Enzo Bonito: Life after F1 Esports
F1 2021

Enzo Bonito: Life after F1 Esports

Enzo Bonito is one of the more notable drivers who is not on the grid this current F1 Esports season. We spoke to him about his racing efforts which included defeating both a Formula E and Indy 500 champion.

Photo credit: Team Redline

There are few people who can match the list of achievements of Enzo Bonito. The Italian sim racer claimed an astonishing victory at the 2018 eRace of Champions, the esports equivalent to the Race of Champions. By beating notable esports racers such as 2017 eWTCC champion Alexander Dornieden, triple Project CARS world champion Kevin Leaune and most prominently, reigning F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh, Bonito caused an upset and in doing so, was able to participate in the real thing alongside some of the best in motorsport.

Bonito’s victory in the eRace of Champions catapulted him to stardom. Both he and fellow sim racer Bono Huis – who had won another high profile sim racing event, the Vegas eRace alongside Formula E drivers – had somewhat become the faces of professional sim racing in the mainstream.

A remarkable journey

It only got more amazing as a year later, he returned to the Race of Champions alongside his eROC successor James Baldwin in the ‘Sim Racing All Star’ team. Bonito competed against Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and a former IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner in Ryan Hunter-Reay, and ended up beating both of them in their respective heat races.

Bonito’s journey in F1 Esports began in 2018 when he got signed to McLaren Shadow, and he raced for them for two seasons. In 2020 though, he switched to FDA Esports Team – the official esports division of Ferrari – competing alongside reigning champion David Tonizza.

Achievments outside of F1

Unfortunately though, Bonito and Ferrari parted ways after the 2020 season concluded and he never went to another F1 Esports team. Outside of F1 Esports, the Italian has been competing across many championships including the V10 R-League and the Le Mans Virtual Series for Team Redline. He’s even just come off the back of winning in the GTE class at the LMVS 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps, and dominated the Bathurst 12 hours iRacing Special Event with F1 championship leader Max Verstappen in early 2021, leading every lap and lapping the entire field. So F1 Esports is not the be-all and end-all by any means.

Whilst that series typically features F1 game specialists, Bonito has proven to be exceptional across pretty much all the major sims and whilst not on the level of an Opmeer, Tonizza or Leigh on the Codemasters F1 titles, he was pretty competitive and got some strong results in his time competing.

One of the most decorated sim racers of our time, Bonito was kind enough to answer some questions we had about his career.

OverTake: Before the sim racing boom, you and Bono Huis were seen as the faces of esports racing in the mainstream due to your successes in the eRace of Champions and Vegas eRace respectively. How did that feel to be the faces of esports racing and how did that change your life?

Enzo Bonito:

It was a dream come true. I started as a little kid not knowing what I was going against, basically just doing it for fun. But I had always seen all these esports competitions such as Counter Strike and League of Legends, so I thought maybe sim racing could be like that and then all of a sudden, boom it happened.

At the time, me and Bono were at the top. I think we still are? Or we’re some of the best at least. To become a professional sim racer was a dream come true. I’m super happy, working and at the same time just enjoying it, to do what you like, it’s as simple as that.

OverTake: What have been your personal highlights to have come from esports, either virtually or in real life as a result of sim racing?

Enzo Bonito:

Definitely Race of Champions is at the top of my list because I managed to combine both worlds which I had been waiting for since a long time. Also winning Porsche Carrera Cup Esports in Italy, when I won the championship because I then got the chance in a real race for a weekend at Imola. My second time driving a real car after 2018 ROC.

There were some other achievements in iRacing that actually made me really happy, made me feel more confident but it was these two (ROC and Porsche Carrera Cup) that were most significant.

OverTake: Moving onto F1 Esports, Jarno Opmeer has stated losing both you and James Baldwin are a big loss to the series. Why are you no longer competing and how do you feel about the praise from the current driver to beat in that series?

Enzo Bonito:

So, F1 Esports is one of the championships where you compete at the top level, you have such a big prize pool and the fact that F1 themselves are involved. But I think nowadays in the last one or two years, sim racing has been growing so much that all the other competitions, we have so many where people are dedicating themselves solely to it and they’re one of the best, like nothing less than the guys from F1 Esports.

I race on iRacing and rFactor 2, these kind of simulators and I always looked at F1 Esports as a great way to compete against the best. But at the same time, the platform that you are using, it’s not as simulating and sometimes I didn’t find myself in a situation where I was enjoying it.

That’s it really, I had to leave because I wanted to go back to, well first of all Team Redline which is a team I have been working with for almost ten years now and I was missing them as a working team. Leaving F1 Esports was mainly a choice of wanting to go back to the simulators as I was mainly on before.

I appreciate Jarno’s words, it’s nice to know someone is missing me! But yes, so many talents are going through there, probably more the younger guys from like 18-20 years old are mostly playing the F1 game. Jarno is doing such a great job there and he’s really quick on the other sims as well, he deserves that championship more than anyone else. Bono is now his teammate and he says it’s great to be there alongside Jarno.

It is a shame also for James as well that he is not participating anymore, I’ve known him since we met in Mexico (for ROC), he’s a great guy as well. But yeah, it was my decision to leave F1 Esports, it was actually meant to be me, Brendon Leigh and David Tonizza doing both that and SRO GT Esports for FDA.

OverTake: With how competitive the F1 Esports scene is with a vast majority of the drivers who get in being F1 game specialists who are constantly active in the competitive F1 scene, do you believe there’s little opportunity to get back in once you’re no longer in for drivers who compete across a multitude of sims and disciplines?

Enzo Bonito:

I did actually get asked if I wanted to do it again and I said no, but for me it’s not been hard to find a team. I had already been a part of McLaren and Ferrari so they think ‘This guy has experience on this game’, but at the same time, if you get out of it and want to go back, yes I think it’s hard because there are many people that are really close together in terms of pace and even when you’re half a tenth off, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically better to have that guy who is half a tenth quicker.

This can come down to marketing, setup development, harmony within the team, all those external factors can have an impact. It’s important always to have a team that works together, especially in F1 Esports since the prize pool goes towards the team, we have seen with Red Bull for example, that Frede Rasmussen who has been finishing P2 and never won the driver’s championship but he mainly cares for the team’s championship. He didn’t even want to do the last race in 2019 (when he had just taken over the lead of the championship) because he had already won the team’s title and didn’t care for the driver’s.

The guys on there are extremely quick. Mainly the young talent coming in who are super close to world record pace in time trial. Even the ones that you don’t know the name of, but you see them on the leaderboards and they are really quick so a team may think ‘Our current guy isn’t doing so well, let’s try this one setting time trial records’, and there are many of them. So you’re always aware that you can lose your seat in a pretty quick way in F1 Esports, but at the same time we see people who are in the same team for years because some teams like to invest in their drivers.

Take Aston Martin for example! Lucas Blakeley and Daniele Haddad are actually much quicker this year compared to last season where they struggled to make the top 10. Now they’re winning races! They’re doing great because the team didn’t change them, and built around them and believed in them, so it’s important to have faith in your drivers.

OverTake: What championships are you currently committed to?

Enzo Bonito:

Pretty much every single one! There are so many these days with all these big prize pools, I’m in one of these teams where we are competing across all the platforms like rFactor 2, Assetto Corsa, or iRacing, even Gran Turismo. It’s really great to be in this position, because we can just make a team for every single championship and every single platform, and always be able to go for the win.

Right now, I’m participating and focusing on the Le Mans Virtual Series but I’ll also be doing VCO ProSIM Series (which begins 2 November). There’s also the BMW SIM GT Cup, the finals are in December which I’m not 100% sure if is going to be an on-site event. I sometimes find myself having to do two races in one day, even on different sims. My teammate Kevin Siggy is doing that, he did qualifying for the most recent LMVS race and after that was done, he jumped onto ACC to do the SRO GT Esports race.

We do have many races to do, but it’s great! We love them! It’s actually better to have almost too many races than too little. Sometimes it can be difficult to be competitive on every sim, since every one of them requires a different driving style, different cars and tracks as well. But we don’t complain. At the end of the day, it’s our job and we’ll always aim to do our best.

OverTake: Last question, bit of a fun one. How do you feel about being a selectable driver in a racing game, Assetto Corsa Competizione in the McLaren Shadow 720S GT3 alongside Bono Huis and Kevin Siggy?

Enzo Bonito:

Hahaha, it certainly boosted my Steam friend request list! Plus the messages I end up getting also on Instagram or Twitter. People actually see the car and my name, they look me up thinking ‘Is this guy a real pro? Let’s see who he is and why is he driving in this car!’. They then find videos of me in the Race of Champions and in the McLaren Shadow program.

It’s always a pleasure to respond, these guys are always so kind, making compliments, it makes me feel really proud. It’s a huge achievement for me.

You can find Enzo on Twitter and Instagram. Keep up with his and also Team Redline’s updates in the various championships they compete in. Huge thank you to Enzo for taking the time to speak with us, shows that not competing in F1 Esports isn’t the end for any esports racing drivers.

Which esports racing drivers would you like to see in F1 Esports? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

Luca
Biggest esports racing fan in the world.