F1’s Virtual Grand Prix sees the Chequered Flag
George Edwards takes a look at the final round of Formula 1’s Virtual Grand Prix series and why it has become so popular over the last 12 months.
The Formula 1 Esports 2021 Virtual Grand Prix ended last Sunday, with the final race taking place on the F1 2020 Video Game at Interlagos, Brazil, a 15-corner track with several elevation changes, often making it difficult to see where the next turn is or whether a car has stopped or gone off the circuit at the crest of a hill.
The feature race began with Arnaud Tsamere, the French comedian, lining up on pole, with the Ferrari drivers, Arthur Leclerc, and Dino Beganovic (both F3 drivers) in P2 and P3, respectively. Alex Albon (F1 reserve driver) lined up fifth and round two’s race winner, F1 driver George Russell lined up P14. Before the drivers had even reached turn three, there was a tremendous pile-up involving most of the front of the grid. Russell shot into P3 and Arthur Leclerc was knocked down the grid. Not long after, Russell had fought his way into the lead, where he controlled the remainder of the race, crossing the line for the top step of the podium, with a P2 for Enzo Fittipaldi and, despite a three-second time penalty, P3 for Alex Albon.
After the end of Round three, Haas F1 took the championship title, having amassed 85 points and $20,000 for the Grand Prix Trust charity. Ferrari, with 62 points, claimed second place, with Williams third on 57 points. The remainder of the $100,000 prize pool was distributed to the supported charities of the remaining teams (in order of final position): Ferrari (Save The Children), Williams (Spinal Injury Association), Red Bull (Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research), Mercedes (Alzheimer’s Research UK), Alpine (The Talent Tap), AlphaTauri (See Red Bull), McLaren (Mind) and Alfa Romeo (see Ferrari).
But why has the Virtual Grand Prix been such a popular event? Esports events have been increasingly popular over the last few years and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019/2020 F1 Esports series recorded a 76 per cent increase in viewership to 5.8 million viewers from around the globe compared to the 2018/2019 events. This number further increased to 30 million viewers during the F1 Esports 2020 Virtual Grand Prix. Though the official numbers have not yet been released for the 2021 VGP, F1 have noted that viewership has once again increased greatly.
There are several possible explanations for this. Due to the lack of live sport events during the 2020 pandemic, Esports events, such as the F1 Esports championship or the EA FIFA Esports events, offered an alternative for fans to get their sports fix. The return of F1 last year was a milestone for sports during the pandemic and slowly, more sports were able to work their way back to holding live events, albeit without live audiences in attendance. Yet, the figures suggest that even though live sports are back, the support and popularity of Esports events has not diminished, often helped by the introduction of participants from a wide range of other backgrounds, not just that specific sport. The F1 2021 VGP brought more interest from the public by turning itself into a charitable event.
The Virtual Grand Prix has proved to be popular with fans and deserves to be. Although it doesn’t provide the excitement of real-life crashes or last-ditch overtakes, which is often the appeal of F1 for some fans, it has still captured the attention of the F1 community. Despite the fact that fans are aware that it is happening in the virtual world, the VGP still brings the enjoyment of watching an F1 race, especially while the world is stuck in a pandemic, with the F1 community waiting for the 2021 season to get underway.