Formula 1 made big strides into the virtual-racing world this year, with the World’s Fastest Gamer initiative between McLaren and Logitech and more recently F1’s own eSports series.
F1 crowned British teenager Brendon Leigh as its first ever eSports Series champion after Abu Dhabi hosted the inaugural series finale.
Behind the scenes, efforts to speed up the arrival of real-time gaming against F1 drivers during an actual Grand Prix are being redoubled.
Meanwhile several F1 teams are now hiring a head of eSports – and Fernando Alonso even launched his own eSports team at the weekend.
eSports’ shy World Champion
Halfway through the race, Leigh – having started the race a point behind Fabrizio Donoso and Sven Zurner – was hit by a rival competitor and staged a thrilling recovery drive which took the championship down to the wire, battling with rival Donoso on the final lap.
The 18-year-old Leigh, making a move under braking at the end of the Yas Marina circuit’s longest straight, cleared Donoso as his rival took to the run-off to stay ahead.
Donoso moved over along the next straight, allowing Leigh to sweep through and stay ahead to clinch the win, and claimed the eSports title ahead of Donoso by six points.
Delighted with his triumph, Leigh had his mind on a rather low-key celebration of his title win in Abu Dhabi. He ended up being featured on the F1 international TV feed on the F1 grid on Sunday.
“I feel really happy because these two [Donoso and Zurner] are two of the best in the world now,” said Leigh.
“Winning here means a huge amount to me. I am the first one to do it. That is special.
“I’m not sure how to celebrate. I don’t drink or anything, I think I might just go to bed.”
F1’s eSports Series has drawn plenty of attention of late, in the wake of Fernando Alonso’s announcement that his own team would enter, in addition to McLaren’s signing of Rudy van Buren having won the Woking team’s “World’s Fastest Gamer” competition.
Logitech revealed recently that sales of its steering wheels and seats had doubled this year in some markets off the back of the WFG initiative.
FOM’s marketing manager Sean Bratches suggested that following from its recent success, the sport’s commitment to eSports will only grow.
“The attraction to a broad and committed younger generation of F1 and eSport fans is something that we are proud to support and nurture,” said Bratches.
“We look forward to establishing a season-long series in 2018.”
After Donoso took to the run-off to avoid Leigh’s last-lap manoeuvre, the new champion wagged his finger in his rival’s direction. Darren Cox, who runs Leigh’s eSports team, was equally as effusive about the future of eSports and his young charge’s series win.
“Brendon drove like a true professional and his character shone through,” said Cox. “Somehow, his finger-wagging is already a GIF!
“I have been involved in the virtual side of our sport for 10 years and have seen it grow, the last 7 days have really seen a tipping point.”
Over 60,000 people entered the F1 eSports competition – launched in September across the PS4, Xbox One and PC platforms – and part of Leigh’s prize includes becoming a character in Codemasters’ next F1 game release, along with a bye into next year’s eSports semi-finals.
BREAKING: Great Britain's Brendon Leigh wins Race 3 in Abu Dhabi
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 25, 2017
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