17th December 2020. Round 12 of the F1 Esports Series at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace. Renault Sport Team Vitality’s star driver takes a final pole position and victory to ensure the team stays third in the Teams’ Championship whilst securing fourth in the Drivers’ standings for himself.
Fast forward eleven months and that same driver has only taken one podium finish since.
Nicolas Longuet was one of 2020’s breakouts after his move from Red Bull Racing Esports. It shouldn’t be forgotten that in the sole race for his initial employers he claimed a mighty second place behind teammate Frede Rasmussen. The potential was there for everyone to see and Renault was justified in signing him.
He was rightly celebrated as the stable’s carry netting 96 per cent of the outfit’s points total. When that total concluded as 136 you can see why the Frenchman’s stock value was high. It was a no-brainer to stay with the rebranded Alpine for 2021 although many saw a title challenge as the bare minimum this time around.
Longuet currently sits just shy of 60 points off championship leader Jarno Opmeer.
“I don’t know if people are over or under hyping us. We don’t really think about the pressure other people put on us. I’m really happy with how Fabrizio is doing, he’s bounced back this year. I feel I’ve been underperforming a bit. I just need to get the points in the race. I truly believe I can fight for pole and win at every track. I’ve just been having ups and downs this year,” explained the driver currently sitting sixth in the standings.
It feels hard to quantify Nicolas’ season at present. He has been qualifying well (much better than Opmeer in fact) and when scoring usually finds himself in or around the podium. Shanghai and Monza were below expectations, however, and non-scores are simply crippling to any title challenge in this discipline.
“It comes down to the race. We have to improve and it’s why they have this gap in the championship. The stakes are high, I’m not just going to let someone pass. I feel I’m on the limit with what I do. Every tenth matters, even pit entry can make the difference.”
Shanghai, specifically, was a huge challenge for all pilots thanks to its changeable conditions. When queried in this event’s press conference, Longuet claimed that it was practically impossible to prepare for such eventualities. This is quite the statement to make when others such as Lucas Blakeley have told of putting in the hours to be ready for anything.
Perhaps this is just Longuet being modest or perhaps it speaks more of a driver who doesn’t quite have the answer as to why he hasn’t kicked on yet in 2021. The conversation turned to the third driver at Alpine, Patrick Sipos.
“I think I know how Patrick is feeling since I was in that position at Red Bull in 2019. I didn’t have too high expectations. I didn’t want to go around and think that I’d beat everyone. I looked to learn from my teammates and that’s exactly what Patrick is doing.”
It’s a subtle but significant nod; almost as if he wished he was back in that position. As a ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak I openly admit that I could be reading a little too much into it, but Nicolas himself wants the title of F1 Esports Series Pro champion. This season is his first with expectation rather than anticipation.
He isn’t doing badly. Quite conversely, his efforts in helping teammate Fabrizio Donoso to find his feet again have been visible and successful. We should celebrate that rather than look towards a story that might have been but was never a guarantee.
The F1 Esports Series Pro Championship returns with rounds seven and eight on the 24th November, and the ninth event on 25th November. Nicolas Longuet and the Alpine team will be looking for further podium results. You can follow the team’s path through this season by watching The Conquest video series on the Race Clutch YouTube channel.
Image Source: Race Clutch