Star Studded Lineup in Formula 1® Virtual Grand Prix

With events cancelled or postponed, Formula 1® is turning to the virtual world of esports to keep the tyres warm. And it isn’t coming empty handed: the lineup at 2020 Virtual Grand Prix shines bright.

Formula 1®, the utmost elite of single-seater auto racing, had its first season in May of 1950. Since then, the race has attracted millions of fans, forged motor racing stars and been on the path of constant innovation.

While mainly track-based, F1 has gone with the times and made the bet on esports, with the global market forecasted to bring in $1.59 billion by 2023.

In 2017, Formula 1® launched the first  F1 Esports Series, with DHL as a founding partner, which last year alone attracted a record number of 109,000 gaming enthusiasts from 156 countries. In 2019, the prize pool was also nothing to be sneezed at: a whopping $500,000 is a considerable incentive to burn some virtual rubber.

$1.59 billion

Global esports market 2023 revenue forecast by Newzoo


Countries represented by 109,000 gamers in 2019 F1 Esports Series

3.2 million

Online viewers of the 2020 F1 Virtual Grand Prix opening race

Virtual race on!

Virtual racing has become even more important for Formula 1® as events and races had to be cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, F1 has reacted fast, by replacing Grand Prix™ stages of the 2020 season with virtual events “strictly for entertainment purposes.” The races are simulated in the official F1 2019 PC video game and are joined by the participants, hosts and viewers remotely in a total of 28 exciting laps.

The opening virtual race took place on March 22. Current and former F1 drivers, celebrities and other sports stars were going head-to-head around Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit, Guanyu Zhou from Renault Sport Team Vitality emerging as the winner.

The race attracted combined 3.2 million viewers on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and, according to Esports Charts analytics agency.

Ferarri’s red is for lucky

Meanwhile, the latest and third instalment, Chinese Virtual Grand Prix, saw some tight competition on April 18.

In a close call, Charles Leclerc from Ferrari wrestled the first place ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon. Although Leclerc had an early lead, Albon took it from him and held on until lap 11. Masterfully, Albon retook the lead and maintained it until the very end. After the Chinese Virtual Grand Prix, the stars of the F1 Esports Pro Series took the stage in the Pro Exhibition race and brought a lot of excitement to the fans.

The light at the end of the tunnel

Formula 1® is planning to keep replacing the campaign’s stages with virtual events until it’s deemed safe to restart on-site races once again. In a recent statement, F1 CEO Chase Carey revealed that the target for putting drivers back on a track is July.

Julian Tan, Head of Digital Business Initiatives and Esports at F1, expressed that Formula 1® is grateful to provide relief from the distress caused by the pandemic, as they “hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action. With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of esports and the incredible skill that’s on show.”

Through the Formula 1® journey, DHL has been the sport’s longest-standing global partner, ensuring the smooth delivery of race cars and equipment for over 35 years – since 2014 as the Official Logistics Partner of F1. ― Krisjanis Polans

Published: May 2020

F1 Chinese Virtual Grand Prix!

Full Race

Image: Formula 1®