OPINION: A Look Back At The 2018 F1 Esports Pro Draft Selections

by Aaron Gillard
F1 Esports First Pick - 2018

Ahead of the 2019 F1 New Balance Esports Pro Series, the ten official Formula 1 teams will need to assign their drivers for the year in a bid to come out on top in both drivers’ and teams’ championship.

Last year saw the introduction of the Pro Draft, a similar concept seen from American sports such as the NFL, NBA and NHL. A draft is a means of picking out new players into the series, with the teams taking turns in each round to make a selection.

The deciding order of the draft is determined by the teams’ standings in reverse order, meaning the worst or newest team on the grid will pick first.

In this year’s draft, as Scuderia Ferrari are entering the series for the first time, they will have the honour of having the first overall pick.

Last year’s Pro Draft was a success and saw a re-vamp for 2019 with a wider class of drivers and heat races to decide the final pool of drivers the teams can pick.

Ahead of the 2019 Draft, let’s look back at the Pro Draft from 2018 and review a year on whether the team’s pick were a hit, a miss, or a meh.

First Round

Williams Esports

Pick 1: Tino Naukkarinen | 2018 Standing: Thirteenth (29 Points) | Selection: Meh

Credit: F1 Esports Series

Williams Esports had the honour of selecting first overall in the 2018 Pro Draft, and they selected Tino Naukkarinen first out of the 40 gamers who made it to the Draft night in London. This would be Williams’ only pick in the draft and somewhat proved to a strong pick come beginning of the season. In his first race, Naukkarinen collected second place and looked to put the pressure of being first overall behind him. As the season went on, the Finnish driver’s form gradually declined to a 13th overall finish in the drivers’ championship. This is somewhat of a ‘miss’ selection, but it is after F1 Esports Naukkarinen has done that has impressed Williams.

After the 2018 season, Naukkarinen has contributed in Williams Esports’ F1 leagues and has been a very strong asset to the team, showcasing an improvement in his pace and beating drivers who he competed in with F1 Esports. If he can replicate this performance into the 2019 season, Naukkarinen could be in for a potentially solid season.

HYPE Energy eForce India

Pick 2: Fabrizio Donoso Delgado | 2018 Standings: Eleventh (32 Points) | Selection: Miss

Fabrizio Donoso Delgado finished the 2017 F1 Esports Series second overall, only losing the series to Brendon Leigh on the final lap. But Donoso Delgado was snapped up as the second overall pick in the Pro Draft, joining HYPE Energy eForce India. The team felt they got the man they want ahead of the season, but Donoso Delgado didn’t repeat his form from the previous year. A fourth place was the best result he could achieve in Season 2, and was heavily outmatched by team-mate Marcel Kiefer, who the team brought in prior to the Pro Draft. His best chance of a win came at Silverstone when battling against his rival Leigh. But his chance ended badly when he failed to slow down for the pit entrance, resulting in a drive-through penalty and losing further places in the race.

The Chilean was later released by the team ahead of the 2019 Pro Draft, which Donoso Delgado won’t be attending, indicating that he has agreed terms with a team elsewhere or has ended his relations with the series altogether. It is a shame a gamer of his talent couldn’t gel together with Force India.

Haas F1 Esports Team

Pick 3: Marin Stefanko | 2018 Standings: Seventeenth (13 Points) | Selection: Meh

The third overall pick was a surprise none the less, with the 2017 VirtualGP Champion Martin Stefanko being Haas F1 Esports‘ first pick in the Pro Draft. Stefanko competed in all races for the American team, having drafted only two drivers for 2018. He was partnered alongside fellow VirtualGP driver Michal Smidl, who both compete against each other in the Czech Esports Championship.

Haas didn’t produce too many results but when they did, it was Stefanko who gathered them as he scored most of the team’s points in 2018. His best result was seventh at the final race in Abu Dhabi. After the 2018 season, Stefanko remains at the team for the season, looking to be the team leader of the Haas team for the 2019 season as they will welcome new drivers to the team.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Esports

Pick 4: Daniel Bereznay | 2018 Standings: Second (163 Points) | Selection: Hit

Daniel Bereznay - F1 Esports - Mercedes
Credit: Daimler AG

The first real hit from the 2018 Draft class. Daniel Bereznay proved to be Mercedes AMG Petronas Esports‘ only pick in the Draft, and it proved to be a title winning pick. Bereznay, the nineteen-year old Hungarian part of Veloce Esports, partnered alongside Leigh throughout the 2018 Season, competing at all races and clinching two wins as a result. He was one of two drivers to challenge Leigh for the title and despite losing, Bereznay did well to take second overall and help Mercedes win the first F1 Esports Teams’ title.

Despite a successful season with Mercedes, Bereznay announced the surprising news that he would leave the Brackley based team for the 2019 Season. The Hungarian has now switched to Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Esports, who are operated by Veloce Esports – the very team Bereznay is part off. He will join alongside Salih Saltunc, James Baldwin and whoever Alfa Romeo pick in this year’s Draft. With his recruitment, Alfa Romeo could be the team to watch for this year.

Renault Sport Team Vitality

Pick 5: Sven Zurner | 2018 Standings: Ninteenth (8 Points) | Selection: Miss

Like Donoso Delgado, Sven Zurner was ended the 2017 Season in the top three and looked to be a highly picked choice for the 2018 Season. Renault Sport Team Vitality made the move and decided in the first round to take him fifth overall. The German was expected to make a push for the title once again, representing the black and yellow colours of Renault. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

Zurner suffered a difficult season throughout the year and managed only eight points in seven races, his best results coming at the end of the season. He lost his drive midway through to Kimmy Larsson, but got it back to round off the end of the year. His results with Renault proved to be not worthy and was released in 2019. He will return for a second shot in the Pro Draft and hope he can showcase the similar skills from the 2017 Season.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Esports

Pick 6: Salih Saltunc | 2018 Standings: Fourth (91 Points) | Selection: Hit

Salih Saltunc showed potential from the 2017 Season despite suffering a few mishaps in the finals in Abu Dhabi. Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Esports gambled their first round pick on Salih and in the 2018 Season, proved to be an efficient team leader as he completed all races for the Swiss team. In Race 7 of the Series at Germany, Salih surprised everyone with a dominated win, his only win in the series so far. The overall result of his strong season saw him finish fourth overall in the championship.

Salih showed leadership, speed and skill throughout the championship and becomes Alfa Romeo’s only driver retained going into the 2019 Season. His win and position in the championship has put his doubters on mute, but he’ll be hoping 2019 will be a year filled with more success. With a star-studded line-up next to him for 2019, this could be the year he’ll contribute well into the teams and drivers championship.

Toro Rosso Esports Team

Pick 7: Cem Bolukbasi | 2018 Standings: Tenth (32 Points) | Selection: Hit

Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for Red Bull

Going into the Pro Draft, Cem Bolukbasi was highly valued and was expected to be the first overall pick. However, this didn’t happen and as each pick went by, Bolukbasi grew more nervous and anxious. But Toro Rosso Esports swept in and captured the highly rated Turkish with the seventh pick. It looked to be a stunning pick, but Bolukbasi was limited to races in his first year with the team, but still clawed in good results as he ended the year within the top ten of the championship. He scored in all five races he took part in.

Bolukbasi’s contribution to the series saw the team take second overall in the teams’ championship and with it, earning a full-time seat with the team for 2019. Bolukbasi will be partnered alongside a new drafted driver and Patrik Holzmann, who both are signed on to race with Red Bull Racing Esports full-time in their programmes. As well as doing Esports duties for Red Bull, Bolukbasi also races in real-life in GT cars.

McLaren Shadow

Pick 8: Olli Pahkala | 2018 Standings: 21st (2 Points) | Selection: Meh

McLaren Shadow‘s only pick in the Draft proved to be a strange one, only because they opted to skip the remaining rounds and left with Olli Pahkala in their roster. Pahkala is a big name in the Esports scene, racing with Team RedLine, the same team that holds F1 drivers Lando Norris and Max Verstappen. He was also a strong competitor in the Formula E Esports Las Vegas race and a very likable chap. But his chances in the series were very limited due to McLaren’s star-studded line-up of Enzo Bonito and Bono Huis they added on before the series commenced.

Pahkala only competed in three races in 2018 and picked up two points in the championship. Whilst he didn’t much on-track, his contribution with the team was huge as he helped with set-ups and the approach McLaren took for the final rounds, which saw them push up the standings to finish fourth overall. Pahkala’s still remains with the McLaren Shadow programme, but it is unclear whether we’ll see him in F1 Esports for 2019.

Red Bull Racing Esports

Pick 9: Joni Tormala | 2018 Standings: Seventh (55 Points) | Selection: Hit

Credit: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull had the privilege of picking their drivers’ back-to-back, as they ended the first round last and started the second round first. With the helping hands of Max Verstappen, Red Bull chose Finnish Esports guru Joni Tormala as their first driver to race in the Red Bull Esports colours. Having raced in the 2017 season, finishing tenth overall, Tormala would go on to prove to be a strong pick as he collected Red Bull’s only podiums in the season and ended the year seventh overall.

His 2018 season seemed as a evolution of his skills as he continued to race under the Red Bull colours in succession and would be announced that he would remain with the team for 2019 as Frederik Rasmussen partners alongside him. Tormala is a driver worth watching out for in 2019 as he’ll hope to turn podium appearances into wins.

Second Round

Red Bull Racing Esports

Pick 10: Graham Carroll | 2018 Standings: Fourteenth (27 Points) | Selection: Meh

Red Bull’s second and last pick in the Draft saw Scottish gamer and former British Formula Ford champion Graham Carroll. Like Bolukbasi, Carroll was an ex-racer but switched to the Esports scene when money became tight. Like Verstappen, Carroll is part of Team RedLine, so Verstappen and Red Bull picking him made sense since they know his profile well.

Carroll competed in all races for Red Bull, ending the season fourteenth overall. His highlight was at the beginning of the season when he ended the race in fourth, showcasing very promising pace. But the Scotsman couldn’t stay on top of team-mate Tormala throughout the year and with Rasmussen in the Toro Rosso performing brilliantly, Carroll’s two year spell in the series comes to an end. He remains a product in Red Bull Esports team, but will not be contesting in the series for 2019.

Toro Rosso Esports Team

Pick 11: Patrik Holzmann | 2018 Standings: Sixth (59 Points) | Selection: Hit

The second pick in the second round fell into Red Bull’s hands again, although being Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s sister team. They went with the highly rated German Patrik Holzmann, who ended the 2017 campaign fourth overall. Partnering alongside Rasmussen and Bolukbasi, Holzmann was in a well-equipped team that can challenge the front runners.

The pick by the Italian team proved to be worthy as the German delivered strong performances throughout the season. He initially won a race in France, before the result was overturned to Leigh’s favour. Two trips to the podium rounded off a season where he ended sixth overall in the standings. Holzmann remains at Toro Rosso alongside Bolukbasi for the 2019 season. A solid pick by Toro Rosso and the right man to keep the bulls charging up the front.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Esports

Pick 12: Allert Van Der Wal | 2018 Standings: Fifteenth (16 Points) | Selection: Meh

Alfa Romeo Sauber Esports’ second pick looked like a steal as they grabbed Allert Van Der Wal, who finished seventh overall in the 2017 F1 Esports Series. A worthy team-mate to Salih Saltunc for the 2018 Season. However, Van Der Wal faced clashes with college during the series, which prevented him from competing in majority of the races. His only points in the season came at the last race of the year in Abu Dhabi, finishing sixth overall. The double points saw Van Der Wal claim 16 points and ending the year 15th overall.

Van Der Wal was limited in showing his talents during the season due to clashes with his personal life. But when he was on track, he was limited on what he can do, only getting on the board at the last race. Despite now being free in schedule, the Dutchman was released. Van Der Wal still has a chance to re-enter the series in this year’s Pro Draft and will hope to repeat his good form from 2017.

Renault Sport Team Vitality

Pick 13: Kimmy Larsson | 2018 Standings: Twenty-second (1 Point) | Selection: Miss

Kimmy Larsson - F1 Esports
Credit: F1 Esports Series

Nicknamed ‘The Super Swede’, Kimmy Larsson was drafted by Renault in the second round. Larsson was a former Go-Kart driver and has tested machinery alongside former F1 driver Marcus Ericsson. Prior to the Pro Draft, Larsson used his karting skills to good use and came out on top in the Go Kart heat races. Being selected by Renault alongside Zurner and James Doherty looked to be a strong pairing ‘on paper’.

Larrson only got limited chances in the series, ending the year only scoring one point in Singapore. The Swedish driver ended the year twenty second overall – last of the points scorers. At the end of the season, Larsson was released by Renault and has accepted eligibility to take part in the 2019 Pro Draft, where he’ll be hoping a second chance will come.

Haas F1 Esports Team

Pick 14: Michal Smidl | 2018 Standings: Twentieth (4 Points) | Selection: Miss

VirtualGP’s most successful driver fell into Haas’ hands as they ended their period in the Draft with two drivers from the Czech series. Michal Smidl, a veteran Esports racer and part of Team RedLine joins Martin Stefanko for the season, representing the American team. The two Czechs with their experience racing each other, join forces in the F1 Esports Series.

Unfortunately for Smidl, his season in the F1 Esports proved to be a bumpy and challenging experience, contrast to his dominance in VirtualGP. Smidl picked up only four points the whole season and missed three races due to an illness. Twentieth in the standings was not what he expected in his first rodeo in the F1 Esports Series. Smidl continues to race in VirtualGP and leads the points standings, but he won’t be part of the Haas Esports Team for 2019.

Third Round

Renault Sport Team Vitality

Pick 15: James Doherty | 2018 Standings: Eighteenth (10 Points) | Selection: Meh

Renault’s final pick in the Draft, being one of two teams to use all three rounds to decide their roster selected popular YouTube known as TRL Limitless, James Doherty. Doherty was known for being extremely quick during a hot lap and in league races, and looked like Renault have picked a driver with good experience and skills.

Doherty competed for Renault for majority of the season and brought home ten of the 23 points Renault picked up. His only time in the points were in the first race of 2018 in Australia with fifth place. He didn’t repeat a point scoring result ever again. After 2018, Doherty remains at Renault but has been promoted to become the teams’ manager, taking on a more leadership role for 2019.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Esports

Pick 16: Sonuc Saltunc | 2018 Standings: Sixteenth (14 Points) | Selection: Meh

Credit: F1 Esports Series

The last pick of the Draft saw Sauber pick Salih’s brother, Sonuc Saltunc to become the team’s third driver for the 2018 Season. The pick saw emotions as both Salih and Sonuc would be team-mates for the season. Both brothers are proven drivers and are quick in races, but Sonuc found some issues in the 2017 finals and in 2018, never got the results that left him sixteenth overall with fourteen points.

Sonuc is a solid driver and has proven it countless times in his races in AOR and other series, but the pick felt like it was a feel-good factor moment and the results never fully came. Whilst he is worthy of a seat in the series having raced in it for two seasons, Sonuc was ultimately released by Sauber in 2019 and is eligible to take part in this year’s Pro Draft, which he accepted. He’ll be hoping to take part in year three of the series with a new team.

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