After a controversial final Grand Prix that decided the F1 driver’s champion last weekend, we look ahead to what will likely be a dramatic conclusion to the F1 Esports Pro Championship.
Image credit: Mercedes / Aston Martin / Red Bull / F1 2021
It all comes down to this. Three races to go and, realistically, three drivers in contention to win the F1 Esports driver’s championship. Mathematically, all drivers down to sixth can become the champion. With a maximum of 78 points available, Marcel Kiefer and Dani Moreno of Red Bull Racing Esports and Mercedes AMG Petronas Esports Team are both in contention as is McLaren Shadow driver Bari Boroumand.
Realistically speaking though, it’s between three drivers. Reigning champion Jarno Opmeer leads on 140 points for Mercedes, five points ahead of Lucas Blakeley of Aston Martin Cognizant Esports Team and only three points behind him is Red Bull’s Frede Rasmussen.
So heading into the last event of the season, who is going to be the champion?
A stern defense
In the black and silver corner, it’s Jarno Opmeer. The 2020 series champion had a rapid rise in the Pro Championship, joining Renault Vitality after his real world racing efforts with the Renault Sport Academy were cut short. He had been in the F4 Northern European Zone championship in 2016, finishing runner-up to now-F2 race winner Richard Verschoor.
He finished fourth in his maiden season in 2019 after taking one win, and for the following year he jumped over to the Veloce Esports camp and competed for Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen Esports.. He went on to take four wins on his way to winning the championship, and has solidified himself as the in-form driver in the F1 esports scene, winning several smaller-scale league racing championships in that time as well.
When the Mercedes team entered into a partnership with Veloce, they snapped up Opmeer to replace FDA Esports Team-bound two-time champion Brendon Leigh. Pairing Opmeer with the top rookie of 2020 Dani Moreno was seen as the partnership that the silver arrows needed to get back to the front, and so it has proven to be.
Opmeer leads the way going into the last event, and what was without a doubt his best performance ever in F1 Esports came in the second race of the season, where he went against the grain by putting on the intermediates when everyone else went with wets. It allowed him to recover from his painfully bad qualifying result of P18 to win the race, which just proves what we all know about him: he is the go-to guy for racing on the F1 games and he’s most likely people’s safe choice to win his second championship in a row. But don’t discount the others.
No longer the bridesmaid?
Now onto Rasmussen, who has forever played second fiddle in every season he has participated in. Back in 2018 when driving for Toro Rosso Esports, the Dane was the only driver able to hold a candle to the dominant Brendon Leigh and had he not sat out two of the last four races, would not have lost out on second in the standings to Leigh’s Mercedes teammate Daniel Bereznay.
Then in 2019 when he was promoted to the senior team, he elected to sit out the final race to maximise Red Bull’s chances in the team’s championship. After winning the two races before the finale, he had taken over the lead of the driver’s championship and was given the orders to go for the championship, but since he had never prepared to race on the Interlagos track, he lost the title to Ferrari’s David Tonizza. 2020 was much the same, as Rasmussen narrowly missed out on the title to Opmeer.
It has been a tale of nearlys with Rasmussen in the F1 Esports Series, but despite coming up short, he’s arguably the best driver in esports racing. There are many drivers over the years who are known for their exceptional ability on sims like iRacing, rFactor 2 who have come to the F1 games. In recent years, there has been the likes of Enzo Bonito, James Baldwin, Bono Huis, and this season saw the debut of iRacing Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup champion Sebastian Job.
The Codemasters F1 titles are known to have a much different handling model than those aforementioned simulators and it’s not often you’ll see drivers be able to be consistently at the top across both them and the F1 games. Rasmussen however has been able to do just that! He won the VRS GT World Championship on iRacing in 2018 and the Formula E: Accelerate championship on rFactor 2 earlier this year. The fact he’s been able to be one of the quickest drivers on the F1 games as well as the more simulation style games just goes to show that he’s truly one of the best in the scene today.
Red Bull’s philosophy is to go primarily for the team’s title which is where the money is, so perhaps Rasmussen won’t be too miffed if he comes up short in the driver’s championship fight for the fourth year running. Surely, though, it has to have some significance for him. To finally become the F1 Esports champion has got to be an appealing prospect, after coming so close so many times.
Last but not least, let’s talk about this unassuming driver who we know to be mighty at the F1 game, yet his contention for the championship this year has still amazed us. Aston Martin’s Lucas Blakeley first got into the series when he was drafted by the team when it was still known as Racing Point in 2019. He made his debut in Round 9 of that season and in only his second race of the season he took a second place finish.
During the initial motorsport shutdown when a lot of the F1 drivers took to their sims, the F1 Esports drivers competed in their own exhibition events in support of the F1 Virtual Grand Prix races. In the Monaco race, reigning champion Tonizza took pole but after Blakeley pitted on the first lap and Tonizza followed the lap after, the Scot undercut him and had to hold off the advances of the Ferrari driver for 18 straight laps!
He managed to do just that in such brilliant fashion, and after all the F1 Esports exhibition races were done, had points been counted, Blakeley would have been champion. This surely put him in a great position for the upcoming F1 Esports season, right?
Unfortunately not. Racing Point finished bottom of the standings in 2020, which makes their turnaround in form for 2021 all the more impressive. In the opening race, Blakeley withstood immense pressure to take his first official F1 Esports victory and absolutely dominated the race on the Portimão circuit.
Blakeley had been leading the championship before the most recent race, having a poor qualifying which heavily compromised him. When Blakeley gets it right, he is genuinely unbeatable so it’s a case of a coin flip as to whether he will be on it during the Grand Final. Consider him the outsider in this championship race, but weirder things have happened.
How to watch
The final three races take place on the Imola, Mexico City and São Paulo circuits. The first two races take place Wednesday 15 December then the final race’s action is the following day Thursday 16 December.
So who will it be? Will we see the defending champion retain his crown, will the nearly man finally take long-awaited glory or will the aspirant be surprising everyone?
Opmeer, Rasmussen or Blakeley, who will be 2021 F1 Esports champion? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!