Formula 1 replaces its postponed races with a virtual grand prix series

Frederic Lardinois

Formula 1 had to postpone and cancel several races on its calendar due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. With races in Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, Vietnam and China already called off, and the Dutch and Spanish Grands Prix now postponed, the organization today announced that it would now host an esports series, the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, with a number of current F1 drivers alongside a number of other stars.

The virtual Formula 1 races will use Codemaster's official Formula 1 2019 PC game and fans can follow along on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, as well as on F1.com. The races will be about half as long as regular races, with 28 laps. The first race will take place this Sunday.

“We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action," said Julian Tan, Formula 1's head of digital business initiatives and sports. "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.”

While some F1 drivers are already avid gamers, many are not. To make up for this difference in skill levels, "game settings will be configured in such a way to encourage competitive and entertaining racing," the organization says. That means all cars will be set to the same performance characteristics, vehicle damage will be reduced and anti-lock brakes and traction control will be optional.

As the organization notes, "The series is strictly for entertainment purposes, to bring racing action to fans in this unprecedented scenario the world has been affected by, with no official World Championship points up for grabs for the drivers."

Formula 1 is not the only motorsports organization to take these steps to keep their events top of mind for fans even as the real races have been postponed. NASCAR is launching its eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series this weekend, for example, which will also feature current drivers.

“Until we have cars back on track, the entire NASCAR community has aligned to provide our passionate fans with a unique, fun and competitive experience on race day,” said Ben Kennedy, VP of racing development at NASCAR. “Our long-time partners at iRacing offer an incredible product and we are excited to see how many of our best drivers will stack up in the virtual domain of competitive racing.”

Across the Atlantic, the first-ever virtual round of the Nürburgring Endurance Series will kick off on Saturday.