It has been a slow start to Jarno Opmeer on F1 22 – first losing his PSGL title to Lucas Blakeley, then taking just two league racing victories and failing to win in any of the first two F1 Esports Series Pro events.
It looked like the championship was slipping out of his grasp, with his second non-points finish at an Italian venue this season.
A victory at Mexico was somewhat overshadowed by drama further down the field, but the Flying Dutchman had some momentum heading into Circuit of the Americas: where he took one of his two victories on F1 22 back in the second round of Premier Sim Gaming Leagues.
After 28 laps of COTA, it has set up potentially the greatest title fight in F1 Esports Series Pro history in just under six weeks’ time.
The two in-form drivers, Thomas Ronhaar and Bardia Boroumand exchanged times at the sharp end throughout qualifying, with the rookie earning another pole position by just under a tenth of a second from the Iranian.
Marcel Kiefer’s qualifying form has shown a vast improvement in Event 3, and he would have been on the second row with his teammate Frede Rasmussen. But, the Dane carried over a 10-place grid penalty from his antics with Ronhaar in the closing stages of the Mexican race.
That meant Opmeer moved to fourth, with Carreton continuing Williams’ recent run of impressive qualifying performances in fifth. Points leader Blakeley could only manage seventh and faced a difficult task in the race with mixed conditions on the horizon.
Heavy rain had arrived at COTA, with all drivers opting to start on the blue-walled wet tyres after the mixed approach at the previous wet race at Zandvoort.
The front two got off the line well, with Ronhaar fending off Boroumand into the opening corner. Kiefer and Opmeer followed, but Blakeley got the perfect launch and jumped into fifth place ahead of Carreton and Brendon Leigh.
Rasmussen, down in 14th, was heavily cautious at the start but slowly picked his way through the field and was inside the top 10 before the lap count turned to double figures. Whilst he moved forward, his teammate slipped backwards as Opmeer slid past Kiefer and into the podium spots.
Haas opted to pit Piotr Stachulec relatively early for the intermediates, so they had perfect data for Ronhaar. The crossover point came at an awful time for Blakeley, who pitted a lap later, fell behind Carreton and Leigh and was under heavy pressure from Rasmussen in eighth place.
The track conditions improved heading into the final third of the race, with a four-way fight for the lead.
The two young guns on the scene against two two-time F1 Esports World Champions: Ronhaar vs Boroumand vs Opmeer vs Leigh, who had passed Carreton on track during the intermediates phase.
When the crossover point for slicks arrived, there was more pain for Blakeley as the championship leader was held by his teammate ahead, causing him to drop behind Rasmussen in seventh.
The front four remained as they were, except for Boroumand taking the lead with the DRS until the final lap.
Just like last season, when Opmeer took the win in the final moments. History repeated itself after Boroumand seemingly moved under braking, causing Ronhaar to go wide and off the track at the end of the DRS straight.
Opmeer got the perfect switchback and passed the pair before holding off another challenge from Boroumand through the tight twisty section of the third sector to take a second successive win and put him firmly in the championship hunt with three races remaining.
Boroumand attempted to get the lead back proved costly, and he was not only overtaken by Ronhaar, but Leigh managed to squeeze his way past to take his and Ferrari’s first podium of the season.
Rasmussen finished fifth and gained on the championship leader after the Scotsman finished sixth: the pair moving up one spot after Carreton picked up a time penalty for track limits.
The events of COTA mean with three rounds remaining, Blakeley keeps his championship lead, but his advantage is just 11 points, with Ronhaar his closest challenger. Boroumand sits three off Ronhaar, with Rasmussen three points off the Iranian and 18 points off the lead.
Opmeer’s victory means he sits 22 points off the championship lead, with the gap a massive 56 points after Monza, setting up an incredible Grand Final.
The five-way title finale and the 2022 F1 Esports Pro Series Championship concludes with three races starting on 14th December, with a trip to Suzuka, before visits to Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
F1 ESPORTS SERIES PRO 2022, RACE 9 RESULTS
- Jarno Opmeer – Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Esports – 50.00.324
- Thomas Ronhaar – Haas F1 Team Esports +0.258
- Brendon Leigh – Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports +0.558
- Bardia Boroumand – McLaren Shadow +0.851
- Frederik Rasmuseen – Oracle Red Bull Racing F1 Esports +5.542
- Lucas Blakeley – McLaren Shadow +6.860
- Daniel Bereznay – Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN Esports +7.572
- Alvaro Carreton – Williams Esports +9.335
- Marcel Kiefer – Oracle Red Bull Racing F1 Esports +15.460
- Joni Törmälä – Scuderia AlphaTauri Esports +16.446