Australian GP postponed: Another chance for esports racing?

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Jacob Hancox

Jacob Hancox

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The Australian Grand Prix will be at least postponed if not cancelled. Can esports racing show the world its full potential this year?
Photo credit: Jacob Hancox / Codemasters

It is often said that even the darkest clouds have their own silver linings. For fans of Formula 1, as for more or less everybody else in the world, 2020 featured a very dark cloud indeed in the form of COVID-19. For F1 specifically, this meant the cancellation of the majority of the scheduled events on the calendar and a season starting in July, rather than March as originally intended.

Such a major delay to the resumption of Formula 1 action may seem trivial on the face of COVID-19, but many people around the world rely on sports and other entertainment to help them with their daily lives. To fill the void left by the cancellation of the various Grands Prix, several esports and sim racing events arose. This was one of the silver linings of Formula 1’s cloud, as the events were generally successful and also provided a significant boost in public interest in the world of simracing.

Now, with the news that the 2021 Australian Grand Prix is likely to be at least postponed as well, there’s a possibility that a virtual event may leap up to take its place. If more events were to follow the example of the Australian race, there may well even be events on a similar scale to the spring of 2020. If this does indeed come to pass, though, there are a few improvements that ought to be made.



Serious or Casual?



First and foremost, it is critical that those organizing sim racing events for real-world racers to take part in make it clear to everybody participating whether the event should be taken seriously or not. Many of the sim racing events such as the Virtual Grand Prix races attempted to present a professional product, with commentary from the likes of Alex Jacques and Jack Nicholls. Their efforts were often in vain though, as it was very apparent that some of the participants weren’t taking it as seriously as others.

A prime example here is the Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix, which saw several major crashes on the opening lap and Johnny Herbert cutting the whole of the first three corners to take the lead of the race. While in isolation this made for entertaining viewing, those expecting a serious race will have been left frustrated, whether they were fans or participants. Furthermore, events such as these did not do much for the standing of esports racing as a concept, as many who were new to the form of competition will have been under the impression that it’s all a bit of a joke.



That is not to say that casual races filled with antics shouldn’t be allowed. Rather, there should be some events which allow for drivers and viewers who just want to have a bit of laugh to do so without compromising an otherwise serious racing spectacle.

A full(er) grid



One disappointing aspect of the Virtual GP series compared to direct equivalents from other motorsports was the attendance record of Formula 1 drivers. In 2020 it was commonplace to see somewhere between one quarter and one half of the Virtual Grand Prix grid to be comprised of current Formula 1 drivers.

Some of the younger drivers such as George Russell and Alexander Albon were mainstays of the series, but many of their older colleagues participated in only a couple of events, if that. While it was certainly interesting to see the likes of Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois racing against Lando Norris, a full grid of Formula 1 drivers should certainly be the goal.



It would be a shame to lose the participation of famous names from other areas of sport or even outside of sport altogether, though. Therefore, it would make sense for any potential Virtual Grand Prix series to run a series of 'show' races alongside them. Think of them like the support races at any real-life Formula 1 event. They could even be five lap sprint races to make them more accessible to less experienced celebrities who wanted to take part. A variety of both serious and casual events such as this would surely be a success.

Standings and a charity prize



Another way to bolster the prestige associated with the Virtual Grands Prix would be to officially keep record of the drivers’ standings, with prizes in the form of donations to a driver’s chosen charity on the line. Not only would this give the drivers more reason to try their best and to take the events seriously, it would also allow for money to be raised for a whole host of good causes.

Knowing that there are real, tangible stakes accompanying the racing action would also help to ensure that the series is interesting for viewers as well. Any time a competition features a prize pool of any kind, it tends to become more interesting, and this is no different in the case of simracing. There is a reason that most sim racing events like to shout their prize pools from the rooftops, proverbially speaking.

In any case, this could be another opportunity to show that esports racing should be taken seriously. If the organizers of any virtual replacement races manage to create a thrilling racing experience, this could have a huge impact on the scene. After all, sim racing is closer to actual sports than any other esports and deserves more attention.

What do you think about the opportunities for esports racing in 2021? Tell us on Twitter at @overtake_gg!
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