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What Is F1 Esports & How Does It Work?

Since its inaugural competition in 2017, F1 esports has gone from strength to strength, becoming a huge event with a large global audience. With real Formula One constructors taking part, it can leave people wondering what F1 esports is and how it works.

F1 Esports, or the Formula One Esports Series, is a professional gaming championship promoted by Formula 1. The championship takes place every year and currently features 10 professional teams. The racing takes place on the official F1 game, and PlayStation, Xbox and PC users can all take part.

For Formula 1 purists, it could be difficult to see the appeal of virtual F1 racing. But below we’ll discuss the format of the championship and its lengthy qualification process, the performance of the cars, and the enormous prize pot available for the winners.

What Is F1 Esports?

F1 Esports is a form of sim racing that takes place on the official F1 game. It culminates in a huge championship hosted each year, with 10 official F1 teams represented by 30 drivers all aiming to become champion and win a share of an ever-growing prize pot.

Since its inaugural season in 2017, there have been 3 different champions, with the most recent being Jarno Opmeer of the Netherlands, representing Alfa Romeo in 2020, and Mercedes in 2021.

The Formula One Esports Pro Championship

The F1 Esports Pro Championship is the showpiece event on the F1 esports calendar. The championship takes place between October and December and is set over 4 events, in which there are 3 races. These events usually last two days each, with qualification and racing broadcast live on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch. Races are set at 35% of the distance of a real F1 race.

The races take place on 12 different licensed F1 tracks, including Silverstone, Monza and Bahrain, and at the end of the events, a Drivers’ Champion is decided, as well as a Constructors’ Champion. The 2021 prize pot for the championship was a huge $750,000.

The Pro Championship hosts the 30 best F1 esports drivers from all over the world, but to reach this stage they must navigate through a lengthy qualification process.

How Does The F1 Esports Qualification System Work?

Qualification into the F1 Esports Pro Championship can be attempted by anyone who owns a copy of the latest F1 game on PlayStation, Xbox, or PC. There are 4 qualification routes that players can go down, starting with a real-life scenario challenge.

There were two challenges for 2022 qualification, with one taking place in October 2021, and the second in the following month. The first challenge required hopefuls to take Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz from 8th position to 5th position within the final 6 laps of the Austrian Grand Prix.

November’s challenge required drivers to race as Lewis Hamilton and pip Esteban Ocon to 1st place, undoing what was his maiden F1 victory in 2021 (sorry Ocon fans!). Those who took part in these challenges were judged on their lap times, clean driving, use of assists, use of flashbacks, and, most importantly, their race time and finishing position.

The top 19 highest scorers from each platform then progressed into the next phase of qualification, the F1 Esports Series Challengers in early 2022.

What Is The Challengers Event?

Challengers is the main route into qualification for the F1 Esports Championship. It involves the very best drivers from the initial challenge taking part in a 12-race qualification event. The top 6 drivers from each platform then have the chance to race in the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition, where they will be watched by the 10 professional F1 esports teams.

The 12 Challengers races take place across 6 different events of 2 races each. The races are 25% of the length of a real Formula 1 race. The scoring for the races uses the real F1 points system, with 25 points being awarded to the winner, 18 for second place, 15 for third and so on.

Because anybody can attempt to qualify for the Pro Championship this way, the Challengers event is a chance for professional teams to scout out new talent that they perhaps haven’t had the opportunity to see before.

Other F1 Esports Qualification Routes

The other qualification routes include weekly in-game events, the China Championship and the Women’s Wildcard.

Weekly Events

The weekly events are based around fastest lap times, with the track changing every week.Winners of these events will then progress into the DHL Time Trial, an exclusive invitation event. The three fastest drivers from each platform will then secure their spot at the Pro Exhibition.

The China Championship

The China Championship is the only region-specific qualification route into the Pro Exhibition. The event is split into two classifications, professional and amateur, with the amateur division taking place over four different areas of China, in the North, East, South and West of the country.

The professional side of the event takes place over 12 rounds of two races each. All 12 rounds are broadcast on television, highlighting the growth in interest around F1 esports. The best racers in the China Championship will then progress into the Pro Exhibition.

The Women’s Wildcard – F1 Esports’ Push For Equality

The Women’s Wildcard route is open exclusively to female racers who own a copy of the latest F1 game. It is a one-lap offline time trial, and those taking part must record their lap with their username/gamertag visible at all times. All cars are set to equal performance for complete fairness. The driver with the overall fastest lap time will progress to the Pro Exhibition.

The Women’s Wildcard was introduced to encourage more women into F1 esports. So far there have yet to be any female racers driving in the Pro Championship.

F1 have stated that although they do not want to separate women from men, they believe everyone should have an equal opportunity to race, and they hope that setting up the Women’s Wildcard will address the disproportionately low numbers of women involved in F1 esports.

The F1 Pro Exhibition

The F1 Pro Exhibition is the final stage that drivers must navigate to secure a spot in the Pro Championship. Racers will take part in 4 different assessments to determine whether they have the credentials to race professionally. During these tests, their performance is scrutinized by the 10 pro teams before they offer a seat to their favorite drivers.

The Exhibition Assessments

The exhibition assessments are the following:

  • Race Craft – A standard F1 style race
  • Dry Ghost Race – A race where collisions are disabled, allowing drivers to demonstrate their ability to navigate a race
  • Wet Ghost Race – This is the same format as the dry race, just with the added peril of a rain-soaked track
  • Head-to-Head – A one-vs-one best of three fastest lap knockout competition, designed to really test the drivers’ nerves in pressure situations

As with the Pro Championship, all contestants race in the same cars with the same specifications. The 2021 Pro Exhibition event took place at the Gfinity Arena in London, and was broadcast live on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch.

Is F1 Esports Equal Performance?

F1 esports does use equal performance cars, meaning no driver has an inherent advantage over another due to their car. While the F1 esports teams, tracks, points system, and tire compounds are consistent with the real thing, the performance of the cars is not.

Drivers can customize aspects of their car to their liking, including downforce levels and suspension, but this is purely down to driver preference and the same customization options are available to everyone.

Do F1 Esports Drivers Get Paid?

F1 Esports drivers get paid if they win the championship via the dedicated prize fund, but there is currently no evidence that a driver’s professional contract with their esports team will include a salary, as contractual information stays between the driver and their team.

However, due to the large global F1 esports audience, drivers can prove to be very marketable, amassing multiple income streams through sponsorship deals, YouTube/Twitch monetization, as well as a share of the $750,000 Pro Championship prize pot, should they perform well.

The growth of F1 esports has meant that the prize pot has grown each year, with the prize for first position in the championship’s inaugural year in 2017 being a VIP F1 experience, in the form of a trip to Australia, Singapore or Brazil, and $2,000 spending money.

Fast forward two years and it was clear that organizers recognized the opportunity to turn F1 esports into a big business. In 2019, the prize pot was raised to $500,000, from $200,000 the previous year.

Two-time Pro champion Jarno Opmeer of Mercedes runs a YouTube channel which, as of April 2022, has around 280,000 subscribers. Obviously, his talents have helped propel his channel and he will be in the highest percentile of earners for F1 esports, but he is part of a growing number of racers branching out to sites such as YouTube and Twitch for extra income.

Final Thoughts

F1 esports is the official virtual racing competition for Formula 1, on the official F1 game. It takes place annually and consists of various qualifying and race stages. It culminates at the end of the year with the Pro Championship, in which drivers can win a share of a $750,000 prize fund.