] this is non-serious,” said Tan. “This is for fun. It’s a fun racing entertainment product and we wanted to see everyone sort of engaged and sort of close to kind of create some fun racing.
“The Formula 1 game is a great game and obviously we’ll have people playing on different skill levels and we want to be able to accommodate that.”
While F1 already has its dedicated ESports championship – won last year by Ferrari’s David Tonizza – this race replacement series is intended to provide much-needed relief in challenging times.
“We’re really excited because while it is a very difficult time for all of us, I think we all can agree that sport plays a really important role in providing a little bit of relief in this time,” said Tan. “So being innovative about how we can create something and for us ESports is obviously a really powerful tool to be able to use in these trying times.
“We felt like that was almost a responsibility to use the tools that we have at hand to put our fans first and try to provide some form of entertainment for them.”
2020 F1 season
- Bottas vs Rosberg: Hamilton’s Mercedes team mates compared after 78 races each
- F1 revenues fell by $877 million in Covid-struck 2020 season
- Hamilton and Mercedes finally announce new deal for 2021 season
- F1 audience figures “strong” in 2020 despite dip in television viewers
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton