The front wings were flying, penalties for irregular driving were pouring and the race leader changed several times. Like the virtual Bahrain Grand Prix, it had everything that fans of the motorsport would like, but it is difficult to say that this form of competition in any way reflects the emotions associated with real racing. The potential of the whole enterprise was not used to the maximum, and again, unfortunately, problems of a technical nature made themselves felt.
The idea of replacing canceled or postponed Formula 1 races with struggles in the game from the beginning gained my approval. Gaming, however bad this may sound, is after all the beneficiary of the current situation prevailing in the world, and the temporary replacement of real struggles with those virtual, primarily in the form of fun, is of course a natural movement, perfectly matching the slogan #stayhome.
Of course, in the case of F1 everything was wanted to be organized from a thick tube — racing followed the studio, celebrities came to fight on the track in Sakhir, and even sports TV channels got interested in the action.
Up to a point, it seemed that the whole initiative would be a hit. However, the first problems appeared when the players checked in to the server to start the 18-minute qualification. However, not everyone finally got the opportunity to unscrew the measuring wheel, because three drivers were kicked from the game out of the session. One of them was Lando Norris, a professional F1 driver, whom many treated as the main favorite of the struggle. After all, except for performances on the real track, the driver from McLaren often sat at the controls of the car in the comfort of home. The British driver, moreover, fired up a stream on Twitch, which gathered over 100,000 concurrent spectators at peak times. Fans of the 20-year-old talent, however, must have felt disappointed, because due to game problems he was only granted 19th place on the grid and in the race he was to break through from the last lane.
Well — he had, but finally it did not appear at the start, because the game showed its unpleasant side and during the formation lap it happened again.
— RaceFans (@racefansdotnet) March 22, 2020
F1 fans following the online competition demanded a session restart, but this did not happen. Anyway, we had to wait longer than planned for the GP start — the race didn’t start until around 10:00 PM, even though the red lights were supposed to go out half an hour earlier. In addition, instead of 50% of the real distance, drivers were only allowed to race through 14 laps, which is 25% of the real race.
Unfortunately, the bizarre situation was not over yet. Those who chose the broadcast even at Sky Sports only after a few laps learned that Norris was not in the session. The consternation was so great that Lando stuck in the racing classification, but it was only after some time that information arrived that his car was driven by … a bot.
It was also chaotic on the track. One of the drivers, Johnny Herbert, decided to cut the first corner through the grass, advancing from the back of the grid straight to the position of GP leader. The game punished the 55-year-old for this incident by a penalty of 10 seconds added at the end of the race. Of course, it goes without saying that the British quickly lost his position, but his maneuver will definitely go into the F1 esports history.
Behind him were miracles: most of the drivers went to the side of the Bahrain track, and lost parts of the vehicle forced them to visit their mechanics at the pit. The situation changed as in a kaleidoscope, and the ubiquitous chaos unfortunately did not intensify emotions, on the contrary — it made it difficult to understand all events, which hindered the reception of virtual GP.
Enough to complain, because not everything was so bad. It must be said that the initiative itself was quite well thought out. Online races are to take place every weekend, which was originally scheduled for one of the rounds of this year’s World Cup. Given yesterday’s announcement about the postponement of the Azerbaijan GP, the inauguration of the 2020 season will not take place before June 14. So far, fans have to settle for racing in the game, and this is of course a great opportunity to promote the production of Codemasters and convince esports to those who still do not accept the competition online. The world of electronic sports can only benefit from it.
Interest in this form of competition is confirmed by the number of viewers of the broadcast on the Internet. The stream from the competition on three platforms was watched by as many as 395,000 viewers during its peak. To this, of course, add the fans gathered on the streamer channels, who presented the race from their perspective. Sky Sports did not provide the data yet, but I am convinced that the popular TV channel added at the very least tens of thousands of viewers to the overall result.
For a fun race, these are definitely impressive numbers. Perhaps a large part of the viewers came into contact with the production of Codemasters for the first time in their lives. Perhaps some percent of them will fire Steam and buy the game. Perhaps, thanks to the actions of the F1 leadership, the esports series will be more popular.
But for the idea of playing virtual races to have far-reaching effects, organizers must make a number of changes. Of course, the whole project has the form of fun but can not take it at the expense of competition. In addition to funny situations, we also want to watch the fight round in and round out from the first to the last lap.
It would be nice if the willingness to participate in this venture proved to be a greater representation of professional drivers, not just individuals. Celebrities like Liam Payne probably increase the media value of such an event, but I am convinced that every F1 fan would prefer to see Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel or Max Verstappen in action.
It’s time for an optimistic ending — Formula 1 officials now have two weeks to refine their project. The next racing Sunday I would like to see that someone actually took the community’s attention to heart and polished the imperfections of this event. There is still a big niche to be developed, but the idea is certainly on the right track.