F1 2019 screenshot

The show must go online: F1’s Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix puts entertainment first

2020 F1 season

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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.

But the idea of inviting F1 drivers to contest a replacement race first came about after 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.

Latifi practising for his ‘virtual F1 debut
“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.

F1 2019: Mercedes
Hamilton’s participation has not been confirmed
“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.”

F1 2019 screenshot
More regular F1 race drivers could join later in season
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.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “The show must go online: F1’s Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix puts entertainment first”

  1. Sergey Martyn
    20th March 2020, 15:18


  2. Nothing against live streaming gaming, but I’m most likely going to skip this one. Why would I want to watch a few F1 racers driving a game? I’m not that desperate for my F1 fix, and while mentioned that the idea is just to have fun, there seems to be only the celebrity and “official event” factor for this one. If I had to choose, I’d much rather see some hardcore simracing than ‘casual’ gaming.

    1. Thanks for your enthusiasm. Nobody is making you watch so why tell us.

  3. “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.”

    This is the completely wrong approach. F1 is not entertainment and you don’t just take what you have at hand. It’s Ok for this race, but the general approach is damaging.

    F1 deserves the best simracer out there and that’s iRacing. Taking an arcade game developer like Codemasters just because they somehow got the F1 rights in the past is simply shooting yourself in the foot. Top drivers like Verstappen, Norris and others are practicing iRacing, almost daily. F1 should make a deal with iRacing, and do it now. F1 is about excellence first. Having a second rate game represent the sport is a bad idea.

    1. “F1 is not entertainment”

      That is literally what it is. That’s what the teams and F1 itself has called it in reference to its cancellation.

      1. @altitude2k F1 is a sport. While it can be entertaining, and this is a good way to plug the gap to the next race, it is problematic for F1 and the teams to forget it is not entertainment. (And no, sport is not a subset of entertainment; it’s a distinctive category of activity).

    2. F1 is about money first. They will probably put ads are in the broadcast. The excellence you are talking about is as a result of money invested.

    3. @balue while I agree in a way, it’s marketing in the end, don’t you think? Codemasters surely pays a premium. I really doubt iRacing would be able to afford it and they probably are not interested in being the officially licensed F1 sim/game. It’s not their target either, the F1 game is for the masses, iRacing is not.

      Besides that, it’s the technicallity of it. iRacing takes a very long time to build each car, with a lot of data from the teams. And their F1 efforts in the past have been bad: the McLaren Honda from 2015 was as accurate as it got, and iRacing said they got to unprecedented amounts of data because the car was very bad in real racing. And it still is a very bad car for simracers.

      Not to mention the amount of time they take to laser scan each track, which is almost impossible in some cases. Can you imagine the iRacing team building Monaco?

      iRacing is the best thing out there, by a very large margin. They already have the market they want, NASCAR first, which is huge, Indycar and V8 Supercars are all getting eSport leagues during this coronavirus-forced stop.

      1. @fer-no65 But my point is anyway that it will hurt F1 not to have the best simracer, but an arcade game. The more eSports grows, more and more people see that the proper sim is in Indycar and Nascar, and that F1 is more for kids and this will be damaging overall.

        The massive popularity of F1 is not because of its accessibility or close racing or whatever, but its exclusivity and technical excellence. Giving up this principle for short term gain is a mistake.

        If the new F1 owners can’t see past the cut Codemasters will bring for being the ‘official’ sim, at the least make iRacing the eSports series.

        1. @balue it’s all fun and games, but no one would sell a top end simulator that only a handful of people can drive. NASCAR still has the NASCAR Heat game.

          I really doubt it’d hurt F1 not to have a sim like iRacing. Do I want iRacing to have the modern F1 cars? sure. But that’s not the point.

          1. @fer-no65 I don’t mean damaging like immediately apparent on the stock value at the end of the year, but in a gradual way where youngsters of today grow up knowing F1 uses arcade sims for their eSports series and thinking what else is fake.

            I’ll compare it to me being quite into Indycar, but then growing out of love realizing the yellow flags are artificially used for TV breaks and to bunch of the field for entertainment. Even if it’s quite exciting in the beginning, the respect and enjoyment is gradually lost over time because of this one thing, because it sullies the integrity of the sport and in the end it was just meh.

            F1 should be uncompromising and the pinnacle. Not use arcade racers for their eSports series to make a buck.

  4. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    20th March 2020, 16:50

    Ah maybe sky will be happy to put their nowTV deal up for sale now there is some “fake” races coming up. Anything to get them money will do ;)

    1. The show must go…. entertainment… Gaming…. mud pie in the face of the sport! Cash is king !!!!!

  5. So how are you supposed to watch this? Do you need the right gaming console and 2019 game?

    1. I imagine youtube (and twitch?) will be used for live streaming these events, just like last weekends ‘not the AUSgp’ thingy (Norris feed was very entertaining, not quite sure the official one was super, though commentators were good), and the the-race.com events last week and today are.

  6. Fans will be able to watch the event live on Formula 1’s YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels. F1 intends to broadcast the event from the Gfinity ESports Arena, but will do handle this remotely if necessary.

  7. The cynical part of me has been saying for quite a while that once Liberty work out how to monetise E F1 racing, they’ll expand that arm massively to the point that actual car racing will become secondary because there is potential to generate massive profit without the billions in expenses for FOM and teams alike,

    Hopefully it’s just me being too old to understand the draw of watching kids play video games. I just can’t see it being entertaining for anyone that has a serious interest in sport.

    I’m prepared to wait, I don’t need some fake, so called entertainment. If I really need a car racing fix, I’ll either watch a historical series or get out my scalextric set.

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      21st March 2020, 11:44

      Have you ever played video games as an personal entertainment?

  8. So much hate for this idea, as a sim racer myself I’m quite intrigued. I might watch some of it.
    I wonder how the carbon footprint compares with the real event?

  9. Looking forward to it. Its as close to that Senna/Prost karting event used to gather the grid in similar performance machines as we are going to get. Obviously its a game and no talent or major skill can be taken from this- two different “worlds”- but should provide a good laugh and fun.

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      21st March 2020, 11:46

      “ts as close to that Senna/Prost karting event” – Good, excellent point.

  10. I think this is worth consideration. With no actual cure on the horizon or means of vaccinating everyone, small gatherings should be considered the norm for the foreseeable future.
    One of the big criticisms F1 faces is the importance of the car, yet here is the opportunity to give every driver the same car. Is Lewis better than Max or Charles in the same car? Here’s the opportunity to find out. Or maybe you could run a race with just one type of car, e.g. a Williams or a Red Bull. Okay, so this isn’t racing real cars, and probably some of the top line drivers like Lewis and Sebastian and Kimi could well believe it will damage their brand value, but I can’t see any races being run in the not too distant future. We might not even have the internet in three months time, so I say “Yes, let’s do this”. If the race were live and free to watch, maybe you could get a decent “crowd”.

    1. As a thought, who said the race had to be done with modern cars? Why not use early F1 cars (with a real manual transmission… okay, maybe we can make a concession for the “paddles” (or whatever they are called) since they’re probably standard on most simulators). Okay, so maybe we’d rather (fictitiously) “upgrade” the performance of these older cars so they resembled modern cars, but is that wrong?

      1. Absolutely 1968/69…. The end of the reaction and suspension chassis era.

  11. Verstappen declines to race in F1 Virtual Grand Prix Series
    “I never play that game,” Verstappen told Ziggo TV

    1. Brilliant! And yet he is happy to play other sims.

  12. Maybe it’s finally time to buy a racing wheel and an F1 sim! :-)

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