Coronavirus: F1 replaces postponed races with Esport Grands Prix as virtual racing ‘brings some light relief’

Each postponed race weekend will instead feature a virtual Grand Prix featuring a number of current F1 drivers

Formula One has announced plans to replace its cancelled races with Esports Virtual Grands Prix in order to give fans alternative viewing entertainment during the coronavirus crisis.

A number of current Formula One drivers will take part with the opening race this Sunday at 8pm to deputise for the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was one of seven races already postponed or cancelled in an effort to combat Covid-19.

Both Lando Norris and Max Verstappen have turned to eSports to fill their time since the start of the 2020 season was abandoned last weekend while the former’s McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz will also take part in virtual racing events this weekend.

An F1 statement read: “Formula One has today announced the launch of a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers. The series has been created to enable fans to continue watching Formula One races virtually, despite the ongoing Covid-19 situation that has affected this season’s opening race calendar.

“The virtual races will run in place of every postponed Grand Prix, starting this weekend with the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday March 22. Every subsequent race weekend will see the postponed real-world Formula One race replaced with a Virtual Grand Prix, with the initiative currently scheduled to run until May.”

The full list of competitors is yet to be announced for Sunday’s race, though not all 20 current F1 drivers will take part as a “host of stars” will be unveiled to plug the gaps on the grid.

The races will be run on the official F1 2019 PC game developed by Codemasters with Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix announced as a 50 per cent-distance race, meaning a qualifying session will set the grid for a 28-lap event that will be broadcast live on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels.

“We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action,” said Julian Tan, head of digital business initiatives and eSports.

“With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of eSports and the incredible skill that’s on show.”

In order for all standards of driving to be competitive - in stark contrast to the real thing - game settings will be prepared to encourage entertaining racing even if it hinders the best in the eSports business, with equal car performance, fixed set-ups, reduced damage and optional anti-lock brakes and traction control available for the inexperienced gamers on the grid.

With both the Vietnam and Zandvoort circuits not currently on F1 2019, organisers will announce alternative venues for those respective weekends, while there is a provision to extend the schedule beyond the end of May if the coronavirus crisis requires the need to do so.

The schedule will mirror the original F1 schedule, meaning the ‘Vietnam Grand Prix’ will be held on 5 April, while on weekend where there is no race taking place, exhibitions will be created to allow members of the public to compete against F1 drivers online.

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