The 2019 F1 New Balance Esports Pro Series commenced with the Pro Draft in London, with all ten official Formula 1 teams making their selections for the upcoming campaign.
This year’s Pro Draft saw the introduction of heat races for the 36 games who qualified through the F1 2018 Qualification events. The heats saw 24 gamers go through into the final pool that would be picked into the live show.
Six drivers who competed in the 2018 Season, but was released were eligible to re-enter the draft for 2019 and joined the successful drivers who made it into the final pool.
The Pro Draft proved to be intense and exciting as ten gamers would have their lives changed before their eyes as they join an official F1 team as their Esports driver.
Scuderia Ferrari had the honour of holding the first overall pick being a new entry into the series, and they forged their roster with Italian David Tonizza becoming the first Ferrari Esports driver in the Ferrari Drivers’ Academy.
Tonizza produced quality speed in his heat race and attracted attention to Ferrari to draft him. Alongside Ferrari in the decision phase was FIA Formula 3 driver Robert Shwartzman, who handed Tonizza a Ferrari steering wheel and an Ferrari Esports jersey.
Renault Sport Team Vitality entered the draft with a new roster, having released all three draft picks from 2018. With the second overall pick, the Enstone based team selected German Simon Weigang, who ended his heat race low down the board, but enough to get the call from Renault. ART Grand Prix F3 Driver Max Fewtrell was also one of the selecting panel representing Renault.
Haas F1 Esports went with heat 3 race winner Floris Wijers. Wijers twelve months ago saw misery when he entered the draft but left with no seat. A year later, the Dutchman managed to earn a shot with Haas by winning his heat race, partnering alongside last year’s draft pick Martin Stefanko.
With the fourth pick, Williams Esports went with one of their drivers outside of the series, Isaac Price. The Brit initially joined Williams after last year’s Pro Draft, but wasn’t in time to warrant a race seat. Price has raced with the Williams colours ever since and was selected by the team to represent them for the 2019 Season.
Red Bull Racing Esports already had a talented line-up with Joni Tormala and third-place overall Frederik Rasmussen. They bolstered their squad with Frenchman Nicolas Longuet, who joined the series for the first after twelve months ago he never raced in an Esports Series. Longuet won his heat race and join the Red Bull team for 2019.
Lucas Blakeley was highly rated in the Pro Draft final pool, but as each pick went by, it was questioned on who will take him on board. But with the sixth pick, SportPesa Racing Point F1 Esports selected him, which Blakeley sent out an emotional cheer when his name was called up.
The first driver out of the 2018 Draft class was called up in McLaren Shadow’s pick. Allert Van Der Wal will re-enter the series with the Woking based team, having initially hosted talks with him last year. The Dutchman raced with Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Esports last year, but was released after the 2018 Season.
Another 2018 driver was called up with Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Esports selecting Sweden’s Kimmy Larsson. Larsson was shocked when his named was called to join an already star-studded line-up for 2019. Having previously raced with Renault, Larsson will hope a second chance will bring him success with the Italian team.
As the Draft night drew to a close, Toro Rosso Esports announced their third driver joining the team with Manuel Biancolilla. The Italian will join Patrik Holzmann and Cem Bolukbasi to help the team take the fight to Mercedes AMG Petronas Esports in the teams’ championship.
With the last pick of the night, Mercedes chose Australian Daniel Shields to join forces alongside two-time F1 Esports Champion Brendon Leigh. James Vowles gave the last call in the Pro Draft with the Australian teaming up with the champions. Leigh and Shields will hope to keep Mercedes’ crown for a second year running.
With all ten teams selected, 20 gamers left the show with no seat and their quest for a place in the series starts again in 2020. For the ten, the hard work begins now with the first live show taking place on the 11th September at the GFinity Arena in London.