How to improve the F1 Esports Pro Championship

F1 2021

Another F1 Esports Pro Championship season has come to a close and Jarno Opmeer is a two-time champion. Let’s talk about how it can be improved for the future.

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F1 Esports has been going on since 2017. In that first season, it was relatively small scale and had what was, in essence, a World Final with all the players at the Yas Marina Circuit competing alongside the real F1 drivers. From the next season onwards, it turned to a full scale championship with the F1 teams themselves becoming involved, and has kept us entertained and shown some incredible racing. However, it’s not without its shortcomings.

There are many things that plenty of viewers and competitors alike would agree upon when it comes to making the series bigger and better, and that’s what we are here to talk about. Here’s how to make the F1 Esports Series Pro Championship the best that it can possibly be!

Longer season and races

Let’s get this one out of the way immediately. The Virtual Grand Prix races run a 50% race distance, as do community racing leagues like PSGL and WOR, so why does the officially sanctioned F1 Esports series not do this? In the first three seasons, they ran 25% distance races (with the exception of the 2018 finale) and from 2020 onwards, they upped it to 35% distance of a typical F1 Grand Prix.

The reason why 50% distance races are so heavily favoured amongst the gaming community is because they actually allow the strategy of the drivers to influence the outcome to a noticeable degree. 25% races have pretty much no strategy involved since they don’t give enough time for tyre wear to become a proper factor, 35% races are slightly better but still not enough. 50% races are the way to go. But then the question becomes, how many races?

When we spoke to Marcel Kiefer before event two, he remarked about how the teams and drivers could never fully prepare properly for three races per event in the span of anything between two and four weeks.

Esports racing should certainly test drivers in ways its real world equivalent can’t, and one way to do that is to have races on more than one track in quick succession. Since you can simply change tracks at the press of a button, esports championships can test a driver’s mental strength and versatility. However, with the way the events are all compacted together in the span of a few weeks, it would be for the best to instead go from having three races per event to just two.

Speaking of the format, this also speaks to the structure of the season schedule as the earliest an F1 Esports season has started is September. The hype for the season builds for the first eight months, then it’s over with way too quickly. We can never really enjoy it for long enough.

League racing communities tend to have a similar number of races in the same sort of timeframe – albeit they have one race per event – but they also run typically about three seasons in a calendar year between each new release of the F1 game, allowing for much better audience retention. We aren’t about to suggest having three F1 Esports seasons in the space of a year, it should remain as just one for the sake of prestige. But how do you run a season when the game is released in the middle of the year? There are two options when it comes to schedule structures to tackle this.

One of these alternate schedule concepts is that they could do what the F1 Esports China Championship does and run two legs of the season either side of a mid-season break. Though instead of the first run of races taking place on the previous year’s game (since teams probably don’t want to run their previous year’s livery for the first half of the season), have the season begin in September/October and run until November, then take a break throughout December and resume again in January. Under this system, the season would end in around February or March.

This could be great to have some kind of consistent racing action during the F1 off season. But, as with the China Championship, teams could have rebranded or donned a new livery for the new calendar year. These teams might not want their previous season’s car representing them in the Pro Championship. So perhaps the more likely solution for a new schedule structure would be to run the first round just before the game launches in July then take breaks of two to four weeks between each round until the finale in December.

You can even run the first and last events on-site, with the first round taking place on-site at Silverstone during the Grand Prix weekend. Then the last round could be at the Gfinity Arena in London with the last race being double points, so it keeps things interesting and has people there to see the champion crowned. This would be better than simply running all events at the Gfinity Arena.

Event and Broadcast Format

Whether going from July to December or from the latter half of one year into the beginning half of the next, it’s not just the schedule but the format of the events themselves would receive a much needed overhaul. Starting off with.. qualifying.

Before 2020, the broadcast didn’t show the qualifying which they did rectify after fans called for it. As well as having a dedicated show for qualifying, it was switched from a short qualifying with just the single 18-minute session, to full Q1-Q2-Q3 knockout style qualifying.

The full qualifying honestly adds nothing and just isn’t that exciting. Instead the event format should be an 18-minute short qualifying followed shortly by a 50% distance race, then a small interlude before repeating the process. Also, another improvement would be to actually broadcast all of the races live. Marcel Kiefer let slip the worst kept secret in F1 Esports after a qualifying session back in 2020 that the races are not always broadcasted live.

Knowing the races have already run gives viewers a major feeling of disconnect. What’s more, the organisers always try to play it off like it’s live. For instance, they get the drivers to post their “in the moment” reactions by scheduling a tweet to be posted immediately after the viewers have seen it. Again, the Virtual Grand Prix races, league races and even F1 Esports Challengers run their races live, there is no excuse for the F1 Esports Pro Championship to not be showing their races live.

Anyway, let’s get back on topic. With qualifying being part of the main broadcast, that would mean the dedicated qualifying show is scrapped. To make up for it, what they could have instead is a post-race show exclusive to online viewers on Twitch, YouTube and Facebook where they analyse the event, interview drivers, going more in-depth.

Right now, they don’t do a great job with that on the broadcast because the presenters are left to fill for much of the show. However, once the races are done, they don’t have time to analyse it properly because the broadcast has to end. They even spend the majority of the Thursday pre-race broadcast analysing the two races from Wednesday, when all people want to do is watch that Thursday race!

Speaking of the people talking on the broadcast, this brings us onto our next point.

A new perspective

As you could see in that video, Kiefer was talking to the broadcast team. This includes WTF1 presenter and F1 Esports commentator Matt Gallagher, BTCC driver Nic Hamilton and Channel 4 F1 commentator Alex Jacques. They’re just three of many people who are on the broadcast, which also includes Sky F1 presenter Natalie Pinkham, content creator Steph Wentworth and last but not least, our friend Tom Deacon who does a great job as host.

However there was always a missing element on that team, and that was the insight of an esports driver. Just like how you’ll find many former F1 drivers serving as pundits and analysts across all the Grand Prix broadcasts, the F1 Esports broadcast team need someone who is a former esports driver. Whilst Matt Gallagher does a great job providing some level of insight into the game, there’s only so much he can provide from an F1 gamer’s perspective.

This is why the inclusion of former F1 Esports driver James Baldwin on a couple of the broadcasts this year has been so appreciated. Baldwin raced in the series for McLaren Shadow last year, and by his own admission probably wasn’t best suited to the F1 game but has been consistently one of the top drivers across a multitude of sims. When he’s been on the F1 Esports broadcast, he has done a wonderful job giving us this insight that a professional esports racer has.

Now we are not saying to have Baldwin on the broadcast team full time, we would much prefer him racing so hopefully he gets back to British GT after the stellar year he’s had on the sidelines winning many virtual championships. Instead, we would draft in another former F1 Esports driver who called time on his competitive career a few years ago: Harrison Jacks.

Jacks alongside Dani Bereznay and Brendon Leigh
Jacks (right) was part of Mercedes’ F1 Esports team in 2018 alongside Dani Bereznay (left) and Brendon Leigh (middle). Image credit:

You may know Jacks from his videos on YouTube under the name Noble 2909. He competed in the final of the first F1 Esports Series, he then joined Mercedes’ esports team for the following year when they roared to championship success with Daniel Bereznay and Brendon Leigh.. Not long after that, he retired and became part of the commentary team for the Le Mans Esports Series.

After the demise of the Le Mans Esports Series, it would be very fitting to have Harry on the team full time to serve as an analyst. It would be very refreshing to see someone who knew a lot about the esports side on the team full time, plus seeing Harry reuniting with Gallagher would be very nostalgic for the F1 YouTuber Championship viewers. This being a series that Jacks and Gallagher did on the F1 game with Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly and Aarav Amin.

Driver roster mandating

If you recall back to the 2019 season finale, Frede Rasmussen had just taken over the lead of the championship after winning the previous two races. He had prepared for the event with the intention of driving only those two circuits and only cared for the team’s championship which was where the money lay. He was due to sit out the last race until he was told he would be racing in the finale, and that Red Bull’s team principal had specifically requested that he go for the driver’s title.

Due to having only prepared for the first two tracks, it was no surprise to anyone when he didn’t end up getting a good result and the title went the way of FDA Esports Team driver David Tonizza.. The three driver roster rule has always been an issue, as not only has it influenced a couple of championship battles over the years, but it also results in some drivers not getting a chance in the series.

Too many times have drivers been picked up by teams, only to get benched for the whole season. Infact for the last two seasons, the top two teams in the final standings never ran their third driver.

What should happen is that all teams must use all of their three drivers. They would select one to do the full season and the other two must do at least one third of the races. Teams can run their two main drivers for the first two thirds of the season and then decide who out of the two of them remains until the end of the season and run their third roster member alongside them. Alternatively, they can methodically decide who will take the role of the full-season driver and split the duties of the other two drivers prior to the start of the season, so they can prioritise practicing whichever tracks they’ll be racing on.

The latter is what McLaren Shadow did this year, as they managed to run all three of their drivers to good effect. Bari Boroumand was their defacto full season driver, and his teammates Dani Bereznay and Josh Idowu split their duties, with the more experienced Bereznay understandably getting more races than the rookie Idowu. In stark contrast to McLaren, Red Bull have only run Rasmussen and Kiefer this year while their third driver, Liam Parnell, hasn’t raced.

If this rule of driver mandating had been in effect for this year, teams like Red Bull who ran their lead two drivers for the first two thirds of the season would have to, after this point, select one of their drivers to make way for Parnell. After the eighth of 12 races in 2021, Rasmussen was on 114 points and Kiefer had 65, so with Rasmussen clearly in the fight for the title, Parnell would take Kiefer’s seat for the remaining four races.

This system would show that there’s hope for drivers who want to make the efforts to qualify for selection by the teams. Lucas Blakeley is a prime example of a driver who came into a team with his two teammates being seen as safer bets for races, but his team gave him a chance in the latter half of his debut season. He got his chance to impress and two years later, he was fighting for the championship.

How can a driver actually prove themselves if they never get a chance to compete?

All these little amendments would do a world of wonder for F1 Esports, which should not be considered lesser than the Virtual Grand Prix races or community leagues. It’s the one that is officially sanctioned by F1, it’s the esports version of the premier motorsport racing series, it should have even a fraction of the prestige and significance of its real world counterpart.

What ideas do you have to help improve F1 Esports? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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