An image of an F1 car alongside an image of a car from PESC.
Image credit: Codemasters / EA / iRacing

What F1 Esports can Learn from PESC

Two of the top sim racing esports championships in the world have very different avenues for new players to join. One gets it wrong, and the other gets it right.


When it comes to elite virtual motorsport, the most well known series is F1 Esports, which is no surprise. It’s the official esports championship of the highest profile real-world championship, taking place on a yearly-release game that can be played on all major gaming platforms; Xbox, PlayStation and PC.

Unsurprisingly, F1 Esports has the biggest year-round prize pool of any sim racing championship. The ten F1 teams’ esports divisions race for the team’s championship that gives them a share of $750,000. Only ESL R1 comes close, with over $500,000 across two seasons.

With such a wide reach, many F1 game players are putting in the effort to be in with a shout of racing in the Pro Championship. But every year, fewer and fewer new drivers have hope of getting that opportunity. By the time a new player has qualified, there are hardly any seats available.

Why is that, and what can be done about it? That answer may lie in another high profile virtual racing series, the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup.

What is the Problem?

Every year, many hopeful F1 Esports drivers go through the painstaking qualification process. The two main avenues for competitors to go down are F1 Esports Challengers and the DHL Time Trial. Each of these allow drivers to qualify for selection by the teams in the Pro Exhibition.

There, they all compete in a series of races in an attempt to display their value to the teams. Thomas Ronhaar – who finished 3rd in the Pro Championship in 2022 – came out on top in last year’s Pro Exhibition ahead of Luke Smith and Jake Benham. All three of these drivers were selected.

This concept is great! In theory. The Pro Exhibition succeeded the Pro Draft system, F1’s attempt at replicating the player drafts seen in major American sports. The F1 teams were compelled to pick at least one driver who had managed to qualify for the draft.

The system seemed to work great in the first year, as all competing teams picked multiple drivers to get their esports programs off the ground. However, a few of them had already signed drivers prior to the Pro Draft, and many other signings followed thereafter.

For 2019, though, the first cracks began to show with the system. Every team had to draft one driver, and some subsequently found a workaround. Prior to the Pro Draft, Williams Esports “bid farewell” to Isaac Price, who had been signed to the team since late 2018.

Price had qualified for the Pro Draft, and when Williams had their turn, they selected him. Had they really even let go of Price in the first place? Was it merely a ruse to present the idea that the Pro Draft had done its job?

This issue, coupled with the fact that many drafted drivers never actually competed in a race, meant that the Pro Draft was phased out. The organisers then got rid of the rule that teams had to have at least one driver who had been through the qualification process.

Series champions David Tonizza and Lucas Blakeley both came from the Pro Draft. They went through the designated qualification process and were rewarded with a chance to impress and subsequently win their titles. Shouldn’t there be some kind of clear path offering a realistic chance for an F1 game player to compete in the Pro Championship?

With all that being said, how does the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup tie in to this?

A Clearer Path

Where F1 Esports’ qualification process is found lacking, that of the premier iRacing championship is quite the opposite. The Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup has been running since 2019, and any driver with a Class A licence on the service can hope to qualify.

When the main series concludes its season, the top 15 drivers in the standings are locked in for the following year. The bottom 15 though? They must compete in the Contender Series if they hope to retain their spots in the main series. Joining them are the top 15 point scorers from the Qualifying Series.

After the Contender Series runs its season, the drivers who finish in the Top 15 earn spots in the main series. This is essentially a promotion/relegation system, which is simple and very effective. This format provides drivers trying both to qualify and to requalify with a real glimmer of hope that they can be on the grid.

It is rather ironic. An expensive PC-only subscription service has a clearer path to compete in their premier esports championship than the most well-known motor racing series.

When F1 Esports began, the drivers were racing on an individual basis and weren’t signed to any of the teams. But when the organisers got the teams involved, they gave all the power to them. It does make sense, the money is in the team’s championship after all. Nevertheless, it now means there’s very little chance for Pro Exhibition drivers to make it onto the grid.

In the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup, the drivers are the ones who get granted the entry. They hold the leverage, not the teams. This, combined with the efficient system for getting into the series, makes for a model that F1 Esports should utilise if they really want to incentivise new players making it onto the grid.

What F1 Esports Should Do

Currently, F1 Esports teams have three drivers, and they can decide how often each driver races. As we have already pointed out, some don’t get to race at all. But if there was a rule stating that each driver has to compete in a minimum number of races, they all have the opportunity to show what they can do.

Therefore should F1 Esports adopt a PESC structure, the drivers who are able to compete in more races would have a far better chance of retaining their spots. Let’s put the cut off at the top 15 like in PESC, and the remaining 15 drivers then have to requalify in the Pro Exhibition.

If this system would be applied for this year, the biggest names who don’t make the top 15 threshold from the Pro Championship include Álvaro Carretón, Joni Törmälä and Daniele Haddad.

All of those drivers join the ones who qualified from Challengers and the Time Trial. Currently, the top six in Challengers and the top three in the Time Trial on all platforms qualify for the Pro Exhibition, so that’s 27 drivers not accounting for other wildcard qualifiers.

Using the Pro Exhibition, all the drivers who fell into the latter half of the Pro Championship standings and all the drivers who qualified would compete in elimination races. In fact, it wouldn’t be too dissimilar to the way the Pro Exhibition worked in 2022. At the end of it, the best 15 would be selectable by the teams.

There may be teams who have all three of their drivers fall into the bottom 15 from the previous year. From the 2022 Pro Championship standings, Alpine and Williams would run the risk of having to shift to a completely new line-up if all three of their drivers didn’t perform well in the Pro Exhibition.

But if F1 Esports wants to truly provide some hope to potential new drivers, even ones without pre-existing ties to any of the ten teams, this is something the teams will have to adapt to.

What could F1 Esports learn from other high profile sim racing esports championships? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

Biggest esports racing fan in the world.