Now that the entire motorsport world has come to a standstill because of the coronavirus, esports and sim racing have gained popularity. It is also a reality check for professional drivers to see how dedicated and professional their virtual colleagues are engaged in this sport.
A number of events and championships have been quickly set up where real-life drivers compete against the men and women who spend a lot of time in the sim at home. It has given a good picture of the differences between the two worlds and the level at which the respective participants are active. Veloce Esports and Motorsport Games have regularly hosted events for renowned drivers and simracers, including the #NotTheGP events during regular Formula 1 weekends.
During the edition at the Bahrain circuit, six professional drivers started with F1 drivers Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi, former Renault F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg, Stoffel Vandoorne and Mercedes test driver Esteban Gutierrez. The pros still struggled to compete with the professional simracers. Williams driver Latifi was the best-placed professional rider in fifth place, but he finished 25 seconds behind Daniel Bereznay (simracer for Alfa Romeo). The podium was completed by simracers Jarno Opmeer and James Baldwin. The second race was again dominated by simracers, Lando Norris made it to seventh place.
For the most recent edition of #NotTheGP, the format was changed and drivers always competed in a direct duel. Lando Norris took the win, but YouTuber Benjamin Daly, better known as "Tiametmarduk", managed to push him to the limit in the final. He defeated Latifi, sportscar driver Archie Hamilton and F3 driver David Schumacher earlier in the evening. W Series champion Jamie Chadwick also flew out early on after a defeat to YouTuber Will Lenney (WillNE).
Admittedly, one of the factors why the pros have so much difficulty adapting in the virtual world is the realism of F1 2019. That game is not exactly realistic and is marketed as an arcade game for a reason. It means you can win lap time in ways you wouldn't get away with in real life. It is precisely the reason that Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, a pretty fanatical simracer, has excluded from participating in the official F1 games. "There are few tips and tricks for these games," said Lando Norris. “For F1 2019 you need to know a lot to be fast. For new people, there are a few things you can do very easily to win a few tenths. That's quite a lot on a complete lap. ”
A week later, evidence was provided during the Veloce Pro Series. iRacing was used for that event, which is generally regarded as the most extensive simulation. Norris scored a victory from pole position in the first race. IndyCar driver Ed Jones and Japanese F3 champion Sacha Fenestraz finished right behind the McLaren driver.
Another big difference between professional drivers and the simracers is the amount of time they put in. Every lap that a driver makes on a physical track, he gets better and the synergy with the car is getting stronger. But it is difficult to compete with gamers who spend a lot of time in a game or simulator. According to Baldwin, a successful simracer who will make the switch to the real circuit in 2020, this is very important: “If you cannot spend hours in it, you do not know all the tips and tricks, then you will not participate at the front. But I do expect all professional drivers to drive at the front on iRacing. It is quite realistic, the physics approach how it really is. ” Norris agrees with Baldwin and has also spent a lot of time: “I'd love to see all my hours going into iRacing! I don't know if I should be proud or ashamed. ”
Williams F1 driver George Russell is a relative newcomer to the world of sim racing. He has started participating in a number of virtual GPs and has also played a role in setting up the online races for charity. Russell was honest in saying that he was surprised by the level of the simracers: "I quickly realized that I had to put serious energy into it," said Russell at BBC 5 Live. “To be honest, the level is very high. In the last race, six F1 drivers participated. There are more to come, but it is not the case that there is a lot of pressure from the outside. ”
F1 drivers may not be under pressure when racing in the virtual world, but at least they have reason to keep practicing and looking for the small profit points: "It is certainly very difficult, very difficult," said Latifi. “I think I could spend all the hours of this home isolation practicing and I still wouldn't be at the level of these simracers! It keeps me on my toes and I also enjoy it. That is a reason for me to continue, ”said the F1 debutant.