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Predicting the F1 Esports Driver Line-up

With the F1 Esports Pro Championship starting soon, we believe we have a good idea of who will be where this season.

Image credit: Jessica Ball

As ever with F1 Esports, it takes a couple of months after the new game has released to start the season. So as we twiddle our thumbs waiting for it to finally get going, we believe we have a good idea of who will be racing this season.

Many have already been confirmed, but some are still up in the air. There are familiar names as well as some new ones who have long been slated for a drive in the series.

So based on many behind the scenes scoops and pure guesswork on our part, here are our predictions for the F1 Esports Pro Championship driver line-up in 2022.

Mercedes

Drivers: Jarno Opmeer, Dani Moreno, Jake Benham

It’s a pretty safe bet that Mercedes will keep the reigning two-time champion and Opmeer has showed no signs of jumping ship. Same can be said for Dani Moreno, who played a great supporting role to Opmeer and helped Mercedes wrap up the team’s title. However the big change comes in the form of their third driver.

Last year, Mercedes ran only two of their three drivers, the third was Bono Huis. The Dutchman has been one of the leading single seater drivers on simulator titles, but was never up there with F1 game specialists. So perhaps the third driver role will be filled by a new upcoming star.

Jake Benham is a league racing champion on PC and Xbox, and he qualified for the Pro Exhibition via the DHL Time Trial, ranking second on PC. He really impressed in the Pro Exhibition, with only an issue in the final race preventing him from finishing second in the points.

If Benham gets the drive, hopefully he won’t be benched the whole season because he has some serious potential.

Red Bull

Drivers: Frederik Rasmussen, Marcel Kiefer, Tom Manley

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. That seems to be the philosophy of Red Bull, who since signing Marcel Kiefer to the team for 2020 haven’t felt the need to change. Even when they had former Williams driver Tino Naukkarinen, they only ever raced Rasmussen and Kiefer.

Since 2018, Frederik Rasmussen has been the only constant in the championship race. Unfortunately, though, he’s always come up short against the likes of Leigh, Tonizza and Opmeer. But together with the unassumingly consistent Marcel Kiefer, they’ve quietly picked up points to help Red Bull in the team’s championship, which is where the money is.

The question then becomes, who gets that third seat?

We’ve already said that Red Bull never tend to race their third driver, whether it was Naukkarinen in 2020 or Liam Parnell last year. Nevertheless, we reckon Red Bull have picked up quite the potential superstar for this season, Tom Manley.

Manley is the F1 Esports Challengers champion on Xbox with an absolute dominant display. He won nine out of twelve races, finished 145 points ahead of his nearest challenger and was only 38 points away from a clean sweep. Plus he fought for victory in last weekend’s WOR race against Lucas Blakeley, so he’s very much capable if for whatever reason, Rasmussen or Kiefer don’t compete in a round or two.

Aston Martin

Drivers: Manuel Biancolilla, Simon Weigang, John Evans

Now we’ve come to the first three who are pretty much all officially confirmed. Simon Weigang has raced for the likes of Renault, Haas and Alfa Romeo during his tenure in F1 Esports. When he was signed by Aston Martin to compete in the V10 R-League, it seemed pretty certain he would also be doing F1 Esports for them as well.

He was joined by Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup racer Alejandro Sánchez and former Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri F1 Esports driver Manuel Biancolilla. Whilst Sánchez is not involved in the F1 Esports scene, having Biancolilla there could mean he’s doing F1 Esports this year as well. Plus, Biancolilla has been competing for Aston Martin in the SRO GT World Challenge Esports Europe series which concluded last week.

With both Weigang and Biancolilla being experienced veterans of the series, that will balance perfectly with Aston’s new signing from the Pro Exhibition.

John Evans placed 4th in F1 Esports Challengers on PC, and was a member of R8G Esports who operate Haas’ esports team. Although it would appear Haas are already pretty well catered for when it comes to drivers, so Evans was free to join Aston Martin. Whether he will get a chance to race or be effectively the test driver, time will tell.

After losing their three very highly rated drivers from 2021, will Biancolilla, Weigang and Evans be the trio to help Aston retain third in the standings or go one or two better?

Ferrari

Drivers: Brendon Leigh, David Tonizza, Fabrizio Donoso

Last year when Leigh joined Ferrari, they had a line-up that had won all of the championships from the first three seasons of F1 Esports. Brendon Leigh won the 2017 and 2018 titles, while Tonizza won the 2019 title. For this season they’ve been joined by Fabrizio Donoso, who was Leigh’s main rival for the inaugural championship.

Tonizza took a pole and a victory in 2021 whilst Leigh scored a few points but not a great deal, even finishing behind then-Alpine driver Donoso who took home two podium finishes. Whether that means anything for who gets the full season drives, we don’t know exactly.

It is perhaps unlikely that Leigh and Tonizza will spend much time on the sidelines, though Donoso is a reliable pair of hands who will do a good job if needed. As for Tonizza and Leigh, they are yet to recapture their form since their championship winning seasons. Perhaps if anyone can, it’s these two who have 60% of all F1 Esports titles.

Especially Tonizza, who has fewer commitments on Assetto Corsa Competizione now. It is possible that only two SRO Intercontinental endurance races will coincide with the F1 Esports season. This comes a change when compared to last season, the SRO sprint and endurance championships carried on well into the F1 Esports season.

Alpine

Drivers: Patrik Sipos, Filip Prešnajder, Samuel Bean

Another trio that have been 100% confirmed are the Alpine drivers. With Donoso and Nicolas Longuet gone, Patrik Sipos remains. He’s joined by former Ferrari and Alfa Romeo driver Filip Prešnajder. Alpine then drafted Samuel Bean, the F1 Esports Challengers fifth place finisher on PC.

Sipos impressed in 2021. In just four outings, he scored two 8th place finishes. The Hungarian has every reason to believe he can get some strong results. His Slovakian teammate Prešnajder, though, had a torrid 2021 season. Despite being predicted by many to score big points, he only took home one. He’ll be eager to deliver on the promise that he showed before arriving in the Pro Series.

As for Bean, he’s a very unknown quantity who really surprised many in PC Challengers. There were a lot of people perplexed to see Bean picked ahead of others who competed in the Pro Exhibition. For example, other drivers signed to RaceClutch (who operate Alpine’s esports team) like Szelle Kristóf and Luke Smith, they might have been considered hotter prospects. But Alpine and RaceClutch evidently see something in Bean, so don’t discount the Spaniard to impress should he get a few outings.

McLaren

Drivers: Bari Boroumand, Lucas Blakeley, Wilson Hughes

Judging by the performances of their two lead drivers in the two top level F1 22 leagues, it may not be too farfetched to suggest McLaren could be the surprise favourites leading into the new season. Bari Boroumand remains after a couple of poles and podiums last season, and he’s set to be joined by Lucas Blakeley who was third in the championship.

The Scot joined Veloce after a three year stint with Aston Martin/Racing Point, and while it has not been officially announced which of the three Veloce-controlled teams he’s going to be placed at, it’s safe to say it’ll be McLaren. Blakeley has been paired up with Boroumand in PSGL, where the Iranian is so far one point ahead in the standings. However, in WOR, Blakeley has a sizeable lead.

With a pair as efficient as Bari and Lucas, that leaves the unfortunate position of being the third driver at McLaren. We have reason to believe that will go the way of Wilson Hughes, the two-time PSGL PlayStation champion and PC Challengers sixth place finisher who joined McLaren’s academy team last year.

Hughes has proven to be a very solid driver but with the teammates he has, it is unlikely he will get any track time. We hope we’re wrong of course, but judging by their pace, Boroumand and Blakeley could both theoretically be in contention for the championship this year.

AlphaTauri

Drivers: Joni Törmälä, Sebastian Job, Josh Idowu

Next up is the Red Bull sister team, and it’s likely they’re sticking to their guns with Joni Törmälä and Sebastian Job. The reliable and efficient hands of Törmälä helped Red Bull win the 2019 team’s championship and has gotten AlphaTauri some strong finishes, whereas the versatile Job is still improving and impressing on the F1 titles.

The 2020 Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup champion aims to be the first driver to win the top line iRacing and F1 game championships. He certainly impressed when he finished third in the finale on the Interlagos circuit, and will only get better. But that leaves a slot open for a new signing, and we strongly believe that it will be Josh Idowu.

The former McLaren driver took a pole position and nearly won on the Imola circuit last season, but has announced he has left Veloce. It would be easy to assume he’ll sign with AlphaTauri based purely on the fact he’s been racing that car consistently in league racing, but there’s also a human connection.

Idowu was scouted to McLaren Shadow Academy back in the day by Nathan Tague, who is now working with G2 Esports that operate Red Bull’s esports programs. Perhaps not being willing to accept being benched at McLaren, Idowu would certainly be a big win for AlphaTauri. Overall, a very solid and proven line-up that may spring a surprise or two.

Williams

Drivers: Álvaro Carreton, Daniele Haddad, Shanaka Clay

This is another trio who are all confirmed. Carreton has been a mainstay at Williams since joining the team in 2018, and for this season he will be joined by two former Aston Martin drivers. Despite initially saying he wouldn’t be returning to the Pro Championship, it seems Haddad has been tempted back.

Carreton and Haddad have proven to be a steady pair of hands, nabbing the occasional podium over the years but haven’t exactly set the F1 Esports world alight. Maybe that’s what Williams need right now: two reliable lead drivers. But for their third driver, it’s someone who has a lot of untapped potential.

Shanaka Clay hasn’t had a lot of chances to prove himself, having raced only once in 2021 for Aston Martin and a few times in 2020. But it was perhaps his second appearance in the Pro Exhibition races earlier that year that proved his ability.

On the Canadian GP circuit, he took pole in a one-shot qualifying and kept it on the road to win in changeable conditions, holding off the advances of Brendon Leigh. What was the team Clay was racing for that day? It was Williams. Maybe Clay finally will get the chance to prove himself on a grander stage.

Alfa Romeo

Drivers: Nicolas Longuet, Tomek Poradzisz, Daniel Bereznay

The last of all the officially confirmed line-ups, Alfa Romeo have a very solid trio. Former Red Bull and Renault/Alpine driver Nicolas Longuet signed to Veloce and started driving the Alfa Romeo in a few leagues, so it became easy to decipher which team he would be driving for. Soon, he was joined in the Alfa Romeo by Tomek Poradzisz.

The Pole has been an F1 Esports prospect for years long before he was ever eligible, and signed for McLaren’s academy team. He won the PC Challengers title by quite the margin, so it’s a surprise McLaren let him go so easily considering Poradzisz’s incredible potential.

Finally there’s Bereznay, who was 2nd in 2018 and 3rd in 2019. Since then though, he’s had a bit of a slump, with a respectable 5th in 2020 but then a torrid 2021 season scoring no points. After a season with McLaren, he’s back at the team he raced for in the previous two seasons, and will be aiming to get his career back on track.

A very capable line-up overall. Keep an eye on Poradzisz in particular to impress in 2022.

Haas

Drivers: Matthijs van Erven, Piotr Stachulec, Thomas Ronhaar

If Haas still finish low down this season, then the team is officially cursed. With a potential line-up like this, how on earth can the team finish towards the bottom? First up is impressive rookie Matthijs van Erven, who had a steady first season and capped it off with sixth in the final race.

Next is Piotr Stachulec, who like his fellow Pole Tomek Poradzisz is very highly rated. He finished second in PC Challengers to Poradzisz. It’s likely, given his affiliation to R8G Esports, that Haas will snatch him up. Expect Stachulec to do very well. What’s more, as far as the third member of the team goes, Haas may have won big with that.

Despite being only a reserve in the likes of PSGL’s and WOR’s top tiers, Thomas Ronhaar finds himself near the top of the standings after filling in for a few other drivers. He is fast becoming a hot commodity in the world of F1 Esports.

The Dutchman is a member of Veloce’s academy team, however there are suggestions that they may loan him out to Haas rather than place him in one of their teams. Might that come back to haunt them? Being an Xbox champion in WOR and winning the Pro Exhibition, it would be a huge injustice if Ronhaar isn’t in F1 Esports this year.

UPDATE (13/09/2022): 28/30 isn’t bad! Since the publishing of this article, all the line-ups have been officially confirmed. Contrary to our prediction, Red Bull have retained the services of Liam Parnell instead of selecting Tom Manley. However for the other prediction we got wrong, it wasn’t as straightforward as us being incorrect.

After Alpine announced that Samuel Bean would compete for them, they then changed their mind. Now, Sipos and Prešnajder will be joined by Pro Exhibition runner-up Luke Smith. Why Alpine changed their mind, we don’t know.

The first race is on 14 September with events this year being upped to 50% race distance. All the action can be followed on relevant national broadcasting TV channels, or on F1’s official Twitch, YouTube or Facebook channels.

Who do you think will be in F1 Esports this year? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

Luca
Biggest esports racing fan in the world.