The Formula One season gets back on track this weekend, but the F1 virtual grand prix series has filled the gap brilliantly for fans in recent weeks.
F1 became a major esport during lockdown with top drivers from the sport among those taking part in virtual races, alongside big names like England’s Cricket World Cup hero Ben Stokes.
And it has now been confirmed by Formula One that the F1 Esports – Virtual Grand Prix series reached 30 million views across TV and digital platforms.
Charles Leclerc and George Russell were among the drivers to take part in the F1 virtual grand prix series, along with others such as Lando Norris and Alex Albon.
Manchester City and Argentina striker Sergio Aguero also got behind the wheel, with Belgium and Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois another football star to get involved.
“Now the series has come to an end, it gives us a chance to reflect on the huge success that it has been, which is reflected in the very impressive viewing figures and engagement stats,” said Julian Tan, Formula One’s head of digital business initiatives and esports.
“Our aim at the start of this journey was to provide live sporting action for those craving some racing relief, and now as we and the teams, whom we are extremely grateful to for their support and commitment throughout the series, turn our focus to the 2020 season and the F1 Esports Series, we can be proud that we were able to provide such entertainment to our fans, and beyond.”
The F1 gaming community was also heavily involved in the F1 virtual grand prix series with leading esports racing team Veloce Esports having set up the Not The Aus GP.
Veloce’s Not The Aus GP sets the tone
Veloce’s Not The Aus GP was a big success, held on what was set to be the opening weekend of the season and using the F1 2019 game.
Although the event was thrown together at short notice, the involvement of people including former F1 drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Stefan Vandoorne helped to make it a smash hit. The Not The Aus GP is the most-watched video on the Veloce YouTube channel right now.
Veloce Esports’ founder Jamie MacLaurin told The Loadout recently that the race had “had 175,000 live concurrent viewers across all the streams”, including on Twitch.
He added: “We wanted to keep it casual and lighthearted, so that people who were maybe new to esports or new to F1 could come and watch it and leave with a smile on their face, given the circumstances in the world right now.”
What’s next for F1 virtual grand prix?
With Austria hosting a real life Formula One race this weekend, the future of F1 virtual grand prix series could be in doubt.
Last month saw the final race in the official F1 virtual grand prix series, with professional drivers Pierre Gasly and Nicholas Latifi among those joining the Virtual Canadian Grand Prix alongside the likes of former gold-medal winning skier Jon Olsson and Biffy Clyro singer Simon Neil.
Julian Tan, the head of digital business initiatives and esports for Formula One, has given an indication of what the future could hold for the sport’s links with esports.
“Whilst the Virtual Grand Prix series may be coming to an end, this is just the start of our plans for this season, as we turn our attention to the F1 Esports Series later in the year,” he said. “We are working on numerous ideas to make this season the best yet as we continue to develop our approach to the esports market and cannot wait for the fans to be a part of the experience.”
George Russell is among the drivers to have shown a strong aptitude for the F1 2019 game and he is likely to be keen to try out the esport again after recording a string of virtual race wins.