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The 2021 F1 Esports Series Pro Championship presented by Aramco got underway with an thrilling Event 1 this week, where Jarno Opmeer and Mercedes took an early lead in the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships respectively, but with eight different podium finishers in the first three races, the huge $750,000 prize pot is all to play for.
The return of the Pro Championship was more anticipated than ever before following record-breaking viewership last year, the highest ever participation numbers of fans attempting to qualify, as well as several huge moves around the grid with a number of F1 Esports’ biggest names switching allegiances in the off-season.
Much like the 2020 season, drivers are continuing to race remotely from their homes or team facilities, but the hugely popular competition continues to broadcast from the Gfinity Esports Arena in London, with live shows fronted by familiar faces: Natalie Pinkham, Tom Deacon and Nic Hamilton. Following the same Event format as recent campaigns, teams battle it out on the official F1 2021 video game, developed by Codemasters, in two races on a Wednesday, and one on a Thursday, across four broadcasts, which also features qualifiying.
In the first of Wednesday’s two races, the virtual world mirrored reality as the season opener took place at the Sakhir International Circuit, Bahrain, and it was Britain’s Lucas Blakeley who took his maiden win in a historic moment, becoming the first winner for the Aston Martin Cognizant Esports team. Blakeley started in P2 behind Nicolas Longuet but passed him going into the first corner and didn’t relinquish top spot until the final few laps when the lead changed hands several times between the pair, thanks to brave racing and the use of DRS, before the Aston Martin man timed his last attack to perfection. Alvaro Carretón was with the front two the whole way, ready to pounce on any mistakes, but in the end had to settle for a well-deserved P3 for Williams.
Wednesday’s action continued with a trip to China, and whilst the real-world drivers haven’t raced at the Shanghai International Circuit since the pandemic struck, the popularity of F1, and Esports, continues to flourish, as seen by the success of the F1 Esports Series China Championship. Reigning champion Jarno Opmeer showed his title-winning pedigree with an unbelievable victory, taking a huge risk as the only driver to start the race on intermediates tyres, despite there being torrential rain, after a poor qualifying performance that left him in P14. He fell as far as P18, before the rest of the grid began to pit and switch to the same tyres, allowing him to make his way up the grid. He was soon leading, and despite a brief change of leadership between himself and Fabrizio Donoso, as the Alpine driver became the first switch to softs, Opmeer was able to secure his first win for Mercedes in stunning fashion. Red Bull’s Marcel Kiefer put in an accomplished performance in tricky conditions to get his first podium of the season.
The first Event of the new season was rounded off with a second win for Opmeer at the Red Bull Ring with an emphatic victory as he sent out a message to the rest of the field that he is intent on defending his crown. Frederik Rasmussen, one of last year’s front runners picked up his first podium of the year, ahead of McLaren’s new boy Bardia Boroumand who secured third, and is already living up to the hype around him in the pre-season.
Event 2 will see the drivers battle it out on a trio of iconic ‘old-school’ circuits as the Pro Championship heads to Silverstone, Monza and Spa, in what is set to be an action-packed two days across 27-28 October.
Following Event 1, the official standings are as follows:
The live shows are streamed online via official channels of Formula 1 on Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Huya, as well as broadcast on television via select international broadcast partners.
In the last 18 months, F1 Esports events have achieved over 40 million views across TV and digital, and this popularity led to a record number of people attempting to be a part of this year’s Pro Exhibition, with almost half a million taking part in qualification. This year’s qualification is now open through a challenge in the official F1 2021 video game, with the first event live until 31st October. If you would like to find out more information on how to take part in the F1 Esports Series and for more information on the Pro Championship presented by Aramco, visit www.f1esports.com.
Full race results:
Race 1 – Bahrain
Race 2 – China
Race 3 – Austria
Ben Pincus, Director of Commercial Partnerships at Formula 1®, said:
“It’s great to see the F1 Esports Series Pro Championship presented by Aramco back underway. We’ve been spoilt with excitement in the real-life racing this year and if these first races are anything to go by, we’re in for a treat this season in the virtual world too.”
John Clarke, CEO at Gfinity, said:
“Last year’s record-breaking participation is a testament to Formula 1’s continuous innovation and expansion, bringing more fans than ever into the world of F1 Esports. Off the back of last year’s success, the F1 Esports Series has returned bigger and better than ever, giving Gfinity the opportunity to utilise its tech IP and world-class production to help F1 fans feel ever closer to the series.
Paul Jeal, F1 Senior Franchise Director at Codemasters, said:
“We’re into the fifth year of F1 Esports, and the standard continues to get higher and higher, with some blistering lap times and exciting wheel to wheel racing to open the series. A great display from Jarno Opmeer as he tops the drivers’ championship, and it looks like we could have an incredible battle between a handful of teams for the team championship. Roll on the second show.”