Back in the dark days of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the popularity of F1 Esports witnessed an incredible rise.
Viewership numbers peaked in 2021 with over 23 million views for the Formula 1 Esports Series. This can be attributed to the fact that many of the racing series we know and love being put on hold due to Covid-19, and there being no other form of racing to watch. A lot of us even took to virtual racing ourselves; being stuck indoors limiting our freedom but also enabling us to develop new hobbies.
However, as things have returned to normality, interest in virtual racing has dwindled. Numbers have yet to be released, but it is almost certain that less people witnessed Lucas Blakeley take the Championship crown for last year’s Pro Championship. It’s not so far-fetched to say that the majority of us were just waiting for the “real racing” to get up and running again.
Given this, it may come as a surprise to some that Alpine F1 Team’s Esports division is determined to push Esports to the mainstream and are continuing to expand their team this year. GrandPrix247 had the opportunity to speak with several key players at the Alpine F1 factory in Enstone, Oxfordshire to get a better understanding of what to expect from the world of competitive sim racing and F1 Esports going forward.
Why you should watch virtual racing
Guillaume Vergnas, Head of Esports, Gaming and Web3 at Alpine, is well aware of the dwindling numbers surrounding F1 Esports. However, he is adamant that there are still plenty of reasons for the average F1 fan to watch the virtual racing series.
He said: “I think people should watch F1 Esports for its quick burst of excitement, with shorter races there is constant action everywhere.”
The advantages of competitive sim racing don’t end there. Vergnas continued: “There are also other forms of racing we don’t see in F1, like head-to-head challenges and a more interactive experience for the audience.”
Alpine F1 Esports will be joining the V10 R-League this year, which utilises a ‘matchday’ face-off format not too dissimilar to a football season. Using vehicles designed off of the original 2022 F1 car concept and V10 engines reminiscent of the screaming symphonies of early 2000’s F1, the V10 R-League is sure to bring in many fans who miss the engine notes of yore.
Besides, F1 Esports has proven to be a real hotbed for raw racing talent in recent years. Initially dismissed as a place for gaming nerds and the occasional failed open-wheel racer to gain a modicum of recognition, the series has now gained a reputation for producing quite a few successful racing drivers.
You have Cem Bolukbasi, who drove in Formula 2 last year, who competed in the F1 Esports Series from 2017 to 2019, and Igor Fraga, who made it to F3 and won the 2020 Toyota Racing Series after competing in the inaugural F1 Esports Series in 2017. Stakes are just as high as in any ‘real’ racing series, and the fact that potential F1 Champions could be on the grid should entice any F1 fan to watch.
Preparing Esports drivers for real racing
Talking to Richard Arnaud, Team Principal of Alpine Esports, it’s clear that the French F1 Team are determined to develop their drivers and prepare them for even greater heights.
He stated: “We want our drivers to be able to adapt to racing physical cars as quickly as possible. It is important to experience being in a real car… our goal is not only to win, but to help build the next generation of talent as well.”
Many of their host of Esports drivers have driven GT4 cars and a few even had the chance to drive a Lotus E20 at a private test last year, all in the name of preparing their drivers for the physical and mental demands of ‘offline’ racing.
There is also the aspect of working together with a team and a high level of commitment that Alpine Esports has been working on intensely in the past year.
He noted: “It’s about the commitment, more and more about the people that are in the right place at the right moment.”
After all, everyone has the same car in F1 Esports, so its completely up to the ability of the driver to make the difference and win. Hence why Alpine have also hired dedicated coaches, strategists and engineers for sim racing, which will give their drivers the best platform for showing off their racing potential as they aspire to race amongst the Champions that we all look up to.