Jarno Opmeer: The fastest F1 Esports driver in the world

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F1 2020 F1 2020
If you tuned into the F1 Esports Pro Series 2020 at any time, you always saw one name at the top: the reigning world champion, Jarno Opmeer.
Photo credit: F1 Esports

Every child has their own dream. For this little blonde racer, his goal is clear as he stands there: vested in his tiny red-and-yellow racing suit, helmet in one hand, eyes on the karting track in front of him. Becoming the fastest driver in the world might have only been a wish for the 4-year-old boy, but 16 years of hard work and dedication have paid off.

On December 17, 2020, Jarno Opmeer was crowned the official World Champion of the F1 Esports Pro Series 2020 and became the fastest driver across the entire globe. The Dutchman dominated the series. In 12 rounds, he made it to the podium eight times, taking home four victories. His amazing performance netted him both a huge portion of the $750,000 prize pool and the title of Best Esports Racer 2020 in the VCO Simmy Awards.



Starting his life in the fast lane



The 20-year-old Dutchman began karting at the early age of only 4 years. Jarno was born in Dordrecht, Netherlands, into a family of racing enthusiasts. He gives special credit to his father for sparking his interest in motorsports that early.

His talent for handling fast machines showed quite quickly and the prodigy claimed the Dutch karting championship title three years in a row. As he had mastered karting, he soon moved up to car racing, and in 2016 he participated in the SMP Formula 4 Championship. Jarno's inaugural season was successful, as he claimed seven victories and thirteen podiums in his debut year which landed him second place overall in the standings.

Jarno then proceeded to compete in the Formula Renault series. The organizers recognized his skills, as he was introduced into the Renault Sport Academy – a name that would soon return for his road into professional sim racing.



From Renault F4 young gun to Renault F1 Esports expert



Once he reached the stage of competing in the Formula environment, the youngster used simulations such as rFactor 2 to practice his racing. This sparked his interest in esports racing, as he quickly realized he was faster than the other drivers in the sim rig. Like many other promising newcomers, Jarno had to end his career in traditional motorsports due to a lack of sponsorship. However, this setback opened the gate to fully excel in sim racing instead.

In 2018, he tackled the qualifiers for the F1 Esports Series for the first time – and failed to make it through. However, his former supporter Renault once again picked up the talent and Jarno signed for the Renault–Vitality Esports Team as a driver for the 2019 season.

This meant that the then 19-year-old became a full-time esports racer. Together with his former team-mates from Germany, Cedric Thomé and Simon Weigang, he practices in the team's facility under a professional coach and environment. Training entails far more than simply driving some laps, as he explained in an interview with The Loadout:

We want to do everything perfectly. We’ve got a Batak machine for quick reactions and coordination, the gym and personal trainer for physical fitness, and also the IT team who are literally 200 metres away and are monitoring our laps and can help us out with stuff. They can draw on small things like our setups, and they’ll come in really handy in the coming years as the cars become more advanced and complicated.




Dominating the virtual field



While he barely missed the podium of the virtual series on his first attempt, a transfer to Alfa Romeo in 2020 and his second run at the F1 Esports series were a blast. His place in an official Formula 1 team is a dream come true for the racer, as he explained in a podcast with VCO Esports. He grew up watching stars such as Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Robert Kubica and now, he is a part of the same crew.

Speaking of stars: the merger of traditional and virtual motorsports during the pandemic granted Jarno a chance to drive against some renowned Formula 1 giants online. And the sim racer posed quite the threat to all competitors. He scored two figurative silver medals in the Not the GP...series. The list of participants included top names such as McLaren's Lando Norris and former Renault icon Nico Hülkenberg. Jarno also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2020 where he helped his team to a fifth place result – against a range of top esports pros and motorsports stars.

Despite easily drifting past all those big names, Jarno stayed humble and played down his dominance in an interview with inews: "I think the difference is we do it every day. They have to do real-life racing as well. It’s cool to compare but I don’t think it’s really fair because we are driving every day and they aren’t."



100% focused on everything



But what was the key to his success that elevated him from a respectable fourth place to becoming World Champion? Jarno credits his team-mate Daniel Bereznay, who helped him to improve in qualifying.

The ability to improve while already being among the best in the world lies in the details. Minor changes in the set-up, strategy or even factors outside of the game like mental preparation can make a huge difference. For him, this played a part as well, as he revealed in an F1 Esports press conference:

After the last event of last year, I took a bit of a break from playing F1, from practising. When I returned, I straight away, had very good pace. I found some new things, set-up wise and also a lot within myself. Then, when I did the first Pro Exhibition race, I won on a track I didn’t expect to win on. I improved a lot compared to last year, and I don’t think that’s related to the game.




In various interviews, the Dutchman emphasized that no matter where he is racing, he always makes sure to give 100% and focus completely onto his goals. To ensure he stays on top, the right physical training is crucial – but also the mental space. He revealed that he used to practice for 11-12 hours a day but eventually stepped away from that schedule, as it was simply too much. He now spends 5-6 hours every day behind the wheel and uses the remaining time to work out and stay in shape.

The proud F1 Esports world champion has proven his strength in this one simulation, F1 2020, but he is ready to take on other disciplines during the off-season as well. So, get prepared to maybe see Jarno climb up the leaderboards in other tournaments too. He also aims to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual again. And of course, he will do his utmost to defend his title as the number one F1 Esports driver in the world.



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