British sim-racing driver Brendon Leigh has won the inaugural Formula One eSports Championship. The finale, which was held during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit, consisted of three races that were run on the Codemasters F1 2017 game.
Race one saw the drivers race at Canada’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, with Leigh coming out on top in his Toro Rosso. Leigh was further down the order for race two at Spa Francorchamps which saw Spanish sim-racer Cem Bolukbasi take the win for McLaren whilst being watched by Fernando Alonso; who has already signed Bolukbasi to his own eSports racing team for next year.
With two of the three races in the books, four drivers entered the final race at the Yas Marina Circuit with a chance of winning the championship. Leigh, Fabrizio Donoso Delgado, Sven Zurner and Patrik Holzmann were the four contenders, with Leigh, Donoso and Zurner all close together on points.
Donoso started on pole position for the final race, but Leigh was able to get off the line better to take the lead on the short run to turn one. Zurner followed Leigh through to take second, with the three then holding station for the next few laps. Donoso decided to make his mandatory pit-stop on just lap four of fourteen, but the strategy worked when Zurner began to attack Leigh. The pair slowed down during their battle and by the time they had both pitted, Donoso had cycled out into the lead of the race.
Leigh and Zurner began to run down Donoso for the race lead, with all three separated by just over a second with four laps to go. With the trio all running nose-to-tail, Zurner tried to lunge up the inside of Leigh at the turn seven hairpin, but the pair made contact and fell to three seconds back.
Furious with the contact, Leigh began to charge. A series of excellent laps put him right back on the tail of Donoso for the race lead with just one lap to go, and on the run down into turn eight, he made his move. As they flew down the back-straight, Leigh sold a dummy to Donoso by looking to the outside before swooping back to the inside for the left-hander of turn eight. The pair made contact on the apex, with Donoso being forced to cut the chicane. He would then have to give the position back to Leigh on the next straight, which would pretty much end the fight for the win with half a lap to go.
Brendon Leigh would see out the final half a lap to take the Abu Dhabi win and with it, the first ever Formula One eSports championship victory. Just six points separated him from second-placed Donoso, with another four back to the final podium-finisher Zurner.
“I am so happy and emotional at the moment,” Leigh said. “This is an amazing moment for me and my sport. The two other guys on the podium are amongst the best in the world and I look forward to racing against them again really soon.”
“I am not sure how to celebrate. I don’t drink or anything. I think I might just go to bed.”
You can watch highlights of the final three championship-deciding Formula One eSports races in the video below, courtesy of Formula 1 on YouTube: