Will We See More Virtual Grand Prix Races in the Future?

A postponed start to the season meant new virtual Formula 1 races. Will we see them continue or were they a one-time thing?

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While it may not always have the back and forth tension of other sports, racing can provide some incredibly thrilling moments. These alone may be enough to make the sport worth following, but it’s also the strategies teams use and the changes they make throughout a season that can be so exciting.

Of course, racing is also much more expensive than many other sports, so you won’t catch races as often as you will matches in most other sports. That’s where virtual races—when real motorsport and esports collide—could prove to be popular.

The Start of Virtual Grand Prix

Since 2017, Formula 1 has had an esports series. Instead of Formula 1 drivers, the players here are esports pros. This means the races are clean and look similar to what you might find if you tune into an actual Formula 1 race, just digital.

In 2020, in response to a postponed start to the race season in the face of the Coronavirus epidemic, Formula 1 introduced a Virtual Grand Prix series. This saw actual Formula 1 drivers, both current and former, as well as gamers and other personalities.

Since the vast majority of the drivers and guests had little to know experience in the Codemasters-developed F1 2019, which was used for the Virtual GP, races were chaotic. Frequent crashes and drastically shortened races meant these “just for fun” races didn’t capture the feel of a real Grand Prix.

The Problem With Virtual Grand Prix Races

Not everyone took that same route. While Formula 1’s Virtual Grand Prix races had no bearing on the actual 2020 race season, Formula E introduced virtual races that actually granted points toward its 2019/2020 championship. This would have been fine if everyone took it seriously, but not everyone did.

Formula E driver Daniel Abt, in particular, didn’t take the races seriously, with very serious results. After subbing in an esports pro during the Formula E Race at Home event, Abt ended up losing his seat at Audi, where he’d been a driver since 2014.

Abt said he had intended the switch as a joke and had never tried to keep it a secret, but Audi still let him go. Some of Abt’s fellow drivers, including Audi teammate Lucas di Grassi defended him, saying that the esports even should never have been taken as seriously as it was.

The Future Is Uncertain

We’ll certainly see some Formula 1 and Formula E-related esports, it’s just a matter of how much and when. Formula 1, for example, hasn’t replaced its esports program with the Virtual Grand Prix. As far as the 2020 season has indicated to this point, the Virtual Grand Prix won’t return in 2021. That said, if the 2021 season is postponed, it may just come back.

Formula 1 esports aren’t going anywhere, and it seems likely that with Formula E having an eye on younger fans we can expect Formula Esports (get it?) in the future. Whether those will be in an official capacity or not remains to be seen.

In the meantime, keep an eye on Twitch. Formula 1 drivers like Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell all stream on Twitch, some more than others. As new drivers come up through the ranks, we can only expect the number of drivers who stream to grow.

New to Motorsport?

If you’re familiar with esports but not motorsports, you may wonder why anyone would want to watch virtual cars race around virtual tracks. It would probably help to understand why people want to watch the real thing in the first place.

While racing may not be a common love among nerdy types, it might be worth a second look. Not sure? Take a look at our take on why Formula 1 may be your next favorite geeky hobby.