From a defending champion to a series debutant, we picked out five drivers to watch in the latest F1 Esports season.
Photo credit: F1 Esports Twitter
The Pro Series for the 2020 F1 Esports series kicks off this Wednesday, October 14. All ten real-world F1 teams will battle it out for their share of the $750,000 prize pot (a 50% increase from 2019). David Tonizza heads into the season as the defending champion having secured the title in his and Ferrari’s first year in F1 Esports. He’ll face stiff competition from a number of drivers.
This is by no means a compressive list of all the potential title contenders this season, but it highlights five of the key drivers who should be competing at the front of the field this year.
Let’s start with the reigning champion David Tonizza. He was overlooked in the 2018 Pro Draft, but Ferrari Esports scooped him up straight away in the 2019 edition of the driver selection process. He won three of the first five races to set up a championship campaign that would take him all the way to the title.
Tonizza came into 2019 as the surprise package with nothing to lose, but now he’ll have the pressure of the defending champion tag. He showed no sign of cracking under the heat last year although he failed to take a victory in the second half of the season. He also didn’t win a race in the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition series over lockdown, but he was on the podium in three of the seven races demonstrating that he’s lost none of his consistency.
Tonizza scored all 184 of Ferrari’s points in 2019, but that shouldn’t be the case this season, with two strong team-mates in Enzo Bonito and Filip Presnajder. Bonito brings years of esports racing experience and success, while Presnajder was unlucky to not get picked up in last year’s Pro Draft and was rapid in the Challenger Series. However, there’s still little doubt that Tonizza is Ferrari’s lead driver, and one who will be incredibly difficult to beat.
Stellar advice from reigning champion @David_Tonizza 🗣— Formula 1 (@F1) August 27, 2020
To those who didn’t make it… your time will come!#F1Esports 🎮 #F1 @FerrariEsports pic.twitter.com/963I6Si4Qf
Tonizza’s main championship rival last year was Red Bull Racing Esports Team’s Frede Rasmussen. The Danish ace equalled Tonizza’s tally of three race wins and may have run him even closer in the finale had he not received the call to race moments before the finale.
Rasmussen was initially expected to step aside for his team-mate Nicolas Longuet (now with Renault) for the final race in Brazil, but he swapped in last-minute after unexpectedly coming into title contention with back-to-back wins. Hopefully this year Red Bull will use Rasmussen for every race because he arguably still remains the best chance of stopping Tonizza. He was the only driver to win more than one F1 Esports Pro Exhibition race.
He showed a great deal of discipline last year, rarely making overtakes that were never going to be on. His raw race speed can often leave him unbeatable. Rasmussen was the biggest contributor to Red Bull’s teams’ championship victory, and he’s looking in good shape to be right in the mix for the drivers’ title once again this year.
Monaco world record@redbullracingES @redbullgaming pic.twitter.com/hs2H6gf34T— Frederik Rasmussen (@G2Frede) May 20, 2020
“Opmeer is looking rapid,” was a phrase that came up often when we asked some F1 Esports drivers and teams who to look out for this season. It’s difficult to believe Jarno Opmeer only made his championship debut last year. He quickly established himself as one of the F1 Esports elite and arguably possesses the best racecraft on the grid, which was on display during his maiden victory at Hockenheim.
He’s swapped Renault for Alfa Romeo in 2020 and will form something of a superteam with 2018 runner-up Daniel Bereznay. Opmeer won on his debut for Alfa in the Pro Exhibition race at Baku, and we fully expect that to be a strong indicator for the season ahead.
Opmeer and Bereznay in the same team will be difficult to beat. Spare a thought for the team’s third driver, who much like Kimmy Larsson in 2019, will struggle to make one race appearance this year. Opmeer appears to have found a different level on F1 2020, so may just have the edge in the closely-fought intra-team battle, which may also become the championship fight such is the quality of both drivers.
Count two-time champion Brendon Leigh out of it at your peril. People were quick to write him off after he took the inaugural crown in 2017 but he then dominated the 2018 series to take the title for Mercedes.
2019 didn’t go to plan, but he was still fifth in the drivers’ championship and he returned to the top step of the podium at China during the Pro Exhibition series earlier this year. Leigh has esports racing veteran Bono Huis alongside him at Mercedes, providing the team-mate support that has been missing since Bereznay left the team at the end of the 2018 season.
His physical and mental transformation since joining Mercedes has been outstanding, but he’ll have to conquer the most competitive F1 Esports field ever if he wants title number three.
Just a week until the F1 Esports world championship starts— Brendon Leigh (@BrendonLeigh72) October 3, 2020
eyes on the prize 🏆🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/FzyqoksAPn
We end this list with one of the surprise stars of the Pro Exhibition races, Shanaka Clay. The popular Brit competed in two races, taking points on his debut in the first and then converting pole into the win in tricky conditions in his second race at Montreal.
Clay, a former karting rival of F1 stars Lando Norris and George Russell, was handed the opportunity to race for Williams following a surge of praise on social media. Williams found this impossible to ignore but may regret losing him to Racing Point for the 2020 Pro Series.
He will have to contend with fierce competition from within the team, with Lucas Blakeley scoring more points than any other driver across the Pro Exhibition races. Following Marcel Kiefer’s departure to Red Bull, Blakeley is Racing Point’s leading light.
However, Clay should provide a strong challenge, and Daniele Haddad shouldn’t be overlooked either. Perhaps a title challenge in his rookie season is asking too much but don’t be surprised if Clay picks up another win or two.
Can you spot the superstars that F1 Esports racer @Shanaka_Clay has raced against? 👀— Formula 1 (@F1) September 24, 2020
Get to know the @eRacingPointF1 star, and his unique journey from karting to the digital racing scene 🤩
👉 https://t.co/5dfmPcwn0r#F1Esports 🎮 #F1 pic.twitter.com/GucV3awDpU
Who have we missed? Who do you think are the drivers to watch in the 2020 F1 Esports Pro Series? Tell us on Twitter at @overtake_gg!