One of the highlights of the worst of 2020’s lockdown period was the Virtual Grand Prix series. These virtual races held within the official F1 game had an eclectic cast of Formula 1 drivers both past and present, drivers from other categories, pro gamers and celebrity guests.
These events were watched by over 30 million people across the world, making it a massive ratings success! It also gave us some brilliant and memorable moments.
Who could forget Johnny Herbert’s corner-cutting at turn 1 of Bahrain that moved him from 16th place to 1st, before getting hit with a 5-second penalty? What about George Russell’s Hamilton-esque domination of the virtual Monaco Grand Prix? Maybe you remember Charles Leclerc’s fantastic battles with George Russell, Christian Lundgaard and Esteban Gutierrez or Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibault Courtois surprising everyone with sim racing skills we never knew he had before? Now it’s been confirmed that the Virtual Grands Prix will return in 2021 in a new format that’ll allow it to become F1 esports’ flagship event.
The first Virtual Grand Prix of 2021 will take place on Sunday 31 January. It’ll be the first of three events held over consecutive weekends, with the final race taking place on Valentine’s Day (14 February 2021).
The series will feature a mix of famous drivers from past and present, pro gamers and celebrities as it did before, but in a brand new format. Each event will be made up of two races; a 5-lap Sprint Race and a Feature Race ran at 50% of the real-life race distance.
The Sprint Race will be contested exclusively by the pro gamers, whilst the Feature Race will be made up of the ‘famous faces’ from real-life racing. The results of the Sprint Race will decide the grid positions for the Feature Race. All ten teams on the Formula 1 grid will be involved, each of them battling it out for a charity prize fund.
The drivers taking part in the series are yet to be confirmed, but we should expect a whole slew of well-known current and former F1 drivers taking part as well as top-level eSports racers such as Jarno Opmeer and Cem Bolukbasi. It also wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect the return of popular sim racing-focused YouTubers and Twitch streamers such as Jimmy Broadbent, Steve Alvarez-Brown (SuperGT) and Ben Daly (Tiametmarduk). Whoever’s involved, it looks certain to be a really great season of wheel-to-wheel competition if last year is anything to go by!
The 2021 Virtual Grand Prix series will be the definite flagship of F1 Esports events this year, but it’ll be far from the only one. The grand final of the F1 Esports Series China Championship will be taking place in Shanghai next week and Matteo Pagliani was confirmed as the inaugural F1 Mobile Racing Esports Champion earlier this month. The F1 Esports Challenger Series will be continuing on PC, PS4 and Xbox platforms until April and the F1 Esports Series Pro Championship will return in the autumn. All in all, it looks like a pretty stacked year for F1 Esports!
“It is fantastic to see the F1 Esports Series 2020 break viewing and engagement records after a brilliant championship where we saw competitive racing and high drama at every event,” stated Julian Tan, Head of Digital Business Initiatives & Esports at Formula 1, about the successes of 2020 and the upcoming events in 2021.
“2020 was a tough year for everyone, but we look forward to bringing fans more excitement in 2021, starting with the return of the Virtual Grands Prix as we welcome back some of the faces that made it such a special experience last year, and invite some new ones too, all in the name of charity. Watch this space!“