First Formula 1 Erace in the Books: Zhou Wins Virtual F1 Bahrain Grand Prix
As motorsport events around the world were canceled in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Formula 1 Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix was slated as a substitute for the real thing, but did the race serve its purpose?
When tuning in to any sports broadcast, there are certain things that you grow to expect. A studio team of analysts, commentators, interviews and, most importantly, some entertaining sport to watch.
The event checked all those boxes.
From the start, there were few signs that you were watching anything other than a normal Formula 1 race. The studio buildup chat was entertaining and informative, the youthful panel reflected the target audience of millennials and the 20-driver lineup that included just two current F1 drivers—Williams’ Nicholas Latifi and McLaren’s Lando Norris—also had a largely youthful feel to it.
The driver lineup, alongside Latifi and Norris, also included three-time F1 winner Johnny Herbert; former F1 drivers Nico Hulkenberg, Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez; Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy; professional golfer Ian Poulter; several Formula 2 drivers and social media personalities. Serious Esports Series drivers were not invited.
To fans of the official Formula 1 Esports Series who are used to watching drivers compete with no driver assists—brake assists, gear assists and traction control all offered on the game—it was a surprise to see the use of these permitted in the competition.
This was where things began to take a turn for the worse. If you are watching an Esports race, the expectation is usually that you will be watching people who are the elite.
The next problem came when Norris, the star attraction, suffered technical problems with his remote connection to the broadcast and missed qualifying. Such were his problems that, after the race length was halved due to the time taken to resolve the issues, his connection again failed, meaning that he was only able to join for the final few laps of the race.
Herbert competed in his first Esports event. Having qualified well down the order, Herbert avoided several huge crashes before cutting the first few corners to hilariously take an unexpected lead. As funny as the move was, it only served to highlight the fact that this was not real racing, and it also showed that the event wasn’t being taken seriously by those taking part.
When the race settled into a rhythm, the real world drivers began to show their class. Guanyu Zhou, the 2019 Formula 2 Rookie of the Year, took the win, while Hulkenberg and Gutierrez enjoyed a race-long battle that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the real circuit.
So how does one pass judgment on an Esports race that was billed as something to help to fill the void while social distancing has become the norm and sports events have been canceled?
Well, if the design of the event was to entertain, this was a success. Technical difficulties are common when trying something new and, with Formula 1 planning further Esports races in the near future, these should likely be fixed for the next broadcast.
Was the racing perfect? No.
Were the technical problems frustrating? Undeniably yes.
Did the race bring a smile in troubled times? Yes.
From the start it was obvious that this race was not an event to be taken too seriously. This is not a damning indictment, but the fact that a grand total of zero professional Esports drivers, not even those who compete in the official Formula 1 Esports championship, were on the grid, only serves to show that this is truly a filler event and not a serious competition.
But not everything needs to be taken seriously, and as the world slowly grinds to a stop due to the worldwide COVID-19 coronovirus outbreak, there has to be space for a little fun.
The Formula 1 Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix was exactly that. Fun.
If you missed it, here’s a link to all the virtual action:
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