Imagine hopping into a Formula 1 car on the starting grid at Silverstone. All you have to do is finish in the top half and you qualify for Abu Dhabi in the final event of the season. You place your hands on the wheel, the lights go out and you fly down towards the first corner.
Sounds like a dream right? But the for F1 Esports Series semifinalists, it’s a reality. The racers have a steering wheel equipped with all the dials, switches and paddles of a real F1 car, the pedals are beneath them and they have the live audience cheering them on. The only difference is whilst they are racing at Silverstone, or Sao Paulo or Abu Dhabi, they are in fact in the Gfinity Arena in London.
The pod allows the racers to feel what it is like inside a real Formula 1 Car
Lights out in London
A total of 63,827 players took part in qualifying, which was whittled down to 40 for the semifinals on October 10. The ‘sim racers’ had to transition from pad play (playing with a controller) to the pod, which simulates a real-life Formula 1 hot seat.
So Abu Dhabi awaited for those 40 racers in London. All they had to do was finish in the in the top 20 and they would be on their way to the Middle East for the grand final, on the same weekend as the climax of the F1 World Championship.
The gamers got half their points from the time-trial on Tuesday, which also decided the grid and which car the racers got to use. With four semifinals and 10 drivers per race, a top five in their race at Silverstone was what they needed.
With an anticipatory audience, and former Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok on punditry and 2012 GP2 Series champions Davide Valsecchi on commentary, the stage was set for the racers to take to their pods.
The barefooted Brendon Leigh showcased his talents to those inside the arena, and after clinching a maximum 50 points, he looks to be the man to beat after winning his heat by almost 10 seconds. All the racers who started at the front of the grid won their race, so qualifying will be crucial in Abu Dhabi.
The 18-year-old Leigh said: “It doesn’t come naturally, you have to put the practice in. I put in an extra 30 hours a week for this event, so I was probably putting in 100 to 120 hours a week in preparation for the semifinal.”
Brit Brendon Leigh was the fastest on the night and he spoke to former F1 driver Karun Chandhok and presenter Tom Deacon
In the last semi-final, Patrik Holzmann and Frederik Rasmussen had the battle of the day, with a tactical pit stop from the Dane Rasmussen almost doing the trick to catch his rival. The German Holzmann managed to hold fight him off in the last lap to claim the victory, but the pair will lock horns again in Abu Dhabi next month.
Formula 3 driver Igor Fraga showed that the transition from the car to the pod can be done, with the Brazilian securing safe passage through the final. Pundit Chandok had a go himself, but on his five practice laps during the day, he admitted to spinning on three of them. There was also video footage of current F1 driver Valtteri Bottas taking to the pod.