The lesson F1 needs to learn from IndyCar’s superior approach to Esports


Posted on

| Written by

Last week Formula 1 made its first attempt at replacing a bona fide championship round with a virtual race. Yesterday IndyCar did the same.

How did the two compare? Put it this way: Only IndyCar’s race stood a chance of being mistaken for the real thing. If anything, it was slightly more tame than some of IndyCar’s wilder events.

It helped enormously that the turn-out among IndyCar drivers was vastly better than from their F1 counterparts. Just two current F1 drivers entered the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix. IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge attracted a 25-strong field almost entirely composed of current IndyCar drivers.

(NASCAR appeared to have a similarly strong line-up for its iRacing series last week, but as it was broadcast only on Fox’s platforms in the US, I wasn’t able to watch it.)

To be fair to Formula 1, it had one week less to get its entry together. But the choices it made in how to fill up the rest of the grid did the racing no favours.

Jimmie Johnson, IndyCar iracing Challenge, Watkins Glen, 2020
NASCAR star Johnson joined the IndyCar regulars
IndyCar plugged its few vacant seats with some serious names. Seven-times NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson joined in the fun, as did reigning Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin.

F1 assembled an odd mix of reserve drivers, junior drivers, celebrities and ‘influencers’. Again, the pressures of time were against them, but the outcome was a race which probably appealed to fewer fans than it might have done because it tried to appeal to everyone.

Some of us might like to see a group of celebrities racing on F1 2019 purely for the entertainment factor. I’m more interested in watching real F1 drivers and potential stars of the future.

But are there really many who care to see a crossover between the two? Are there millions clamouring for another contest between, say, Robert Shwartzman and Ian Poulter? I doubt it.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

F1's Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix was a scrappy affair
F1’s Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix was a scrappy affair
IndyCar’s race did not impress more than F1’s because it was free of technical problems. Neither was.

F1’s star draw Lando Norris was unable to take place in qualifying and missed the start of the race due to connection problems. Technical trouble also kept James Hinchcliffe out of the IndyCar event, and other competitors in both series hit trouble as well.

But from the outset it felt like one event had the correct philosophy, and that was IndyCar’s. It took to heart the idea that it was replacing a race which couldn’t happen with one that could, albeit in the virtual world. Right down to the pre-race autograph session and post-race press conference.

Before next Sunday’s race F1 needs to decide whether it’s putting on a jolly for celebrities or a race for motor sport fans. And if it’s the latter, it may need to gently remind a few of its stars that, while they continue to receive substantial salaries from their teams, expecting them to play a video game once every other week in return is hardly unreasonable.

2020 IndyCar iRacing Challenge race one – Watkins Glen

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free


Browse all comment articles

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

56 comments on “The lesson F1 needs to learn from IndyCar’s superior approach to Esports”

  1. I think the recipe for successful e-sports is that it is its own thing and does its own thing. It does not pretend to be the same thing but just virtual. As long as the event organizer understands that sims can and can not do certain things they will better maximise the positives. If they don’t do that they will leave some of the potential of simracing event unused while some other real life activity that can’t be recreated will be missing.

    One of the things simracing allows for example is that there is a lot more room to experiment and try new and different formats. Whereas the real indy 500 for example has pretty rigid schedule in an official sim event people would be more willing to accept new things. You can also run more races without having to worry about crashed cars not being able to take part or crashes or rain causing delays.

    At the same time it makes no sense for any e-sport event to broadcast practice sessions. A lot of the indy500 real coverage is practice but in simracing everybody can practice alone as many hours as they stay awake in the comfort of their homes. This means that an e-sports series can have a lot more racing. In an F1 e-sport weekend you could easily have a qualifying and race with different formats every day from thursday to sunday for example. Of course one must also keep in mind that even if it is possible to do many races it is probably best not to dilute the events by having too many races. Regardless there are options there to experiment with.

    The best thing simracing has to offer is the idea that everybody can try it. When you see real f1 cars or indycars you know you never get to drive those. Never. Most people watching racing have never driven a car properly fast. But in simracing we can drive those cars and we can directly compare us to the drivers. It is a whole new dimension motorsports has lacked. In football, tennis or swimming for example people can try it themselves. They can relatively easily have that experience of doing it and they can relate to what they see on screen.

    As long as these big companies understand that what they have is something that is a simulation but also something that is not a virtual copy of the real event they can do great things with it. It is not supposed to replace the real races but if the events are good enough to stand on their own they will be a success regardless.

    1. Solid comment @socksolid. I agree wholeheartedly.

  2. F1 is limited on what it can do purely because the f1 2019 game is garbage for virtual races and streaming. Short sightedness in giving exclusive rights to Codemasters has ruined any chance of f1 being able to do this properly.

    1. Yet from what I saw of it @emu55, and of what this very article describes, the actual choice of sim/game was not the biggest difference or issue – it was that IndyCar decided to go for it, while F1 wasn’t sure what it wanted to do/convey, and therefore didn’t convince anyone to take it seriously. Sure, not going with their licensed product but with a real sim-like platform might have helped, as might some of the other suggestions Keith mentions.

      1. But it must help surely that if you look on iRacing’s testimonial page it is full of IndyCar driver quotes. It seems like most of them are familiar with the game at the very least, and I imagine some use it to practice tracks and keep sharp. Whereas few drivers play the F1 game, simply because it is not a true sim and so besides entertainment they’re not going to get much out of it.

        I feel asking all F1 drivers to pick up an arcade game in equal machinery is going to be an uphill struggle.

        If F1 wants to put on real good racing they should switch to iRacing. Codemasters penalty system alone is bad enough to ruin races.

      2. The drivers know that the F1 game is a much more arcadey and has lots of issues – I reckon if it was done on iRacing, sure maybe Hamilton and Vettel wouldn’t have shown up, but a lot more of the drivers would have, like what happened in Indycar, because it’s a more serious sim. That’s the main issue at the end of the day. Especially from Norris’ phone call to Max before the F1 race, I got the impression that the reason he didn’t do the F1 one was because of the platform being used, not necessarily because of the competition. They only had to get random celebrities in because none of the drivers wanted to do it themselves.

    2. WHY does everybody want to take this so super serious? why not take the opportunity to present f1 from a more silly, fun, openlobby mayhem side that we will never see otherwise?
      i want kimi and seb bantering while verstappen takes out ocon

  3. Willem Cecchi (@)
    29th March 2020, 9:54

    The Nascar broadcast from last week was in another league to F1 as well. Felt very close to the real thing with drivers like Dale Jr even fielding their own real life sponsors on liveries.

    A must watch later today.

  4. I’m just gonna copy and paste my comment from yesterday:

    Regardless of the topic of the software utilized (which is miles ahead), they made it look like the real deal, which was F1’s original intention. It turned into an entertainment thing, with people cutting corners, and carnage and what’s not. But it wasn’t intended to be that way.

    Indycar even got someone to sing the American anthem. Not to mention the calibre of drivers involved.

    And while the race might not have been full of action, it was similar to real races, which is the whole point.

    1. Given that it’s unlikely we’ll see any real racing any time soon, F1 has the opportunity to plan and stage their eRaces properly with actual F1 drivers and teams being involved.

      I’m sure there’s a lot of effort going on in the background to get a viable series together and monetise it to enable teams and Liberty to earn from it, most likely in the form of advertising as it’s likely to be the only opportunity they get for at least a significant part this year.

      It’s also going to lead to consideration of ultimately making the whole thing virtual – imagine the cost savings and the “green” benefits if they actually moved to having no real cars. 2020 will enable a lot of radical new ideas to be explored without having to go through the hassle of getting teams to agree or even getting fan feedback. Things are unlikely to go back to what they were – some would say that’s a good thing, others of us will be not so sure.

  5. The race was similar to the real races because they were on iRacing and the Codemasters game.

    One example: Where IRacing has all tracks laser-scanned and the physics interact with all the real-life bumps and kerbs, Codemasters draws the tracks from photographs (I kid you not). You don’t even have to talk about physics, handling or graphics. This fact alone makes Codemasters of no interest to F1 drivers.

    1. Been playing iRacing a lot back in 90’s. Back then it was called Indycar Racing. But nowadays better to go with rFactor 2.

      1. @regs iRacing was never named “Indycar Racing”, and wasn’t in development until 2004, when the company was established.

        1. @losd it’s the same company tho, the same people. Indycar Racing and GP Legends, plus some of the NASCAR games in the early 2000s. People relate to that as pre-iRacing games from the same developers.

          1. @fer-no65 That doesn’t mean that the sim has much to do with them. There was a bit of physics from NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, but other than that, it was a completely new development.

            (And the way they develop every season, I’m pretty sure there’s not much code left from back then).

          2. @losd sure not but people relate to the previous era anyway. I mean, it’s sort of their signature: high end simulators.

          3. @fer-no65 which is fair. But it’s a pretty far cry from “some of the same people” to “same game” as @regs says above.

        2. It did. iRacing is an evolution of that engine.

          1. And it’s been in development since early 1990’s

          2. @regs no it’s not. Related? Sure. But in no way an evolution. Only thing kept was a small part of the physics model as well as some networking code from NASCAR Racing 2003 Season… Which itself didn’t have much to do with Indycar Racing, code wise.

          3. Windows 10 is pretty much different from NT 3.1. But it’s still an evolution NT. Many things have changed, but it’s still NT in it’s current iteration.

            Same with engine. It’s same engine, and many different games related on it through the time. It was kept being developed and received many changes since then.

          4. @regs Windows is relevant, but not in the way you think: iRacing replaced everything (New physics engine, new graphics engine, new tyre model), but kept a tiny bit of the physics model from the previous series, just like Windows NT replaced everything from the DOS-based Windows (3.1, 95, 98) with a e.g. a new kernel and driver model, but kept parts of the windowing system and the Windows API.

            NT is a new development related to the old core, iRacing is a new development related to the old core.

            Oh well, I guess we’re arguing semantics…

            (BTW, if you want people to see your comments other than by accident or manual checking, please tag them when you reply. Unfortunately the racefans comment system still hasn’t… well, evolved ;))

  6. Is it because F1 sees itself as a high-brow, technical challenge yet, paradoxically, it’s game version is rubbish? Maybe Max Mosley can direct us to an online chess championship to watch?

    Whereas US racing takes the entertainment factor into consideration.

    @willemcecchi hit the nail on the head: none of this esports would be contemplated unless it was an opportunity to put eyeballs on sponsors’ logos.

    Personally I’d rather watch paint dry, which is why I’ll be painting my garage roof.

  7. F1 has shown itself to be a pathetic out of touch dinosaur. Even the attitude of the drivers who are ‘too busy’ to bother or afraid they will be rubbish…..the attitude of the Indycar drivers was absolutely the opposite. If F1 doesn’t change super-quick the older audience will drift to Indycar…..its too late for the younger audience who already see F1 as part of what is wrong with the world.

    1. Good point, as quite a few of the IndyCar drivers have never done this. They’ve spent plenty of time in the mega expensive “real” racing simulators, but not this at home gaming sims. So you could risk embarassing yourself big time. Some drivers like Rosenqvist are heavily involved and have quite an advantage, and Bourdais & others had never done it.

    2. Totally agree, F1 has not only been caught napping, but shown a lack of innovation in contrast to the real life design of the cars. Some of the drivers’ excuses were poor and Canmore badly to the enthusiasm of the indycar drivers.

      I’ve never been interested in eSports, but watched the IndyCar i Racing this morning with my daughter and we both liked it, even though we didn’t know the cars or many of the drivers. I’ve hardly watched indycar since the days of Mansell.

      F1 needs to badly catch up, arcade or sim is not really here or there for me at the moment, I’d prefer the real thing, but the longer this goes on, the more F1 will damage its brand.

      This could be the perfect opportunity to get more American circuits involved, as that’s what Liberty wants for real. How about F1 at Laguna Seca? Wouldn’t mind seeing Istanbul Park back either. A fan vote would raise participation for sure. In fact, seeing current drivers drawing straws to drive classic F1 cars from the 60s, 70s, 80s etc. might be a giggle too.

      The possibilities are unlimited, but even in the short term there’s a lot more F1 could do, and getting a good proportion of the driver’s involved is key to that.

      1. Australian supercars series is going to be one to watch as well, all drivers are required to participate and most teams are running the liveries from their actual cars. The races will be broadcast live on fox sport and the official website with the live commentary team taking part, they’ve even replaced the tech segment to look at the sim setups rather than the cars. They havent started the virtual season yet, I think it’s this weekend kick off but will be one to watch.

  8. If F1 keeps playing an arcade game instead of iRacing then it only has itself to blame.
    One thing though, I watched yesterday and felt some replays for the viewer would have made the experience better. How these virtual races are directed is just as important as real life.

  9. I love formula one for 40 years and I just can not see something to make me watch e-sport races. No potential feeling danger, just digital garbage on the screen.

  10. Like I said yesterday I actually preferred the F1 less serious approach because I found it to be a lot more fun & entertaining than what Indycar did last night.

    Yes the INdycar race was presented in a more serious & real sort of way but that isn’t really what I want to watch with this sort of eSports thing. I want these eSport events to be fun, entertaining & taken less seriously because i’m fully aware it’s not the real thing & don’t want it to be presented as such.

    Watching a realistically presented serious eSport race is dull because it lacks all the things that make watching the real thing as thrilling/exciting as it is. However if you present things less seriously & make it a more fun event like how the F1 things were presented with the entertaining personalities then it makes the whole thing feel far more interesting to watch.

    I’d be happy to watch more virtual races like what F1 presented last week but have zero interest in watching anymore of the Indycar one’s which are just trying to be something there not.

    1. Agreed. The goal is to entertain, not to simulate. The Codemasters game is just fine for this purpose; e.g. it looks fabulous. What the F1 event needed was less technical problems and more big names.

    2. You make an interesting point. The reality is both sides of this coin exist. People like you who prefer the less serious platform for racing, and people like me who prefer a more professional and serious platform. I LOVED the indycar race.

  11. The problem is the mentality.

    F1 drivers couldn’t bother less losing two hours of their quarantine time to do something good for their supporters…
    Only 2 of them actually showed up. 2! Just Pathetic!

    Indycar World is much more open in attitude: basically all the drivers showed up, and most of them did put a lot of effort in getting ready for the race.
    Also the Race presentation, Sponsors, interviews, ecc. All of it was top notch.
    Some of the drivers even bought a simrace setup in order to race..

    Can’t see that happening for the spoiled F1 “elites”…

    1. Same goes with gamers and those who watch other play. The mentality of these people is, that they are doing something incredible, important and cool, but in the end they are sitting comfortably in their cahirs, behind the desk with their gaming headset, chair and steering wheel, endangered only with possibility to lose internet connection.

      1. True, maybe no danger in VR Racing, but it’s obvious you have never tried it. It is immersive and quite fun. With the correct equipment, your arms will be pumped in a few short laps. Many great drivers in real life go from track to VR and back. And yes, in a proper sim, you can learn and then apply the lessons learned on a true track. Why do you think so much money is spent on sims, not just racing, but military, they are fantastic training tools. As immersion equipment and computers gets faster, it will just get more realistic. What a great time to live

        Personally, I could care less to watch others race eSports, but to comment on mentality of those who watch or play says quite a bit about you in itself. There are many reasons people enjoy sims, escape being # 1 at the moment. Why look down your snobbish nose at those finding ways to enjoy themselves in these uncertain times.

  12. I thought IndyCar did a really good job for the first try at it. The production quality was very good and it was fun seeing the Aeroscreen cars and liveries. The most intersting thing was the driver line up filled like a real race. Until we get real racing back it’s better than nothing. Looking forward to Barber next Saturday.

    1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      29th March 2020, 21:22

      Same just watched it and it was great. Way ahead of the F1 equivalent. Looking forward to round 2 of Rosenqvist Vs. Karam next week

  13. Jackie Wachizmo
    29th March 2020, 16:00

    Indycar is just BETTER these days.
    All Round.
    The real racing is better, the fake racing is better, the access for fans is better.
    I could go on but you get the picture…hopefully.

    1. Been an F1 and Indy fan for 50 years. Watched Mario win Indy live in ’69 at age 7. Missed two graduations due to Indy 500 falling on the same weekend. F1 – Watched Senna and Prost duke it out in Detroit in ’89. Love racing Period. Watching, real life track days, VR on PC.
      Indycar in 90s was as good as it got, pulling F1 drivers over…champions. Great personalities and tracks…. then Tony George ruined it all. Best thing to ever happen to F1, as Indy became irrelevant for many years.

      In the past few years, the tables have swung back, with F1 locking engine rules on an unfair playing field for 6 seasons, the fun and excitement of F1 is now left only in the tech, as the racing sucks. Numbers don’t lie, it really didn’t matter who drove the Merc, it was going to be champion, sorry Lewis fans.

      Indycar on the other hand has been fantastic in recent years, with movement and passing everywhere. Front to back, back to front, just good racing with many drivers potentially winning. Yes, Indy is led by Penske, Andretti, and Ganassi, but others still can compete and win. Good variation of tracks, thank goodness they never picked up the phone to call Herman.

      1. Well said Bosco!

      2. Really great comment, with a very balanced view! Well done. Agree with you

  14. Oh man, you can’t get any better than Bob Weir singing the National Anthem !

  15. It’s a sad state of affairs when F1 is the arcade ‘fun’ crash-o’rama celeb series, and lesser categories is where the serious and realistic races takes place..

    1. Hard calling IndyCar a lesser category when it has the worlds biggest race. I can’t wait until the real thing starts, but this is a good distraction waiting for the globe to get past the virus.

  16. @NASCAR race on now….

  17. It would help if F1 used veloce instead of the code masters game, I know nothing of sim racing until last week and but the veloce graphics are far superior

    1. Veloce is not a game…

  18. If this iRacing thing is the future of motor sport then I am done with motorsport. Boring.

    1. I agree with you.

    2. Congratulations on completely and totally missing the point.

      Well done!

  19. Another potential issue is that F1 cars are all different whereas Indycar is a spec series. Iracing only has an old Williams and a McLaren Honda, which would cause problems with contractual obligations etc.

  20. Motorsport is really reaching its bottom aparently, since more and more people want to watch online gamers instead of the real thing…. The same thing goes for the people watching…

    1. Surely the whole point of these sim races is to give enthusiasts replacement races to watch, while we miss out on the real thing? This has to include all the contracted “real” drivers? I stopped watching the F1 race after 5 minutes – total rubbish! I watched the Indy race right through. The quality of the software, the proper commentators, the proper drivers, all made a huge difference.
      BUT ……I have never tried sim racing; to me it just isn’t racing. These substitutes are not going to fill the gap, probably the whole of 2020, while we wait for the world to return to normal. I have many other ways to keep myself busy while in lockdown (in NZ) – just look at YouTube or Motorsport.TV for 2 examples.

      1. you need to find someone with a VR setup and give it a try, you won’t have the same comment. Why do military train in VR, it works and does not risk a billion dollar plane. Same with racing, Laser scanned tracks, cars that have true physics, racing rigs that are well beyond a chair and screen. Commenting on something you never tried is ignorant. First time I drove in VR in an open wheel car, I was beyond amazed at the realism. Sit at my rig, I say 3-4 laps you would quit due to arm pump and wrists getting tired, even on a pc or in VR, it takes stamina to race on a proper rig. Now is it the same as driving in real life, no, but with right setup and other good drivers, you will be anxious and on edge in tight situations. Do this enough and those same situations are much easier to navigate in real life. Seat time is key, and VR seat time can be a powerful substitute and training tool. Ferrari, Merc, and the rest don’t spend millions to play games, sims, even at the consumer level are quite amazing, and improving daily.

  21. Matthew Grills
    30th March 2020, 2:06

    I watched it yesterday, and thought it was great. I know it’s not real wheel to wheel action, but with the driver lineups and the dedication some of them put into getting some practice to know what they were going to face was inspiring. You could see that in the lap times some of them were posting, not seconds apart, but tenths.
    One thing you have to remember that they are sitting there racing for a whole hour. It’s not like playing Gran Turismo and doing a five lap race, they had to do pit stops and manage them as well. I’m not sure about car set-up, but I think that they had to do some serious settings adjustments in the game to optimize, just like real racing.
    The icing on the cake was having the regular television race commenters/analysts doing their thing, even Paul Tracy throwing out his fabulous bon-mots.
    I went in thinking it was going to be crap, but in my Covid-19 sensory depravation lifestyle at the moment, I actually had a great hour and half of joy.

    1. There were a few drivers that had never done iRacing previously, so all drivers ran the same car setup to make it fair. Giving the experienced sim drivers the ability to alter their setup would have given them a bigger advantage than they already had.

Comments are closed.