This is certainly a unique time for sport and many sporting governing bodies are wondering what to do. When will the Premier League restart? Should sport take place behind closed doors? How can they continue to connect with fans?
Fans of Formula 1 have had the entire 2020 season thrown into disarray as the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was cancelled mere hours before it was scheduled to begin. Since then other races have been postponed or cancelled left right and centre with little hope of a "real" season being logistically possible.
It's rare that F1 and the FIA get credit for its new ideas, but in this unprecedented situation, the sport has turned to leading eSports business Gfinity to come up with a solution: F1 eSports Virtual Grand Prix Series.
Basically, during a postponed Grand Prix race weekend an F1 Virtual Grand Prix using Codemasters F1 2019 game (albeit on PCs) will take place with competitors from the world of F1 and related formulas, commentators, and a few special guests such as legendary Olympian Sir Chris Hoy and cricket star Ben Stokes.
"The F1 eSports Series has been created to enable fans to continue watching Formula 1 races virtually, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation that has impacted the live Grand Prix events." said the organisers. "The Virtual Grand Prixs are currently scheduled to take place until May and will be extended if the COVID-19 pandemic results in further Grand Prix cancellations."
The series is streamed online by YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook, and more interestingly is being streamed live on UK dedicated F1 channel Sky Sports F1. In the USA, sports channel ESPN and NBA 2K20 have organised a similar initiative.
The first race two weeks ago was, to be honest, was a bit of a shambles with a number of technical difficulties and balancing issues which resulted in some entertainment, but perhaps not shining the best light on the eSports scene.
However, yesterday saw the second race take place using the Albert Park circuit in place of the Vietnam Grand Prix and it was a much, much better watch.
The grid included current F1 drivers Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, George Russell, Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, and Antonio Giovinazzi. They were joined by Leclerc's younger brother Arthur, 2009 world champion Jenson Button, test driver Anthony Davidson, former F1 driver Johnny Herbert, sim racer Jimmy Broadbent, and even England’s Cricket World Cup Winner Ben Stokes.
The format is pretty simple, there is one session of qualifying to set the grid before running a 1/2 distance full Grand Prix complete with a mandatory pit stop.
Action on the track was plentiful this time around without being laughable and made for an entertaining watch both from a video game point of view and a sporting point of view, which will surely be the balance the organisers are looking for.
Without spoiling the result for you, the entire stream is available to watch on YouTube:
It's great to see a mixture of real F1 drivers going head to head with each other and a few other familiar names to see if they have what it takes. According to the commentators, a number of the less 'professional' drivers are allowed to use assist modes to try and balance things out, which seems like a sensible idea to us.
What really made the whole thing interesting to us is seeing the different drivers home setups. Naturally, every competitor is driving using some form of steering wheel setup, but there was quite a range of different seats, wheels, and screen setups – a number of F1 stars admitting to only getting the game specifically to play in this series.
To top things off a number of the drivers, such as Williams' Geroge Russell streamed sessions on their own channels so you could get a real feel for the race from their perspective. This was a unique insight, completely unfiltered which is easily accessible for fans of the sport.
Overall it feels like the F1 Virtual Grand Prix series is picking up the pace and we expect it to continue to improve as it gets more races under its belt in its rookie season. If you're a fan of F1 it gets our recommendation and has us itching to get into our own Playseat and get on track.
Have you been watching the F1 eSports Virtual Grand Prix Series? Are you enjoying the format? How do you think it could be improved? Race along in the comments section below.