What’s on this week



Whether you em­brace the vir­tual world or not, es­ports have be­come part of the fab­ric of rac­ing. For­mula 1, For­mula E, the World Rally Cham­pi­onship and Le Mans are all lead­ing the way with their own com­pe­ti­tions to find the best vir­tual rac­ers.

The con­nec­tion is more than su­per­fi­cial. Mclaren’s World’s Fastest Gamer run­nerup Freek Schothorst has proved his worth on the team’s sim­u­la­tor and even joined the For­mula Re­nault Eurocup grid in Hun­gary, de­mon­strat­ing that es­ports ex­po­nents have trans­fer­able skills. So while not ev­ery­one might find watch­ing sim rac­ing par­tic­u­larly stim­u­lat­ing, it’s cer­tainly caught the at­ten­tion of mo­tor­sport’s elite.

That’s why the of­fi­cial For­mula 1 Face­book page is livestream­ing a four-part doc­u­men­tary ded­i­cated to its sim rac­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The F1 Es­ports Se­ries looks into the se­lec­tion process for the nine F1 teams (Fer­rari has cho­sen not to take part) that have signed gamers for the up­com­ing Pro Draft com­pe­ti­tion.

The show’s first two episodes fo­cused on tasks that al­low the driv­ers to show off their tal­ents, in­clud­ing a pit­stop chal­lenge, kart­ing, and (of course) a sim race. Driv­ers talked about their ‘con­nec­tions’ with F1, whether that be how they wanted to model their fa­cial hair on their favourite driver’s or how their dad once worked for Fer­rari. They talked about their real-world rac­ing experience, and how bud­get re­straints turned them to­wards sim rac­ing – a ba­sic sim rac­ing set-up costs less than £2000, while regis­tra­tion and a full year’s en­try in Bri­tish For­mula 4 is £13,500. It was sur­pris­ing to find so many had raced in lower for­mu­las and, where it hadn’t worked out, es­ports had be­come a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the nor­mal lad­der.

Since the se­ries is be­ing broad­cast over a so­cial me­dia web­site with over 2bil­lion users, this was the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to get hard­core F1 fans in­ter­ested in es­ports. But so far it’s fallen short.

While there was a brief in­tro­duc­tion that re­capped the F1 Es­ports story so far, it didn’t go far enough. There were plenty of ref­er­ences to last year’s com­pe­ti­tion, which was won by Bri­tish teenager Bren­don Leigh, but oth­er­wise first-time view­ers were left in the dark. Noth­ing was said about the con­tro­versy in the show­down, which took place on a vir­tual Yas Ma­rina cir­cuit. Leigh was forced to fight back through the field af­ter be­ing hit by a ri­val mid­way, then in­her­ited the vic­tory af­ter

Fabrizio Donoso Del­gado was pe­nalised for cut­ting the chi­cane on the fi­nal lap. Leigh, in­ci­den­tally, has now signed for Mercedes as its pro­fes­sional es­ports driver.

Un­for­tu­nately this con­text was ab­sent in the livestream. It felt as if it was the sec­ond chap­ter of a story, and that the au­di­ence was play­ing catch-up. All told, this new for­mat missed a trick since it didn’t feel aimed at the gen­eral F1 au­di­ence, but at a niche group who are al­ready in­ter­ested in sim rac­ing.

That showed in the live com­ments sec­tion of the first episode too. While there was a mi­nor­ity ask­ing how they could get in­volved, or how they would fare in a sim­i­lar com­pe­ti­tion, the ma­jor­ity of the com­menters clearly didn’t think sim rac­ing was any­thing more than play­ing video games. It’s a shame, be­cause the doc­u­men­tary does a sound job of show­ing just how much tal­ent is in­volved in the dis­ci­pline, and tar­get­ing it at es­ports new­com­ers might have swayed a few opin­ions for the bet­ter.

Mak­ers of the doc­u­men­tary might not have been tar­get­ing the unini­ti­ated when they put to­gether the first two episodes, but they did do a good job of ex­plain­ing the se­lec­tion process and in en­gag­ing view­ers. If you can ig­nore the lack of con­text – or take the time read up on last year’s race – the story is rel­a­tively easy to fol­low, and en­joy­able.

And if es­ports still leaves you feel­ing cold, per­haps the real pos­i­tive is F1’s will­ing­ness to ex­per­i­ment with cre­at­ing be­spoke con­tent that is free to ac­cess via a mas­sive so­cial me­dia plat­form.

The fi­nal episode, air­ing Septem­ber 26, retells the live show as the ‘real’ For­mula 1 teams pick their driv­ers for the Es­ports Pro Se­ries Cham­pi­onship.


Com­peti­tors fought it out in a bid to im­press F1 teams

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