F1 just organised a Virtual Grand Prix in “Bahrain”, and it was awesome

Formula 1 earlier announced that a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series would be taking place in lieu of several postponed races: Monaco, China, and more. The first such race—the Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix—was streamed around 9 hours ago on the official Formula 1 YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook channels, along with the official website.

The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in the postponement/cancellations of several Grand Prix events, and F1 organisers explain that the virtual series will offer fans some “light relief” to deal with their withdrawal (from F1 addiction, presumably) symptoms.

The Virtual Grand Prix was played over the official F1 2019 PC video game over the course of 14 laps: 50% of a full-length race. Just like a real Grand Prix, starting grid positions were determined by qualifying times; less like a real Grand Prix, participants were allowed to select anti-lock brakes and traction control if they were “less familiar” with the game.

The organisers also say that this series is an “entertainment thing”, and there are no official World Championship points at stake here.

Still, the fact that the Bahrain season-opener had a driver lineup that had both real-life F1 drivers and gamers, made for an interesting spectacle. I won’t deny it—I found myself forgetting that this was a game/simulator and not a real-life F1 race. And with full PC simulator setups, it looks like the next best thing to having actual, real-life F1 races.

According to (real-life) Formula 2 driver Guanyu Zhou, the experience is “as close to the reality as possible”, although the drivers aren’t subjected to the same extent of trying physical conditions compared to a real-life race. These conditions mean close to 4kg lost per race, reportedly.

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This isn’t something that has been replicated in other mainstream sports yet, although something similar could be done with the European football leagues that are currently suspended. FIFA’s official video game (FIFA 20) has the complete kits and naming rights for most of Europe’s top leagues, so why not?

In any case, if you want to catch the next virtual race, the Virtual Grand Prix Melbourne is set to take place in 2 weeks. Again, you’ll be able to catch the race on F1’s YouTube channel, Facebook page, and the official F1 website. If not, do yourself a favour and watch the Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix.