Motorsport fans looking to get their racing fix will not have to look far to get it this weekend, which was meant to be headlined by the Bahrain Grand Prix.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many have turned to games to pass the time and that is no different among racing participants and enthusiasts. Esports was quick to fill the void left by the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix at short notice — doing so in record-breaking fashion (more on that below).
This week is no different, with three races taking place on a virtual Bahrain Grand Prix circuit. Here’s a roundup of each, which are all being streamed live on YouTube and Twitch.
The Race All-Star Esports Battle
When: Saturday, March 21, 1700 GMT
With F1 on hold indefinitely in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Nate Saunders, Alexis Nunes and Laurence Edmondson discuss the implications on the 2020 calendar.
Listen to the latest episode.
Rudy van Buren, who earned a McLaren F1 simulator role by winning its World’s Fastest Gamer esports competition in 2017, is also a participant. The Race hosted its first race on March 15, when the Australian Grand Prix was supposed to have been, starring Verstappen and won by esports racer Jernej Simoncic.
This is for the racing purists, with a horde of competitive gamers all out to be the best across a series of qualifying races and the main event itself.
Veloce Esports’ ‘Not the Bahrain Grand Prix’
Lando Norris is an avid sim racer when not competing in Formula One. George Mattock/Getty Images
When: Sunday, March 22, 1800 GMT
This one boasts the best mix of names from racing and the wider world of sports.
Last year’s F1 rookie of the year and regular sim racer Lando Norris is joined by two sporting superstars, Real Madrid and Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and golf’s Ian Poulter. Courtois took part in Veloce’s opening event, while Poulter recently shared a video of himself getting sim racing tips from Norris.
‘Is this something you’ve always wanted to do… Streaming?’@IanJamesPoulter taking tips from @LandoNorris’ stream! 🎥 🎥 #NotTheBahGP by @VeloceEsports
Sunday, Mar 22nd at 6 PM GMT
LIVE at https://t.co/YiaHW7icgd pic.twitter.com/dcwz7xMBPv
— Veloce Esports (@VeloceEsports) March 21, 2020
Too much ❤️ for @thibautcourtois to not have back for #NotTheBahGP ⚽
Seriously though are @realmadrid concerned about a career change?#NotTheBahGP by @VeloceEsports
Sunday, Mar 22nd at 6 PM GMT
LIVE at https://t.co/YiaHW7icgd pic.twitter.com/PRJKs2mQUe
— Veloce Esports (@VeloceEsports) March 20, 2020
Like The Race’s version, Veloce Esport’s ran a race in place of the Australian Grand Prix and broke streaming records in the process. During the race, Norris’ Twitch feed was the most viewed in the world.
Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi, who has yet to make his F1 debut due to the coronavirus postponements, will compete in this event. Also taking part is a host of esports racing talents. Daniel Bereznay, winner of the ‘Not the Australian GP’ event on March 15, was drafted by Alfa Romeo ahead of the 2019 F1 esports championship series.
The event will feature two 25% distance races, the second of which is raced from a reversed grid. Making up the numbers will be a host of esports racers and content producers.
Veloce Esports founder Jamie MacLaurin thinks the mix of racing talent and sporting stars is a major draw for his series.
“This series isn’t trying to be ‘Who can gain a tenth of a second through this corner or through that one?’ It’s more about people having fun and seeing stars do something they might not have previously,” MacLaurin told ESPN this week. “Courtois is a great example. Lots of people who know him and follow him might never have seen any kind of racing until he took part in it last week.”
The range of talent is something Veloce leans in to, with performance settings of cars altered to balance performance where possible. The opening weekend featured several amusing incidents, notably Lando Norris storming off the line at the start, only to realise it was the beginning of the slow formation lap. A box in the corner showed Norris reacting to that event in real time.
“I’M P6! WOHOOOOO!!” 😅
Nice one, @LandoNorris. That was… interesting! 🤣#NotTheAusGP pic.twitter.com/jFpZRUypjO
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) March 15, 2020
F1’s Virtual Racing Series
When: Sunday, March 22, 2000 GMT
Although this is the F1-sanctioned tournament, it runs the risk of being upstaged by the other two events in terms of star power. Unlike The Race and Veloce Esports, F1’s edition was not launched in time to capitalise on the Australian Grand Prix cancellation and instead was only confirmed on Friday, two days before hosting its first events.
That is perhaps clear to see in the rather sparse list of competitors at the time of writing.
It might not boast many big-name racing stars, but it will feature British Olympic legend Chris Hoy, winner of six cycling golds, competing for the Red Bull team. With Verstappen and Norris committed to other events, the drivers to be confirmed are currently Latifi (who is set for a busy Sunday) and Ferrari Academy prospects Robert Shwarzman and Dino Beganovic.
Chris Hoy has previous in motor racing, having contested the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2016. Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Verstappen said his lack of experience with Codemasters’ F1 2019 game is why he declined the chance to take part for Red Bull.
“I don’t play that game and I would have to adapt to it,” Verstappen told Ziggo. “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. I would be running around the back, and I don’t enjoy that.”
Instead, F1 looks set to lean more heavily on influencers and esports racers. Damage will be turned down to encourage closer racing, while competitors will be unable to edit their car setups in a bid to keep performance levels closer together. It will run the Bahrain GP race at 50% distance of its normal 57 laps. A qualifying session held beforehand will set the starting grid of the race.
This series plans to cover the first seven races of postponed F1 season, but will have to find alternates to the Vietnam and Dutch GPs, as neither is featured on the F1 2019 game, having joined the F1 calendar for the 2020 season.