At the end of November, 20 drivers from around the globe will line up in Abu Dhabi to battle it out for a Formula 1 world championship. Lewis Hamilton will not be among them. Nor will Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso. That is because these 20 drivers will be competing for the F1 eSports Championship – the first of its kind.
Although they will gather in Abu Dhabi, these drivers will not take to the circuit. Instead, they will be racing each other online, testing their skills with the new F1 2017 video game. It may only be virtual racing, but the championship has been launched by F1’s management company, giving it an elevated status as the official eSports spinoff of motorsport's top tier.
The Current State of Virtual Racing
F1 is not the first racing series to take a step into the virtual realm. Formula E held a special ‘erace’ in Las Vegas earlier this year. That pitted some of the best video game drivers against Formula E's real-world racers. As you might expect, a gamer won, although several of the Formula E stars gave him a run for his money.
The McLaren F1 team has also launched its own video game contest: the World’s Fastest Gamer competition. The winner will be rewarded with an actual job within the team, as one of its official simulator drivers. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the team’s newest young star – Formula 3 winner Lando Norris – is himself a keen and successful eracer. Perhaps these video games will even provide a new and cheaper alternative to the traditional routes into professional motorsport.
Moreover, there’s a chance that such online racing will have an impact on the real-world championship too. Ross Brawn, F1’s new Managing Director of Motorsports, has suggested that video games could be used to try out new race formats, different safety car rules and even changes to the aerodynamic regulations. Indeed, the F1 2017 game features reverse grid and sprint races, presenting the perfect opportunity to see how these could work in future eSport contests.
Video Games and the Future of Racing
Ever since Geoff Crammond’s classic Grand Prix series in the ’90s, F1 drivers have used video games to learn new tracks and hone their skills. Teams have long used simulators to train drivers and tune the set-up of their cars. However, as the technology has developed and the simulations have grown more realistic, the usefulness of such games has hugely increased. Now the sport is seeking to use them to learn and improve.
Just like so many organisations in so many different sectors, F1 is discovering the power of computer simulations to improve their operations in the real world. It will be fascinating to see how far that power extends.