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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
qualifying

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.

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