With a quarter of this year’s F1 Esports Pro Series completed in the space of two days, there’s a lot to digest from the first three races.
Changes to the Codemasters’ F1 game from 2019 to 2020 along with the three-stage qualifying format, longer races, and competing remotely means a lot has changed from last year’s Pro Series.
A 50% increase on last year’s prize money also means there’s more than ever at stake for the 10 teams and 30 drivers, all of which could explain some of the more surprising results from the opening rounds.
The pair of Daniel Bereznay and Jarno Opmeer have been near unbeatable at the front, with Opmeer currently leading the drivers’ championship with 65 points, 24 ahead of Red Bull’s Marcel Kiefer in second.
Alfa Romeo also lead the constructors’ championship with a 29 point advantage over the 2019 constructors’ champions Red Bull.
The Bahrain and China rounds were won by Opmeer, with defending champion David Tonizza as the only other race winner as he was victorious at Hanoi.
Alfa Romeo delivers on pre-season hype
— Formula 1® Game (@Formula1game) October 15, 2020
The Alfa Romeo drivers’ pace was foreseen by both reigning champion David Tonizza and the World’s Fastest Gamer winner, and F1 Esports rookie, James Baldwin before the Pro Series started.
With Bereznay and Opmeer finishing the 2019 Pro Series’ drivers’ championship in third and fourth respectively, it’s not hard to see why.
The decision to start on the soft tyre by Daniel Bereznay and the successful undercut by Jarno Opmeer got Alfa Romeo a 1-2 finish in Bahrain and Opmeer an early lead in the drivers’ championship.
A second podium finish from Opmeer in the Vietnam round solidified his place at the top of the drivers’ championship at the end of the first day, with the gap over the rest of the field extending after his second win of the season at China.
Both of Opmeer’s race wins have come from him starting on the medium compound tyres and ending the races on the softs, a differing strategy to most of the other front runners in China.
The Dutch driver may have stolen the limelight so far this season, but his teammate Bereznay has been right up there with him.
Bereznay currently sits third in the drivers’ championship and ahead of the 2019 runner up Frederik Rasmussen.
Second place in Bahrain and third in China make up for a disappointing Vietnamese Grand Prix which saw him get knocked out in Q1 with a time good enough for 18th.
He gained three positions over the course of the race to cross the line in 15th, but still far outside of the points places.
Despite that Bereznay’s two other podium finishes mean he’s still undoubtedly in drivers’ championship contention and will help Alfa Romeo take the largest slice of the prize money home if they go on to win the constructors’ championship at the end of the year.
Longuet – the title dark horse
Last year we hardly got to see any of Nicolas Longuet as Red Bull only fielded him once and that was for the race around Monza where he bagged a result of second place and behind only Bereznay.
Now with Renault, he’s been given more opportunities to show what he’s capable of.
In the Pro Exhibition series earlier this year, on the F1 2019 game, he did a respectable job with a best finish of third at Spain.
That wasn’t a one-off front running performance as he was fourth at Australia and finished seventh twice in the seven race series.
He started off his 2020 Pro Series campaign strong as he took pole position for the first round of the season, but a sub-optimal strategy meant he finished the race in fifth.
Hanoi proved to be a happy hunting ground for him as much of the race was spent with him trading the top two places with Tonizza.
At the start of the final lap Longuet held the top spot only for Tonizza to take it back, with the aid of DRS, down the 1.5 km long back straight.
Despite that he still held second in the drivers’ standings at the end of the first day.
An uncharacteristically poor performance in qualifying set the tone for a pointless third race, but setting the fastest time in qualifying at Bahrain and his near race win at Hanoi prove he’s more than a match for some of the more established drivers on the grid.
Despite finishing outside of the points in China, he still set the fastest race lap time which proves he’s still got the pace to be up at the front, even if he couldn’t deliver it in qualifying.
Ferrari disconnects from the championship battle
With races being held remotely and over Wi-Fi rather than the LAN events in previous years, disconnections and other technical issues are more likely to happen.
That’s exactly what struck David Tonizza and Enzo Bonito in China when the Ferrari drivers were running in third and seventh respectively.
After a pointless first race, Tonizza put himself firmly back into championship contention after his race win in Vietnam, placing third in the championship after the second race.
His inability to complete the third race of the Pro Series goes against what helped him to become the F1 Esports champion in 2019 – consistency.
Of the 12 races, he won three but more impressively he finished 10 of those races inside the top five, with the only other two results being a sixth and eighth-place finish.
The constant stream of points in 2019 hasn’t been able to be replicated in 2020, but it’s not just Tonizza who’s suffering.
Ferrari were the runners up in the constructors’ championship, but both drivers being effectively taken out of the Chinese Grand Prix mean Ferrari are currently fourth in the constructors’ championship and have less than a third of the points that Alfa Romeo do.
What’s happened to Huis and Blakely?
It’s not all surprises or disappointments caused by technical issues, as there have been a couple of drivers’ who simply haven’t lived up to their past results.
Heading into the 2020 Pro Series Lucas Blakeley was amongst those penned to fight for the title off the back of unofficially winning the F1 Pro Exhibition championship earlier in the year.
The intervening few months and the new game haven’t served the Scotsman well though, although the most recent race was an improvement.
Blakeley ended the first day with a single point to his name, although a much-improved race in China saw his points tally increase by eight.
It contrasts with his Pro Exhibition successes which included a race win at Monaco, four podium finishes, and only one race where he ended it outside the top 10.
On the face of it, his current points total isn’t too bad compared to what he ended the 2019 Pro Series with, but he only took part in the final four rounds yet scored 20 points.
In almost as many races he’s scored just under half as many points, although his 2019 tally was almost entirely due to claiming second at Suzuka.
Another driver returning to F1 Esports, and one who has many other sim racing accolades to his name, is Bono Huis.
The switch from McLaren Shadow to Mercedes was going to put a lot of pressure on him as he now partners the two-time champion, Brendon Leigh.
He sat out the most recent round due to illness, even still though he’s not scored any points after crossing the line in 11th and 13th in the first two races.
By comparison, he finished three-quarters of the 2019 Pro Series races inside the top 10, and even by the second round he already had nine points to his name.
There are a few other drivers who haven’t yet lived up to their 2019 standards, but none are as glaringly off the pace as Huis.
A matter of time for Kiefer, Red Bull
Whilst Opmeer may have taken an early and sizeable championship lead, Marcel Kiefer’s proven more than capable of putting up a good fight to him.
Last year, whilst driving for Racing Point, he finished sixth in the drivers’ championship with one race win and one third-place finish to his name.
Even going back to 2018 he ended the Pro Series fifth in the drivers’ championship and bagged three third-place results, so has had a long streak of solid results in F1 Esports.
So far in the 2020 season, he’s finished third in Bahrain, sixth in Vietnam, and held the race lead in China until Opmeer took it away from him on the second to last lap.
His qualifying pace shows just how comparable his one-lap pace is to Opmeer and how tight the margins are up at the top.
In Bahrain, he was the second-fastest in qualifying, behind only Longuet by a margin of 0.027 seconds.
The entire top seven in that session, made up of both Red Bulls and Alfa Romeos, Longuet, Tormala, and Blakeley, all set lap times within a tenth of a second of each other.
Lap times in China were a little more spaced out with only the top four separated by a tenth of a second, but included in those top four was Kiefer and just 0.037 seconds separated him from polesitter Opmeer.
With nine rounds to go, anyone could still emerge as a credible championship contender, but so far Kiefer has come the closest to matching Opmeer’s raw speed and consistency across multiple circuits.