It started in the wake of Formula E suspending its season for two months, then Formula 1 cancelling the Australian Grand Prix because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jean-Eric Vergne (JEV), the two-time ABB FIA Formula E Champion, posted a modest proposal on social media and tagged other drivers: “To all my fellow friends racing drivers who won’t race in the next 2 months: should we create an online championship and race?” A day later, JEV posted a graphic with the tag “Not the AUS GP” – Real F1 Drivers vs. Top Gamers. The first driver announce was McLaren Driver Lando Norris, then former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne (currently with the Mercedes Formula e team), along with Mercedes development driver and former Formula E driver Esteban Gutierrez and more curiously, Thibault Courtois (goalkeeper for Real Madrid) following suit. Veloce Esports, JEV’s sponsor, would be host of the live event on their YouTube channel and Twitch March 15, 2020.
Thanks to Instagram’s logarithms that always show me things I would actually want to see 17 hours after they have happened, I missed the livestream but the entire event can be watched here. I’ll admit to being a complete stranger to Esports – gaming is not my thing, so on the outset I was surprised at the level of detail, including race stewards behind the fence and nervous team engineers in the pit garage. The 29-lap the e-race had some exciting moments, though there was a strange glitch at the race start when the light went green but the cars just sat on the grid for several seconds. Missing is the onboard banter (which seems to be in a separate video), the excitement of real-life pit-stops, and the general drama of F1 and its various personalties, but the after-race interviews and banter tries to make up for that. And hey, Williams finished in the points, hopefully a good omen for the 2020 season when real racing finally gets started. Of the real drivers, Lando Norris finished 6th after working his way up from a start at 19th, Gutierrez finished 10th after a DQ in qualifying when his system crashed, and Vandoorne came in 15th. Nineteen year old Hungarian esports driver Dani Bereznay won both pole and the race. His comments afterwards echo all of our sentiments, I think: “…I’m a huge Formula 1 fan myself as well, so I just want to see the real teams and cars and guys racing out there as soon as possible, but at least from this negative we did some kind of positive results a the end of the day…”
Team roster for Not The AUS GP:
Mercedes: Stoffel Vandoorne – Esteban Gutierrez
Red Bull: Tiametmarduk – Veloce Hyperz
Toro Rosso: Super GT – Jimmy Broadbent
McLaren: Lando Norris – WillNE
Alfa Romeo: Dani Bereznay – James Baldwin
Racing Point: James Doherty – Thibaut Courtois
Williams: Sacha Fenestraz – Tom Martinez
HAAS: Louis Delétraz – Ryan Tveter
Renault: Jarno Opmeer – Simon Weigang
Early on March 20 Formula 1 announced its own F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series to be broadcast on Formula 1 YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels. The first e-race will be the Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix 8pm GMT Sunday, March 22. Not surprisingly these races will not have actual championship points for the drivers. The Virtual Grand Prix is a separate event from the Not The BAH GP, which will be at 6pm GMT on the Veloce Esports channel. Both events will announce the competitors soon, but it’s safe to say that the F1 version will have more current F1 drivers, and the Veloce version will have a different variety of drivers (including Williams’ Nick Lafiti) and e-sports champs.
With the racing season from regional tracks to prominent series like F1 postponed and cancelled globally, it’s not surprising that INDYCAR and NASCAR would also take a cue from the success of this hastily organized Veloce e-race. Hours after the F1 announcement, INDYCAR sent out a press release announcing the first race of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge on Saturday March 28, 2020 at 4pm EST. The IndyCar virtual racing will start out with six races to be streamed live on indycar.com as well as YouTube, Facebook Live, and Twitch for the next six Saturdays. The actual venue will be voted on by fans and the winner will be interviewed on Instagram afterwards by Katie Hargitt. The entry list will be announced in the coming week. (Read the full press release here.) NASCAR is launching the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series for fans Sunday, March 22, 1:30pm EST, limited to FS1 and the FOX Sports app. The race will feature NASCAR notables such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace and more at iRacing virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Lemonade from lemons; this could be a fun diversion while we are all practicing social distancing and hoping the best for friends and family.