SEASON PREVIEW: 2019 F1 New Balance Esports Pro Series

by Aaron Gillard
F1 Esports Finals - Gamers

The 2019 F1 New Balance Esports Pro Series is set to commence on the 11th September, kick-starting four live shows that will decide the new Esports champion, and which team will be bringing home a large slice of the $500,000 prize pool.

The 2019 season sees new drivers and a new team enter the competition as they all aim to take away Brendon Leigh‘s crown, who went on to retain his title in the 2018 season. The off-season saw new drivers enter the competition through the Pro Draft and familiar faces join new teams, aiming to increase their winning chances. Ahead of the season opener taking place at the GFinity Arena in London, here’s a season preview of the upcoming season.

Summery On Last Year’s F1 Esports Series

Last year saw a massive shake-up to the series, with the introduction of the Pro Draft, teams and a prize pool the teams will be fighting over throughout the season. Ten races would take place over three shows in London in front of a live audience and broadcast over several channels and streaming platforms.

Starting where he left off in 2017, Brendon Leigh for Mercedes AMG Petronas Esports was back to his winning ways, taking victory in the opening two races in Australia and China with ease. Leigh was set to make it three out of three until a thrilling last-lap battle between Leigh, team-mate Daniel Bereznay and Toro Rosso EsportsFrederik Rasmussen emerged, with the Toro Rosso pipping Leigh on the line in Baku.

At the second show, Leigh would win two more races in France and at Silverstone, but it was team-mate Bereznay who clinched his first win of the campaign and cemented his championship status against Leigh, who struggled at the last race on the second show at Spa-Francorchamps.

At the grand final, four races took place to decide the drivers’ champion and the first-ever teams’ champion. Salih Saltunc for Alfa Romeo Sauber clinched a surprising win around Germany, beating the likes of Leigh and Bereznay on Mercedes’ home track. For Singapore, Leigh was dominant and clinched victory but Bereznay finished in a high enough position to keep the title fight going into the next race, the USA. It was a straight fight between the two Mercedes cars, but it was ultimately Leigh who turned out victorious and clinched the title as a result. Bereznay rounded off the year with a win at Abu Dhabi, confirming Mercedes’ title.

Dates of Live Shows

With the increase of prize money available, the series will host four live shows at the GFinity Arena in London for four months as they’ll crown their new champion. The opening show will start on September 11th 2019 with the opening races. The grand final will take place on December 4th 2019. 12 circuits will be used, with three taking place at each live event.

  • Opening show: 11th September 2019
  • Second show: 2nd October 2019
  • Third show: 6th November 2019
  • Grand Final: 4th December 2019

Drivers & Teams Profiles

30 Drivers and 10 teams will enter this year’s Esports series, with familiar faces returning whilst new ones enter. A new team will enter as Scuderia Ferrari has joined the F1 Esports scene, using their Ferrari Drivers’ Academy to forge their Esports team ahead of the 2019 Season. This will be Ferrari’s first entry into any Esports competition in the world.

Each team will roster three drivers over the season, with two drivers taking part in the races. Teams can swap drivers race-by-race in needed and for the first time, teams can now communicate with their drivers through headsets whilst they’re racing.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Esports

Reigning champions Mercedes will be aiming to keep both drivers’ and teams’ championship on for a second consecutive season. The Brackley based team holds onto two-time F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh, who will be gunning to make it three years in a row he brings home the championship.

Joining him will be Australian rookie Daniel Shields, who was the last pick in the 2019 F1 Esports Pro Draft. Shields performed well in his race-off prior to the Draft and will have the honour of being Leigh’s team-mate for the 2019 campaign. The pair will be linked up with Polish gamer Patryk Krutyj, who was Mercedes’ third driver for 2018 but didn’t compete in any races.

Mercedes have the talent and the tools to bring home another title in F1 Esports, although this year’s line-up is alternatively weaker compare to 2018. How quickly Shields will get up to speed and whether he’ll be fighting up at the front with Leigh will see how well Mercedes will do this year. Leigh is ultimately the favourite to bring the silverware home for Mercedes in 2019.

Ferrari Drivers’ Academy

Ferrari opted to skip the 2018 Esports season so they can observe behind the scenes for a future entry. 2019 would be the year they step into the Esports competition, with the F1 Esports Series being their first entry. The Ferrari Drivers’ Academy, home of its junior drivers, will run the team with their base back in Maranello.

The team will field an all-Italian line-up consist of the first overall pick David Tonizza, Italian YouTuber Amos Laurito and Gianfranco Giglioli. All three will be representing the ‘Prancing Horse’ in their debut season as the eyes of the world will follow Ferrari’s first step into virtual racing.

There will be a lot of pressure on Ferrari to perform in front of the Esports stage and in front of millions watching at home. Their Esports team has the opportunity to succeed within F1 outside of the main competition they’ve competed in for nearly 70 years. This is the chance they can bring home their first F1 title since the 2008 season, where they won the constructors’ championship.

Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Esports

Alfa Romeo Racing have a talented roster ahead of the 2019 Season with strong recruitment from Veloce Esports. Daniel Bereznay swaps Mercedes for Alfa Romeo, reuniting with his Veloce Esports partners and is aiming to go one better than last year. The Hungarian will be joined by Salih Saltunc, who remains at the team after a strong second season finishing fourth overall last year and capturing one win at Germany.

The two will be joined by their 2019 Pro Draft pick Kimmy Larsson, who raced in last year’s Esports series with Renault. The Swedish gamer was dropped but applied for eligibility for the Pro Draft, and has been granted a second chance with Alfa Romeo. The team will have eROC 2019 champion and Le Mans Esports champion James Baldwin on stand-by as their test driver.

Alfa Romeo were kings of the off-season, hiring a star-studded roster that can bring the fight to Mercedes. But the question now is, can they turn the hype into results? Bereznay can challenge Leigh for wins but will have to step up in order to beat him in the points standings. Saltunc and Larsson will be hoping to make gains too, aiming to help fight for the teams’ title this year.

Red Bull Racing Esports

Red Bull have invested heavily into their Esports team, improving their pool of drivers and entering a wide range of competitions to enter. This year they’ll be hoping to make the jump towards the front with their recent recruitment into their main F1 Esports team.

Frederik Rasmussen raced with Toro Rosso Esports last year and impressed with a third overall finish. The Dane has been granted a promotion into its main team and will be hoping to chase down the Mercedes once again. Finnish gamer Joni Tormala remains at the team for a second season, having collected podium finishes for the team last year.

Their draft pick in Nicolas Longuet will be a rookie well worth watching, having burst onto the Esports scene in less than a year. The Frenchman will be hoping to compete in the series and cement himself as a F1 Esports regular.

The team has made improvements with their roster with the promotion of Rasmussen and the hire of Longuet. They’ll hope that will transfer onto the virtual track and grab their first win in the competition. The main talking point will be the rivalry between Leigh and Rasmussen, who on several occasions last year had intense encounters on and off track.

SportPesa Racing Point F1 Esports

HYPE Energy eForce India have changed into SportPesa Racing Point F1 Esports, with the team still based at Silverstone and the pink remaining on their cars for 2019. The team showed a glimpse of speed and consistency throughout the season, but couldn’t execute the results with all drivers. Alongside the name change, the team have recruited new drivers for the season in a bid to make leaps in the championship.

Germany’s Marcel Kiefer ended the year with a fifth place in the drivers’ championship and was the leading figure in the team throughout, competing in all ten races in 2018. He remains with the team as he’ll welcome new team-mates Daniele Haddid and Lucas Blakely. Haddid joins the team in free agency, having raced in leagues prior to his signing with team. Blakely was picked by the team in the Pro Draft, having attempted to join the series for two years. The Scotsman is successful this time around, having impressed in the race-off.

Racing Point has made improvements in the off-season and hopes to continue this trend with the results in 2019. Kiefer, Haddid and Blakely have the talent and hope to display it this year. Racing Point could be a dark horse for this year’s competition.

Toro Rosso Esports

Toro Rosso was one of the surprises of the 2018 season with the talents of Frederik Rasmussen and improvements of pace from Patrik Holzmann and Cem Bolukbasi. The team finished second overall in the teams’ standings and going into 2019, aim to make one step up. Finish first in the standings.

The team have opted to keep both Holzmann and Bolukbasi on for a second season, having performed well in their first year together. Filling up the third driver spot will be Italian Manuel Biancolilla, who was selected in the 2019 Pro Draft by the team.

Toro Rosso will be hoping to challenge Mercedes once again for the 2019 season as they seek their first championship. With the first win ticked, Holzmann, Bolukbasi and Biancolilla will hope to continue the momentum for the team. With the improvement of line-ups for its main competitors, compare to Toro Rosso’s, the team could have a challenging year ahead.

McLaren Shadow

McLaren‘s debut season in F1 Esports proved to be challenging at the beginning but quickly changed as the year ended with a strong finish by Enzo Bonito and Bono Huis. The two would represent the team throughout the season and will do so again heading into season three. Joining them this year, however, will be former Alfa Romeo driver Allert Van Der Wal.

Val Der Wal raced partially for the 2018 season, having to contend with personal commitments throughout the season. But he’ll aim to fully commit to the Esports programme for 2019 with McLaren Shadow, who selected him the Pro Draft ahead of the upcoming season.

The talents of both Huis and Bonito are worthy of race winners for the 2019 season, and the team will hope to have a smoother start to the season compare to last year. Van Der Wal will have to grasp every opportunity he can get and showcase why he was worthy of a second chance in the series.

Williams Esports

Williams Esports last year showed potential but couldn’t execute on a regular basis throughout. First overall pick in 2018 Tino Naukkarinen proved to be a worthy selection whilst Alvaro Carreton showed glimpses of speed.

The duo remained on board for the 2019 season, with another Williams Esports driver joining the team to improve their roster. Isaac Price missed out on the Pro Draft last year, but was signed by Williams during the 2018 season. In the Pro Draft this year, Williams selected their driver for the season, joining Carreton and Naukkarinen.

The roster of Price, Naukkarinen and Carreton should push Williams up to new heights, potentially making them race winners. The issue will be who will race with who. The trio are talented and are quick, but only two can be fielded and if successful, will remain that way in a bid to fight for the drivers title. We’ll see what happens at Williams.

Haas F1 Esports

The 2018 F1 Esports Series was a season face with challenges for the Haas F1 Esports, ending the year eighth-best with their two drivers Martin Stefanko and Michal Smidl. The two Czech drivers who commonly raced against each other in VirtualGP represented the team last year. For 2019, Stefanko remains as Smidl leaves the team.

Joining the American squad is Floris Wijers, a Dutchman who tried to enter the series in 2018 with the Pro Draft, but left empty-handed. This year, however, he was picked to represent Haas, partnering alongside Stefanko. German gamer Jan Fehler was later signed on to act as their third driver.

The American team will hope to improve from their 2018 results, hoping to be consistent throughout the series and score regular points. Unlike last year, Haas has a deep roster they can change and play around with for each race to adjust their chances for points. Expect the team to improve from last year.

Renault Sport Team Vitality

Renault Sport Team Vitality last year finished last overall in the teams’ standings, leaving the 2018 series with no prize money. This year with a new line-up they hope they can bring home some prize money, and some success on the way.

To do this, the team will field a new line-up for the 2019 season. The team hired Cedric Thome and Jarno Opmeer before the Pro Draft, becoming the first team to confirm their pre-draft roster. In the draft, they picked German Simon Weigang to join the pair for the series. Weigang was a surprise in the race-off prior to being picked, impressing the team.

The team will aim to not finish last again and hope to make steps up against its competition. An all-rookie line-up might be risky as inexperience could go against them. But the speed of Weigang and Thome could bring a few surprises, whilst ex-racing driver Opmeer could bring a sense of leadership to the team that can be vital to turn the direction and put Renault up the front.

Where You Can Watch The F1 Esports Series?

The F1 Esports Series can be watched on streaming platforms such as Facebook and Twitch on the official F1 page and Formula 1 Game. TV Channels in certain countries will broadcast the live show. In the UK & Ireland, Sky Sports F1 will broadcast the show at 7PM UK Time on the day of the shows.

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