Daniel Abt, who usually drives for Audi in the Formula E electric car racing series, was fined and disqualified from the remainder of the Race At Home Challenge online series this weekend that had replaced regular Formula E races since the pandemic began after he confessed to allegations that he had someone else drive for him.
According to a report from motorsports site The Race, Abt was accused of having a professional esports competitor drive for him during the Berlin E-Prix yesterday, the fifth round of competition since the online series began.
The online series is designed to keep drivers and fans alike interested in Formula E after the real-life racing series was canceled altogether because its street-track-intensive schedule would be impossible under any social-distancing guidelines. The races are conducted using the rFactor 2 Simulation and are unique because they allow both real-life Formula E contenders as well as established esports competitors to compete against one another.
While esports competitors can compete as well using semi-standardized equipment and software, scrutiny towards the Formula E drivers is stricter, with each driver given a standardized rig and software kit to encourage competition as well as level the playing field.
Suspicions first rose about Abt when he qualified second for the race, held first place for a time, and ultimately finished third, far exceeding any of Abt’s previous performances. Later, eyebrows remained raised as the face of the competitor on Abt’s video feed was obscured by what appeared to be a microphone and his separate Twitch account was not streaming in parallel like normal.
When several drivers raised concerns, Mercedes driver Stoffel Vandoorne decided to call Abt during the race. Abt didn’t answer, seemingly confirming Vandoorne’s suspicions.
Series officials were able to inspect IP addresses associated with the competitors and confirm the other drivers’ suspicions and Abt subsequently admitted that he was not driving during yesterday’s race, The Race reports. He admitted established sports competitor and Audi affiliate Lorenz Hörzing was racing in his place.
After his admission, Abt issued a statement of regret:
I would like to apologize to Formula E, all of the fans, my team and my fellow drivers for having called in outside help during the race on Saturday.
“I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I’m especially sorry about this, because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organization.
“I am aware that my offence has a bitter aftertaste, but it was never meant with any bad intention.
“Of course, I accept the disqualification from the race. In addition, I will donate 10,000 Euros to a charitable project.”
As Abt mentions in his statement, he remains disqualified from the race and will be required to make a donation to charity. What he does not mention is that the disqualification will apply to the rest of the online series. After this scandal as well as his gnarly crash earlier this year in Mexico when rear racing was still happening, I think there is reason for serious concern about his future in the series.
Before the pandemic, Abt’s team was looking into joining the Extreme E off-road EV racing series. Perhaps this will give him the push he needs to put all his energy into that project.