F1 Esports Series 2021 Season – Change for the Present and on the Horizon

Nothing can ever overstate the importance for the Formula 1 Esports Series to sim racing and its reach to a wider audience. Formula 1 is prevailingly the pinnacle of motorsport in regards to viewership and driver quality; thus its esports counterpart has naturally received plenty of attention over four seasons to date.

2021 will mark the fifth season of competition on Codemasters’ flagship product but also the last with the current generation of cars as the new regulations come into force next year. Nevertheless, enough has changed with the most recent edition of the Formula 1 games to mean that even reigning champion Jarno Opmeer feels like at this point he’s in a more unsure place than the very end of 2020’s run in the spotlight. 

Huge roster moves, a predicted stability amongst the front runners and an eye to the future. Let’s take a look at the upcoming season.

Red Bull Dominance To Be Broken? 

Certainly the question of the hour will be if Red Bull Racing Esports can claim their third successive Teams’ title in as many years. Formula E: Accelerate champion Frede Rasmussen has already broken into 2021 with aplomb whilst much is expected of his partnership with Marcel Kiefer. The duo netted 331 points alone last season. Even new boy Liam Parnell isn’t seen as much of a risk and big moves were required elsewhere to stack up against this strong roster.

And did big moves happen indeed. The headlines at the turn of the year were dominated by Brendon Leigh, arguably the most well-known and marketable driver in F1 Esports history, switching from Mercedes-AMG to Ferrari Driver Academy.

The two-times champion teams up with his 2019 successor to the throne in David Tonizza. Domenico Lovece completes the prancing horse stable with more pressure on him to deliver his signature consistency in points scoring instead of winning races. 

The signs already look good for FDA as during the three Virtual Grand Prix events earlier this year, Leigh and Tonizza starred in the Qualifying races ensuring that their respective partners started on pole position twice out of three attempts.

Filling Leigh’s shoes at the Silver Arrows is, of course, the aforementioned Opmeer who joins recently crowned Formula Pro Series champion Bono Huis and 2020 Rookie of the Year, Dani Moreno.

Asked about the situation he finds himself in, the Dutchman was open and confident, saying that “it’s been very good. I have a lot more resources than I had last year. It is hard in that you have to get used to a lot more input but overall it makes it easier for me.The aim is to win every race.”

On Leigh, there was no disillusion to how he viewed his personal fortunes. “I do think he’s made a mistake,” he said. “Personally for him it may have been better, but for me I find myself in a great place.”

Rookies Ready?

One of the major talking points this season will be the performances of the ten new drivers taking to the grid in 2021. Parnell and Lovece are rather fortunate in that they join teams with great experience, wisdom and points scoring potential. The desire will still be there for them to score in aiding a Teams’ championship campaign but most of the heavy lifting is expected elsewhere in the lineups.

The situation is similar over at the freshly rebranded Alpine Esports who once again run Nicholas Longuet and Fabrizio Donoso. Longuet is now team leader and widely touted to have another run at the Drivers’ title whilst Donoso needs to make up for a sorely disappointing five-point 2020 effort. The job for new blood Patrik Sipos then will be to try and outdo Donoso as the number one support act to Longuet. 

Thijmen Schutte on the other hand has a very different scenario on the docket with the runners-up in last year’s Team’s championship losing their Drivers’ champion and electing to go with a totally new lineup. Simon Weigang has the most experience here and isn’t exactly predicted to light fireworks so Schutte could potentially find himself in a favourable position with Alfa Romeo come season’s end.

McLaren Shadow effectively run two rookies in Josh Idowu and the hugely rated Bari Boroumand who makes his full season debut after a one-off race in Mercedes colours. They’ll both have a fantastic mentor in a third new signing, Dani Bereznay who has pretty much done everything except with the Drivers’ title. Will be a curious season for those in papaya orange with skies the limit. 

Also of note will be ex-Porsche Esports Simracing Cup champion Sebastian Job who set a new world record around Albert Park, Melbourne in the DHL Time Trial. After a very underwhelming 2020, AlphaTauri will be hoping that the Brit comes through as a first-season wonder.

Progression and Expansion

We’d be lying if we said that this season of the Formula 1 Esports Series wasn’t still dealing with the everlasting hangover of COVID-19. In his pre-season press conference, Opmeer went on record in his beliefs that the twelve-round calendar would have been bigger had travel not remained restricted.

The series itself will persist with hopes that by this time next year there will be reason to look up, especially with the 2022 car postulating a shake up of the grid. On this topic, Opmeer mused that “Codemasters might change their engine, though I cannot confirm that.

“We might see some shuffling in the field on that part. But for this year we’ll still see, more or less, the top seven as in previous years. Different skill sets will shine next year as the cars are expected to be slower.”

This year, the field still has to tackle new venues in Portimao, Zandvoort and Imola as well as the new game itself. Yet there is a feeling amongst the pundits that this could be the last year we see the top six to eight drivers as they are.

This could be the last chance for many to truly put their name on the trophy of F1 Esports champion and I imagine we’ll be seeing that fact hit home when the season begins later today.

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