Why didn’t more current F1 drivers enter yesterday’s Virtual Grand Prix?


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On Thursday last week, when we first heard about F1’s plans to run a ‘virtual’ Bahrain Grand Prix, it prompted an obvious question: Just how many of the current field would show up?

The press release which landed the next day made a clear statement: “The first race of the series will see current F1 drivers line up on the grid”. They met that goal – albeit only just.

Nicholas Latifi took part, though the Williams rookie has now started more virtual grands prix than actual ones. And Lando Norris joined in the fun as well.

But none of their fellow 2020 F1 racers joined in. Why were they so reluctant, and is that likely to change for future races?

There are always sticking points involved whenever you try to organise a few mates for a quick online thrash. And that is basically what F1 was trying to do.

Other Esports races last weekend which attracted more driving talent had several more days to do so. Although F1’s Virtual Grand Prix idea was first conceived when the Chinese Grand Prix was called off back in February, as F1’s Esports head Julian Tan told RaceFans last week the sudden cancellation of further races meant they “had to adapt very, very quickly”.

One complication was the usual story of some players not having the right kit. Sunday’s race was run on the PC edition of F1 2019, which meant the likes of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jnr could not participate, as he admitted in an online chat with Norris.

The present situation in which many drivers are observing a period of isolation following their return from Australia hasn’t helped matters. And some of those who did have the necessary hardware were concerned over how competitive they might be alongside more experienced F1 2019 players. “[I] will hide for now as my level is poor,” said Romain Grosjean on social media.

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Norris told Sainz F1 2019 was a “difficult” game to master and he had been “one second off” the pace of experienced players in another recent event.

Jimmy Broadbent tangled with Lando Norris on the last lap
“There was the real drivers like me, Stoffel [Vandoorne] and [Esteban] Gutierrez,” said Norris. “Then you had the professional sim drivers… the top six were pretty much guys who play the game. Everyone who didn’t play the game, I ended up beating.”

Max Verstappen admitted this was why he didn’t join in. “I don’t play that game and I would have to adapt to it,” he told Ziggo Sport last week. “That would take a few days, and that doesn’t make much sense as I’m busy with other things, other games. I would have to switch too much, and that doesn’t work.”

Verstappen predicted he “would be running around the back, and I don’t enjoy that”.

In the event, top Esports drivers like David Tonizza and Brandon Leigh were not invited to participate. The crash-strewn race which unfolded yesterday – between two current F1 drivers, five ex-grand prix racers plus a selection of teams’ junior drivers and notable online ‘influencers’ – has surely allayed Verstappen of that fear.

The next Virtual Grand Prix is due to take place on April 5th, when the Vietnam Grand Prix would have been held. The organisers intend to replicate the cancelled Australian Grand Prix, so the F1 drivers have two weeks to get their kit together and practice Albert Park, which will hopefully encourage a few more of them to take part.

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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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    52 comments on “Why didn’t more current F1 drivers enter yesterday’s Virtual Grand Prix?”

    1. I would hope that they are able to put together an event where most of the regular field are there, maybe upped with reserve drivers if needed.

      Then we can have the iracing events for a mix of pro-simracers and somewhat experienced pro-RLracers.

    2. I watched this one, I won’t watch the next one. Reruns of old (real) F1 races are far more interesting.

    3. Highlighted is the word “difficult”.

      Rather, the word “game” should be highlighted.

      The likes of Max turn their nose up at the Codemasters game because it has more arcade like physics and probably doesn’t merit investment of time in it as it doesn’t bear much reward in the real-world unlike “simulator”s which can actually be helpful.

      Also, because it’s a game, real-life skill doesn’t always translate to in-game performance whereas this is more commonly the case with a simulator.

      1. They’re all games. F1, iRacing, RaceRoom, rFactor, whatever.

        1. Some are much closer to real world simulations than others. It makes sense that drivers want to take part in events on those that most closely resemble real world physics. For anyone wanting to take part in motorsports now, it’s the best we have.

        2. Jose Lopes da Silva
          23rd March 2020, 23:10

          Have your ever played one?

          1. >>they’re all games
            >>have you ever played one?

            Joke tells itself.

    4. It’s also not really a simulator game, but more arcade.
      What real drivers have been using mostly is iRacing and Rfactor2, these are very different to what you will find from a Codemasters game.
      This is why we see bigger names in the The Race series that is happening every weekend as well.

      1. It most certainly is not more arcade. It’s more simulation than it is arcade. But it is arcade as well, for sure.

        1. Lasher – What is the ‘It’ you refer to 3 times? (is it – iRacing, is it Rfactor2, or is it F1 2019 ?) ..I don’t play any of these games so I have no idea which is more ‘realistic’ and therefore cannot work out what you are talking about

          1. F1 2019, sorry if it was unclear.

    5. It’d be interesting if they had some sort of qualifying feeder races, that would be open to the public – to allow them the chance to race along-side them: say, 4 grid slots or something. That’d drum up some interest I’m sure! When else will there be a chance to race online with a chunk of the worlds best real-life drivers?

    6. Honestly, they’d probably be beat by regular drivers. It’s not like it’s the same game they have on their sims, so to have the right set-up and not wanting to be beaten by some nobody had a bearing on this.

    7. Scrap the idea of running F1 cars, its better to use iRacing or Rfactor and do this seriously, the F1 e-racing is a joke at the moment. Watched “the race” latest event and it was pretty good racing must say, very professional and not more crashes than a regular F3 race.

    8. I’m finding Veloce GPs much more interesting. Of course having big names would be a plus, but the guys playing for Veloce are experienced players and they drive clean. If you ever tried an online GP you know that it’s incredibly rare to not have a scene like the one in the opening of the F1’s one. Having experienced players makes the difference between a farce and an enjoyable show.
      Also, the commentator has a better eye for the action and the direction is better. The graphics are more on-point in Veloce’s event and they also improved the show from the #NotTheAUSGP using 2 25% races, second one with reverse grid. Kudos to them I say.

    9. why didn’t they use iRacing ? Most drivers are used to that sim game

      1. Doesn’t promote the officially licensed title.

        1. Having watched the race, I’m not sure the licenced title received much favorable promotion. I’ve watched races on most the platforms now and I wouldn’t be choosing the f1 title. Just 1 opinion, I’m sure others have different thoughts.

      2. What the other comment said + as I understand, the F1 cars in iRacing are bad. And old(er).

        1. bad maybe but Lando, Max and others are preferring it over f1 20xx from codemasters, simply because it is more of a simulation than the codemaster simcade. If it was iRacing, max would’ve certainly joined.

    10. To be honest I’d have enjoyed watching as many official F1 drivers as possible racing on Mario Kart instead. Sure it’s not an F1 game, but it’s easier to pick up so there’s no excuse and just a bit of fun. Seeing them all joke and mess around with each other would be pretty fun.

    11. Meanwhile Supercars are saying they will get the full grid for the race on iRacing.

      Those drivers that don’t have the kit,.don’t have it because they use other software, mainly iRacing and rFactor.

      1. Supercars already have an e-series (and the racing is pretty competitive) using iRacing; and there’s no “official” title which they need to promote either.

          1. @fer-no65 yeah I understood that—I was pointing out that there’s already a rough relationship between Supercars and iRacing; and that there’s no official title which needs to be promoted; as is the case with F1 and Codemasters.

            It’s pretty cool if they get the whole grid to (virtually) line up; like actually.

      2. No edit, tagging @fer-no65

      3. What does kit even mean in this case? I thought it referred to having a PC, but afaik, iRacing is PC only, so not really sure what the issue was.

    12. Richard Cantelo (@)
      23rd March 2020, 11:53

      I watched it. I think it’s a good idea. But, under the circumstances, I’d watch them compete in a Pac-Man competition at the moment!

    13. If they can eliminate all non real world drivers, that would be a start. Even if it’s a mix of F1, F2, F3, WEC, FE, that’ll be fine, but not eSports professionals or “celebrities”. Just drivers. That would appeal to me enough to give it a 2nd try.

      1. Yeah, agreed, I’d rather watch real drivers compete in Mario Kart than sim racers in an F1 race.

    14. Maybe I’m just grumpy, but why would they? It’s a game. Sure, it’s the most entertaining racing we’re going to get in the next few months… but it’s still just a game. Lionel Messi isn’t sat playing Cristiano Ronaldo at FIFA, it’s a totally different discipline.

      I can’t get excited about watching other people play a game. Racing a car at 200mph in real life takes skill, discipline and guts. I watch and admire the people that can do it. I can play the game… why would I watch other people play it instead, famous or not?

      Absolutely not having a dig at people who are enjoying it; just not “my bag”!

      1. I agree and it seemed horrendously unrealistic too.

    15. The biggest reason is that it is totally up to the drivers themselves whether they want to do it or not. They are not getting paid and there is no requirement at all for them to do it unless they want to. If fia decided to make a sim racing event that is an official press event that is aso mandatory for every driver then things would be different but I don’t think they’ll do that because it is another sport essentially and might make certain drivers look bad who are not comfortable with the game used. Not to mention drivers are hired by the teams. Not fia so can fia force them to do anything at all to create that kind of event…

      That being said e-sports is probably the only way left which would allow f1 to organize on-make one-off fun races like we had in the past. The notable example being the nurburgring mercedes 190 event where you had senna et al. racing merc road cars.

    16. Why would or should they enter something this gimmicky? Why would someone like Lewis or Kimi spend their spare-time on these types of things, LOL? I rather do 100% races on F1 2019 myself.

    17. I couldn’t stand the commentators.

      1. Were they simulating Crofty, @carbon_fibre?

    18. Yesterday’s “Virtual GP” was a total disaster anyway. We sat through over an hour of mind-numbingly dull blabber, to be rewarded with…fourteen laps of racing. FOURTEEN LAPS! THAT WAS IT! Meanwhile Veloce E-Sports did their own event just before F1 – TWO fourteen lap races – and they absolutely knocked it out the ball park. Minimal delay, great racing, and the commentators weren’t stupidly biased in favour of the real drivers (the commentators in F1’s Virtual GP tried to blame Jimmy Broadbent for Lando Norris TURNING INTO HIM). I mean for god sake F1 – if you’re going to try and copy Veloce, THEN DO IT PROPERLY! I’m a bit angry, if you couldn’t already tell…

      1. Dunno… felt a bit Nico Rosberg to me.

        1. Jimmy held his line; Lando was all over the place. Just because he’s a real F1 driver, doesn’t mean other players are obligated to let him go without a fight. Broadbent got a good slipstream from Norris on the back straight, and pulled out of it to pull alongside him on the left, to have a go round the outside of the final corner. Nothing wrong with that. Lando then just proceeds to chop left – going into the braking zone for a right hand corner??? It was 100% his fault. I understand Norris was trying to block but simple fact of the matter is, if the front wing of the car you are trying to block is alongside your rear wheels, it is too late to block. Pure and simple.

    19. Once I saw that Norris was beaten in qualifying by some bloke from One Direction, it looked a bit daft.

      1. @mrfill he wasn’t. Norris had technical issues and couldn’t set a time. But he did have a massive last lap or two with the other guy who couldn’t set a time…

    20. @mrfill it also resulted in a rather amusing phone call to George Russell.

    21. F1 uses state of the art simulators, why not join them toggether and run a race?

      1. @jureo Those sims are team-specific and locate in their respective factories. Connecting them would be difficult, and I doubt they’d do that anyway, given how protective F1-teams are when it comes to their simulators. Furthermore, the official team-sims are for single-car, time trial-style runs only, not for racing other virtual cars.

      2. They simply don’t have the code to do that. Asking f1 teams to race their own simulators is a bit like taking a 20 toilet seats and claim you have created a waterslide. It couldn’t work in any way at all. Simulators use their own physics models with their own parameters. Typing 5+5 to a calculator gives different answer than 5*5. A simulator is like any program or app and by changing a value it can be made to do anything you want. There is nothing stopping a team to adding 1000bhp extra hp to their engine or increasing the downforce by factor of 5. It is still the same simulator but different values just like the same calculator can give different answers using different values.

        Simulators are used to validate and test car performance which is why the teams try to make them realistic but if you take such simulator and used it for competition against other simulators then your goal is no longer realism but just outright speed. At minimum all teams need to run the same software and that is not possible because all of the simulators are individually made by the teams and any compatibilities are accidental or result of using the same third part solution for some specific task in the same way.

    22. Why didn’t more F1 drivers enter?
      I can only imagine that some of the drivers have some sort of life, rather than play arcade games. When I am on leave from work I don’t consider e-working.
      Let me know when Kimi or Seb signs up and I might change my view.

    23. Lando Norris is said to be practicing iRacing almost daily and would probably be right up there. Verstappen too.

      Use iRacing and make sure it’s only open to F1 racers and ex-racers and do that even if the field is not full. Then maybe more will join anyway.

      I would much rather watch 10 real F1 racers have a match-up than a field of kiddie nick-names with the odd F1 star not coping with the arcade physics.

    24. Figured the whole thing would be a laugh when I saw they would be playing the F1 2019 game. I’ve been saying that licensing a single game has been a misstep from the beginning. They need to license cars out to any studio that wishes to include them in their game, not lock it down to a single title. F1 eSports will never take off as long as this is the case.

      1. @knewman The God damn truth spoken right here.

    25. Max verstappen and Lando Norris are racing tonight on YouTube Channel of Team Redline.

    26. The Codemasters game is a sad joke.

      Tons of real current and former F1 drivers and drivers from credible series like Indy Car, NASCAR, GT3, WEC, Porsche Super Cup and even ‘old’ folks like Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan are all more than happy to participate in e-sport races. Just not when it’s F12019 by Codemasters. I can’t blame them.

    27. Hey, when will they make a virtual race for real drivers, celebrities AND non-celebrities?

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