Kurt Verlin
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Formula One Launches Virtual Grand Prix Series

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F1 Esports Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix
Photo: F1 Esports

I only had to click publish on my last article, which called for something exactly like this to happen, to discover that Formula One was officially launching a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series. It will replace the 2020 races that have been canceled or postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, though without offering official world championship points.

F1 says the virtual races will use the official F1 2019 PC video game, developed by Codemasters, and an event will be held for each postponed real-world Grand Prix. For the time being, the races are scheduled to run until May, though F1 says the series will be extended beyond then should the coronavirus cause further Grand Prix cancellations.

The first race of the series will take place this weekend as a substitute for the Bahrain Grand Prix. It will be 28 laps, half the normal amount, with optional anti-lock braking and traction control allowed. These do not exist on the real cars, but F1 says it will be allowed in the virtual series to increase parity between participating drivers, many of which may not be familiar with the game. The cars will also have reduced vehicle damage and performance.

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“The series is strictly for entertainment purposes, to bring racing action to fans in this unprecedented scenario the world has been affected by, with no official World Championship points up for grabs for the drivers,” F1 said in a statement.

Additional online exhibition races will be hosted during non-race weekends to give fans a chance to compete against F1 drivers, though it’s not yet clear which drivers that will be. The official statement only says “a number of current F1 drivers.” It’s likely the participants will change each weekend.

Some fans, however, are already getting the chance to race against real drivers, as the virtual Bahrain Grand Prix taking place this weekend will be the third such event. The all-star esports race, organized by The Race, will take place at 5 p.m. GMT on Saturday, featuring many real-world racing drivers including Max Verstappen. The next day, at 6 p.m., Lando Norris will return for “Not the BAH GP,” organized by Veloce Esports. And finally, the official virtual Bahrain Grand Prix will then take place two hours after that.

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