F1 Esports… Ever heard of it? Ever watched it? No? Well, I bet you know the F1 games!

Personally, F1 Esports has been following me around for quite a while now, which is why I am happy to finally bring you up to speed with this very special Sim Racing Series. The Formula One Esports Series is a professional Esports Programme, which Formula One promotes. It came to life in 2017 to engage the F1 Game and its community into the sport that is F1. Since 2018 each official F1 team also has their own F1 Esports Team to participate in the F1 Esports Championship. Just as in real life, there is a driver champion and a team champion. Last year, we saw Jarno Opmeer becoming the 2020 F1 Esports Champion and Red Bull Racing Esports taking home the team championship trophy back to back with Marcel Kiefer, Frede Rasmussen and Tino Naukkarinen.

In this 2021 season, we look at some changes in the driver lineup and the drafting process. As always, there are 30 seats available for the championship, three for each team, b this year, the F1 Esports Qualifying reaches a record high in participation numbers. So how does that work? And who is even up for being drafted? One of the biggest changes has to be the introduction of the Women’s Wildcard. It was designed to bring the fastest female sim racers into the mix by making the qualifying process a bit more open and accessible for them and showing that there is an interest in seeing all genders on track! With Rebecca Morrell, we saw absolute girl power! She smashed her entry lap and won the Women’s Wildcard spot in the Pro Exhibition Show, which brings us to the second change. For the first time in 2021, we got to see the Pro Exhibition last Thursday as part of the drafting process! We got introduced to the so-called “Pro Rank”, which is supposed to benefit all drivers that are eligible for selection. Every driver part of the 2020 Pro Series automatically got the Pro Rank, so if a team decides to keep their driver, nothing is holding them back. Drivers who are released from their contracts are then back in the mix and available to be drafted. But what is this new Pro Exhibition Show? Basically, it is a series of challenges that are testing all the new drivers to their limit. Everyone who completes the Show will gain the Pro Rank Status and can be drafted by one of the teams later in the year.

There are four challenges in total which are:
Race-craft – which is an in-game event hosted in F1 2020, with all drivers eligible to take part
Ghost Race: Dry – all collisions are turned off so that the ultimate pace can be reached without dirty
air, blocking and overtaking
Ghost Race: Wet – same as above but this time there is the weather in the mix, to test the
adaptability and precision of each driver
Head to Head – this one is testing the driver’s nerves under pressure, best-of-three knockout

Since F1 Esports is not that well known so far, let me give you a quick summary of what happened during the Pro Exhibition Show and who you should keep an eye out for this season. We got to see some nice interviews with great Esports personalities during the whole show, one of which was non-other than Cem Bolukbasi, who used to race in F1 Esports back in 2017/2018. Cem is mostly known for having made the step from sim racing into real racing. He shows how much is possible, and therefore he sure is the greatest ambassador F1 Esports could have asked for. One of the interesting things he mentioned was how the 110% AI challenge is definitely not a joke, even if you are in a fast car. Flaws are just impossible there because the game is very different from reality when it comes to track limits. We then got to see a “Best of the Best” race, where some of last year’s F1 Esports drivers showed their talent in the four Pro Exhibition challenges. We saw Dani Moreno dominating the Bahrain dry race, which came unexpectedly to me, but it seems like his move to Mercedes AMG F1.

Esports Team did him good. Very excited to see how he performs next to last year’s champion Jarno Opmeer, who also moved to Mercedes earlier this year. Last year’s runner up, the China wet race, was dominated by Frede Rasmussen, who finished that race 4 seconds clear of the other drivers. As expected, he and Marcel Kiefer will stay with Red Bull Racing Esports for another season after their incredible teamwork in 2020. Another guy that I’m looking forward to seeing on track is two times F1 Esports Champion Brendon Leigh, who left Mercedes and moved on to Ferrari. My hopes are high to see him getting some redemption this season, and so far, it looks quite promising. After the “Best of the Best” showcase being done and dusted, we finally got to hear from Jarno Opmeer himself. It sounds like people have high hopes for him to win the 2021 driver championship back to back. And it sure seems possible. He himself is very realistic and down to earth about it and mentions how every driver has to find their own formula of what works best. I personally am very excited to see another fight between him and Frede Rasmussen, hopefully. Still, I can imagine Marcel Kiefer joining that mix a bit more this year since he has proven to be more than ready to take on the title fight.

But who are the new guys and girls? One that I am looking at is Sebastian Job, who has already
been working a great deal for Red Bull Racing Esports, becoming the 2020 Porsche Esports Supercup Champion. I expect him to take Patrik Holzmann’s seat at Alpha Tauri, but I am always up for surprises. Another name that has already been on people’s minds is Josh Idowu, who has worked with Veloce Esports quite a lot in the past. He became fascinating for Mclaren Shadow and is expected to race for them in this year’s F1 Esports championship. Samuel Libeert, already well known from previous Pro Drafts, is also signed with R8G Esports, the team owned by Romain Grosjean. He is definitely one to look out for as well during
this year’s drafting process.

Two more names that I don’t want to leave unmentioned are Yuan Yifan, the winner of the Chinese F1 Esports championship and the runner up Tang Tianyu. Both were absolutely dominating in China. However, there are quite a few gaps between them and the top drivers of the world. Non the less I think they are strong contenders, and I am hopeful for them to be picked in this year’s draft.

What does one look for in an F1 Esports driver? Being interviewed, Romain Grosjean describes that they have to be fast because that is the essence of racing and be very consistent and have great communication. Also, they need to be able to represent a brand. Basically quite similar to actual F1 drivers. However, a huge difference is that an F1 Esports driver needs to be talented with setups, getting the absolute most out of their car. After having seen all drivers complete the challenges of the Pro Exhibition Show, here are my conclusions.

Josh Idowu looked super consistent, which is very promising. Alessio di Capua looked very strong, not too far off the time Dani Moreno set as a benchmark. He sure had a great speed there. A surprise to me was Patrik Sipos, who showed great adaptability. Sebastian Job had a bit of a rough start but then really showed some great pace. Rebecca Morrell, our Women’s Wildcard winner, was not too far off the top times and showed great adaptability as well. I am sure she will grow with experience! Gabriel Meneghetti did an incredible job, dominating the Xbox Leaderboard, and Valentin Büffer and Liam Parnell looked very strong in the PS4 challenges. Thijmen Schütte, as we know by now, is officially signed with Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Esports and completes their lineup together with Filip Presnajder and Simon Weigang!

So, what is left for me to say? I am very excited to see who will be picked for the teams during
these next few months. There are some powerful sim racers in the draft this season.
Apart from that: I know F1 Esports might not be just like real racing, but believe me, these guys are fighting just as hard, and the on-track action is just as exciting. Give it a chance, as I will take you along the 2021 F1 Esports season here on Grid Talk.

Humorous, versatile and informative. Just three of the words I would use to describe a commentator. For me, the role of a commentator is more important than meets the eye. I have to feel their passion and excitement for the sport as much as I do. I got to speak to current Formula 1 and Formula E commentator Jack Nicholls about his experiences in the role and how he got there.

Hi Jack, could you please tell me about your main role as a commentator within motorsport, particularly the ABB FIA Formula E Championship?
I have been commentating on Formula E since it first started back in 2014, and I also cover Formula 1 for BBC Radio 5 live. I’m lucky enough to work with 3 times Indy500 winner Dario Franchitti, and it’s our job to bring this new form of motorsport to people and try and get them excited about it!

Have you always been a big fan of motorsport? If so, does it help with commentating when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about?
I started watching motorsport when I was 6 and got obsessed pretty quickly after. I used to watch every F1 race and went to my first British Grand Prix when I was 7. My dad and I then started travelling to races when I was a bit older, to tracks like Spa, Valencia and Monza, and I even saved up and went to Melbourne in 2009 by myself when I was 19!

Have you always wanted to be a commentator? How did you break into the industry?
I did always want to be a commentator. I loved Murray Walker, and the idea of just shouting and getting excited by the racing always really appealed to me. I used to write my own commentary notes at the start of each season from about the age of 8! But it was never something that I actually thought about pursuing until I had a gap year between my A-Levels and University. I started marshalling at my local race track at Snetterton and heard that they had commentators there, so I asked if I could try. I started doing more and more while I was at Uni, to the point where when I graduated, I could become a full-time commentator.

Was there anyone you looked up to in terms of commentating?
Ben Edwards is the best. Clearly, everyone’s hero is Murray Walker, but in my really formative years, it was Ben commentating on British Touring Cars and A1GP that made me the commentator that I am now. He has incredible knowledge but manages to get that across to the audience without sounding smug, and he is so good at reading races and conveying that to the viewer.

What is your favourite track to commentate on?
Monza and Monaco are my two favourite tracks to commentate on. I love the history of Monza and the atmosphere. You climb up some rickety old stairs to the commentary booths, which are on top of one of the grandstands, and then the cars flash past you at 220mph. The atmosphere there is like nothing else. Of course, Monaco is a very different type of atmosphere, but the buzz around a Grand Prix weekend is fantastic. The commentary boxes back onto the harbour, and they overlook the whole pitlane. As with everywhere in Monaco, space is at a premium, so there’s barely room for us in the booth, but it adds to the chaotic nature of the weekend.

What advice would you give someone who wants to commentate on motorsport in the future?
ESports are a great place to start. It’s actually where I started commentating; then, I was able to show my work to people in the real world to try and get work. The most important thing is to be yourself and let your personality come through. The audience wants to get a sense of who you are, not of who you’re trying to be. Don’t feel you have to do things that other commentators do; find your own path.

What does a typical Formula E Race Weekend look like for you?
I will usually fly to a race on the Wednesday, then start work on a Thursday. Thursday is mostly production meetings and technical checks. Friday, I spend a lot of time in the pitlane talking to teams and drivers to find out the latest news, and I will walk the track. Walking the track is much more important in Formula E because they often change each year. Then Saturday is race day! They are long days, so my alarm will usually go off about 6 am; we then get on a bus and travel to the track arriving about 7 am, then first practice starts at 8 am! There is very little time between sessions, so I try and speak to as many people as possible in the 45 minutes I have! Then there is qualifying; I eat some lunch, then prepare for the race by looking through the grid sheet and making some notes. Then the race starts, and we finish work at about 6 pm!

How do you prepare for a race?
I make quite extensive notes before each race for Formula E; because I am the voice of the championship, I feel a lot of responsibility to get things right, and there is much less information available. Whereas with Formula 1, there’s so much more discussion about it in the wider world that I don’t feel the need to do as much preparation.

Motorsport is a very opinionated sport for everyone! Do you ever find it difficult to try and show unbiased opinions when commentating?
I don’t find it difficult at all, because all I want to see is a good race! I am more friendly with some drivers than others. For example, I’ve done a lot of work with Robin Frijns over the years, but if he is racing, I don’t want him to win more than anyone else. I just want to see a good fight and a good race!

You’ve worked on several different racing series, Formula 2, Formula 1 and of course Formula E – does your commentating style differ from series to series?
The biggest difference is between TV and Radio. When I commentate on Formula E for the TV, I am watching along with the audience. We are enjoying the action together. But on radio, you have the be the conduit for them to know what is going on, so you have to explain things a lot more, and I am more of the narrator of the race. On TV I can talk less, but radio, if you stop talking then it’s silent, which isn’t great radio!

On behalf of the Grid Talk team, I’d like to thank Jack for agreeing to talk to me and contribute to our Working In Motorsport series. I hope you’ve enjoyed this incredible insight into the role of a commentator in motorsport.

Mental Health is defined as ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’. So, why is something that makes us human still a subject which is so difficult to talk about?

The inner circle of motorsport is a busy place to be, the physical training that drivers endure is exhausting to even read about. From training camps to reaction training, spending time in the gym, which many drivers have at home, hours in the simulator, and let’s not forget about the health regimes they have to follow. But, what about their mental health?

Over recent months, more drivers have started to speak up about their inner struggles and how they have overcome them. More than often, I see racing drivers referred to as “superheroes”. Their ability to switch into their relaxed state of mind before a race continues to amaze me, but the truth is – they aren’t superheroes; they are people, just like you and me.

Last year, McLaren announced a partnership with the charity Mind, which provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. McLaren said that this partnership stems from their “increased focus on mental health as part of its overall health and well-being programme.” A few months later, McLaren F1 driver, Lando Norris, spoke up about his struggles since his career began in Formula One. He wrote, “have you ever struggled with something mentally but hidden it from the world by putting on a brave face? I know I have.” He explains how he was questioning his own self-belief and comparing himself to his teammate and other drivers. Something, I’m sure, many of the drivers deal with day to day.

Mental Strength has a huge part to play in Formula 1; it is a big mind game. Every single lap, maximum concentration, and nothing else on your mind. Can you imagine how difficult that must be? Admittedly, writing this post has taken days of on and off concentration. So how do these drivers do it? Last month, F1 revealed that the balance of mental wellbeing is starting to shift. More and more drivers have started to receive mental coaching, which has been common in other sports for years. Both Nico Rosberg and Mika Hakkinen revealed after they had quit racing, they both sought mental coaching for one reason or another. Nico once said, “We all train our bodies flat-out every day, yet we don’t do that much for our minds”, he revealed how he worked on moving his mind towards more positive thoughts every morning and evening for around 20 minutes and says it’s a big part of why he became world champion. In 2016, Romain Grosjean admitted that he needed to consult a psychologist in the darkest moments of his early career, particularly after 2012 and credits the specialist for improving his life, both on and off the track. Understandably, he will be working with a psychologist again to overcome the mental effects of his accident at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Social Media. Ah, you just knew this was going to come, didn’t you? Does social media have a part to play in mental health? Absolutely! As human beings, we thrive off the need for companionship and being socially connected to others. Social media can, in some ways, ease stress, anxiety, boost your self-worth, provide comfort and prevent loneliness. Unfortunately, we also live in a world where keyboard warriors troll our ‘safe’ platforms. Even my friends and I have been on the receiving end of multiple attacks on social media platforms. Now, imagine you’re a driver. You’ve worked your ass off all weekend but couldn’t pull out the results you were expected to, and maybe one little mistake cost it all, those feelings of not being good enough, letting everybody down – not just yourself. At the end of the day, you have to go onto social media and see an onslaught of comments calling you every name under the sun and telling you; you shouldn’t be doing the job you love. I get it, Formula 1 is and always will be an opinionated sport. Of course, you are frustrated too, but constructive criticism is a lot different to being unkind. Certain drivers choose to live their lives away from Social Media or have taken a step back due to these kinds of incidents.

Earlier, I mentioned how people often think of Formula 1 drivers as superheroes. In the 2019 season, tragedy struck in Belgium when 22-year-old Anthoine Hubert was involved in a fatal accident in the FIA Formula 2 Feature Race. An incident that rocked the motorsport community. Current Formula 1 drivers Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc knew Anthoine personally; they were friends outside of the sport and grew up together from karting onwards, sharing their journey every step of the way. Motor racing is a hard, brutal business. However, these moments confront drivers with the reality of the sense of danger their profession poses and that they are, in fact, human. Although they do it because they love it – the mental strength of every single one of those drivers to get back into their cars the day after and watch those five red lights come on one by one is incredible.

Unfortunately, to this day, mental illness can be seen as a sign of weakness, and I know what you might be thinking “Does that really matter?”. In a way, yes, it does! The idea that someone struggling with mental health is weak is stigmatising and could negatively affect certain subgroups of the population, for instance, men. Due to societal expectations and ‘traditional’ gender roles, men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems. We all know that F1 is a predominantly male sport; could this be why mental health is a rarely spoken about topic in the world of motorsport?

Mental health is an important topic, not just in Formula 1 but everywhere. Yes, drivers and teams are becoming more open to discussing them; however, my question remains.

Can F1 do more for Mental Health?

With the FIA Formula 3 Championship starting this weekend in Barcelona, what more could you need than a quick stop guide with everything you might need to tune into the opening rounds in Spain.

What is Formula 3?
In 2019, the FIA Formula 3 Championship launch dived into our lives, an ambitious new project from the FIA and the former GP3 Series Organisation to form another step in the Road To F1 ladder. The series combines the GP3 and European F3 to create an entry point for young talent on their path to join their inspirations in the paddock and get to the top. Success in this series can lead to making the step up to FIA Formula 2, which happens under the watchful eye of the F1 paddock on race weekends.

The Cars
As the championship is a spec series, all teams compete with an identical Dallara F3 2019 chassis and three tyre compounds developed by Pirelli, designed to provide the most suitable compound for every circuit. Each car will be powered by a 3.4L naturally aspirated V6 engine, which Mecachrome has developed.

Format – Schedule
The FIA Formula 2 and Formula 3 Championships have had a huge format change for the 2021 Season due to Covid-19 and cost-cutting reasons. This year, the two series will alternate race weekend appearances rather than both series supporting the Formula 1 races. Both the series will host three races per weekend, with a single feature and two sprint events. Practice and qualifying take place on Friday, and Race 1 and 2 on Saturday. Race 1’s grid is set by reversing the top 12 finishers of Friday’s Qualifying session. Race 2 will be determined by reversing the top 12 finishers of Saturday’s Race 1. The final classification of Fridays Qualifying sets race 3’s grid – I promise it will get less confusing the more you watch. This means that managing the weekend as a whole to maximise points becomes crucial.

More races in a weekend mean fewer tracks, with only 7 different destinations being confirmed for this year’s calendar.

8-9 May – Circuit De Barcelona-Catalunya
26-27 June – Circuit Paul Ricard
3-5 July – Red Bull Ring
31-1 August – Hungaroring
28-29 August – Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
4-5 September – Circuit Zandvoort
23-24 October – Circuit of the Americas

Both Zandvoort and COTA are making its FIA Formula 3 Debut for the 2021 season.

Who To Watch Out For
A few graduates made the step up to Formula 2 for the 2021 season, but some familiar names remain. Mercedes Junior Fredrik Vesti had 3 race wins and had consistent results giving him a solid fourth in the championship standings in his rookie season. He also has the Formula Regional European title to his name, and I definitely believe he could be one of the fastest drivers on the grid this year.

Arthur Leclerc will make the step up to F3 this year from FREC after narrowly missing out on the title, this F3 season will be his fourth single-seater racing series, and he’s yet to finish out of the top five of any of them. This season, the Ferrari Driver Academy Member will drive for Prema Racing with Dennis Hauger and Olli Caldwell.

One of the main stories of this year’s FIA Formula 3 Championship is Juan Manuel Correa’s return to single-seater racing after his tragic accident at Spa-Francorchamps in 2019. In the last year, he has documented his recovery from fractures to both of his legs and a minor spinal injury. In an Instagram Live on the F3 page this morning, Correa says he “feels great” when you see just how far he has come and that the “rehab has kept improving and improving.” He tells his fans how he “didn’t come here to win this championship” and how his return is more about transitioning back into motorsport. The American driver has dreamed of being an F1 driver since he was 7 years old, and says “that’s still my dream, and that’s why I’m here in F3.”

Regardless of JM’s results on return, one thing is for sure; it will be a heartwarming moment for motorsport fans and everyone involved in the sport.

How To Watch
Sky Sports F1 broadcasts the FIA Formula 3 Championship in the UK as part of its Formula 1 package. Highlights of the series are available on the official F1c channel over the race weekend.

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