It’s 2020, and because we can’t have fun anymore, F1 is either postponed or cancelled, and many of us have gaps in our weekend plans. However, the world of esports does indeed exist, and athletes are becoming streamers on a widespread basis, en masse, to do something to entertain us and pass the time. This weekend, there is no real-world race of course, but that won’t stop drivers representing three different real-world F1 teams and Mercedes’ Formula E team from going wheel-to-wheel virtually at Bahrain on a live broadcast.
Lando Norris, the youngest British F1 driver in the history of the sport, has suddenly become a central focus of e-racing, and the NotTheAusGP he raced in last weekend was one of the most popular streams on Twitch, pulling in 70,000 viewers from his vantage point alone, making him the most-watched stream on Twitch during the event. Across all streams, over 170,000 people watched live.
Formula One normally reaches about 470,000,000 unique viewers in a season, which by my math is only slightly more than 170,000, but hey, it’s a start?
Tomorrow, at 6:00PM GMT (2:00PM EST), the NotTheBahGP takes place on Twitch, on the simulated Bahrain GP circuit. This time, in addition to the crew of regular F1 streamers, Lando, Stoffel Vandoorne from Mercedes Formula E, and the goalkeeper for Madrid on the starting grid, Valeri Bottas from Mercedes and Nicholas Latifi from Williams will be starting in their virtual cars.
I watched the inaugural NotTheAusGP last weekend, an it is a completely different flavor of competition from real F1 races, as there is much more minimal team strategy, putting the focus on individual drivers much more heavily. Additionally, running half the number of real-world laps and the less punishing tire wear modeling of the game (as well as turning car damage off) leads to much more aggressive driving on display.
Despite the lack of real cars, it was a fantastic watch, if for nothing else but to highlight the differences between what being a great race car driver in real F1 takes, and what it takes to be an excellent e-racer. (The overall event was won by a full-time e-racing driver, Daniel Bereznay.) Lando took the more serious, competitive approach with his stream, appearing incredibly focused and not interacting as much with his Twitch chat, whereas racing sim streamer Jimmy Broadbent took a more laid back style. Either way, the races are highly competitive, and the practiced streamers almost have a natural advantage as this tends to be their day job, and driving an F1 car with no G-forces is vastly different than driving, well, a real one.
Many of these drivers and streamers will have the events broadcast live from their POV tomorrow, or the host of the event, Veloce Esports, will be broadcasting the entire event in a traditional entire-grid way, on its Youtube channel. It’s not going to be quite the real thing, but in times like this, it will likely be the ideal distraction from, ugh, everything.