In between the 2019 and 2020 F1 Esports Pro Series, six drivers have swapped teams in the ever changing world of esports.
Of course in real-world Formula 1 there’s often a number of changes made to the teams’ driver line-ups from one year to the next and the term ‘silly season’ gets banded around every year.
On the surface, the process of how drivers move from one esports team to another is similar to how it works in more established sports, although there are a few distinctions.
The most obvious one is that each F1 Esports team has three drivers with only two racing for their team at any point and drivers getting swapped out at the teams’ discretion, often if one of their drivers can’t take part in an event.
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Another major difference compared to real-world F1 is that each year there is a Pro Draft event where drivers who aren’t a part of an F1 Esports team earn a place in the Pro Draft by doing well in online events held on the F1 game.
Last year the best 41 gamers were invited to a two-day long in-person event, where each team was required to pick at least one driver to join their line-up from the Pro Draft.
Drivers who made their way into last year’s Pro Series through the Pro Draft include Pro Exhibition races star Lucas Blakeley and the 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza.
Outside of the Pro Draft, teams can drop or sign new drivers as and when they want, allowing for a free-flowing driver market.
Just recently James Baldwin, who previously raced for the Alfa Romeo team in the non-championship Pro Exhibition races thanks to his connection with Veloce Esports, officially joined McLaren Shadow’s F1 Esports team.
Unlike with most driver signings in real-world motorsport, Baldwin joined his new team with immediate effect.
It’s a comparatively late signing with most changes being made in March and April. Red Bull signing Marcel Kiefer (below) went from Racing Point in March to replace Nicolas Longuet, who in turn had gone to Renault three weeks earlier.
“Simracing is very unregulated in that regard., Nils Naujoks, Red Bull Racing Esports’ team manager tells The Race.
“I can just talk to any driver I want at any time, which is totally unthinkable in some other esports.
“I can’t comment on how it compares to real motorsport because I have never done a deal there, but since the money involved is just way less I guess the process and details to clarify are a bit easier to handle.
“The process then really is about getting in touch, finding a common ground and eventually getting the paperwork done.
“Especially in simracing where everything is still young, developing trust between the parties is a major factor when it comes to closing deals and some parties in this space haven’t done their best to give drivers that impression.”
It’s well known that driver signings in motorsport haven’t always been made based on speed on track.
Financial backing and good relationships with sponsors and the media are factors teams take into consideration.
While the former isn’t a concern in the comparatively low-cost world of esports, the latter is increasingly becoming something esports teams look at as it gains more and more media attention.
“First and foremost we are looking for people who can win,” Naujoks adds.
“So gauging the raw talent is one of the tasks, but then again – excuse the platitude – work ethic always beats talent, so ideally we are looking for someone rather mature in that regard.
“Apart from that the team aspect, even in individual competitions, is overlooked which means we are also looking for talent that fits into the existing team.
“With the commercialisation moving forward in sim racing and with deliverables to partners becoming greater, we are looking for someone who understands that this is the thing that finances the project and appreciates these requests.
“In short: we’ll need someone to check a lot of boxes, be outright fast, team oriented and easy to work with.”
Once a driver has signed with an esports team they do more than just practice on their chosen game.
It’s yet another effect of esports being taken more seriously by teams as media and sponsor attention continues to increase.
As such Red Bull Racing Esports has a routine in place with its drivers that covers everything from training to media work.
Today we started a very exciting project. First mental coaching session with Seb. Really looking forward to see where this gets us and how it develops over the next weeks/months.
— Patrik Holzmann (@PatrikHolzmann) July 14, 2020
“Most of it is surely practice, but we have started to also add something to their days that includes preparing them physically and mentally and treating them more like conventional athletes.” Naujoks says.
“With the spotlight on sim racing, the media related tasks increased, so this part is also becoming more and more professionalised.
“I think we are lucky to have the Red Bull aura, which just opens a lot of doors and opportunities that I think not many competitors have.
“We are well aware about the things that are most important for the drivers in order to perform, and we try to find a balance between what they need to do for the team and its partners and what we can do for them to free them of as much distracting factors as possible.
“The level of competition is just incredibly high in simracing and having some headroom going into the race is certainly a factor for success.”