Lucas Blakeley became F1 Esports’ fourth world champion after a measured drive in the Abu Dhabi finale.
Seventh was needed to guarantee the title, so the Scotsman could have played it safe heading into the race. There would have been nerves, especially with his two title rivals, Frede Rasmussen and Thomas Ronhaar, battling for the win, knowing a mistake could have massive consequences.
But he displayed the composure he had shown all season to claim a well-deserved title.
In a race where the championship contenders need their teammates close, neither managed to get into the final part of qualifying.
Piotr Stachulec and Marcel Kiefer were out in Q1, and after 22 Q3 appearances, McLaren Shadow finally had a driver knocked out in qualifying after Bari Boroumand only managed 12th.
Red Bull’s sister team Alpha Tauri looked like the team to beat, with Joni Tormula and Josh Idowu regularly at the top of the times, and the latter took his second pole in F1 Esports Series Pro with a brilliant lap at the death.
Ronhaar secured another front-row start, with his two championship rivals, Rasmussen and Blakeley, directly behind on the second row to set up a tantalising grid for the finale.
Haas’ Ronhaar got the perfect jump off the line and was side-by-side with the polesitter Idowu into the opening corner. There was slight contact between the two, but the Dutchman emerged ahead on the medium-compound tyres.
Rasmussen and Blakeley maintained their positions and had both Williams and Alpines for company, who were fighting for eighth in the constructors’ table with Aston Martin.
The remainder of the grid went against Ronhaar and started on the hard tyres, and Idowu could not keep up with Ronhaar and was overtaken by the 11-time F1 Esports race winner Rasmussen, who had to win to keep his championship hopes alive.
The leader stretched his advantage towards three seconds before eventually pitting on the 10th lap, moving Rasmussen into the race lead.
At the midway point, Alpine pulled the pin with Patrik Sipos in net-fifth and pitted him for the mediums for an undercut attempt.
Rasmussen covered the following lap leaving Idowu in the lead from Blakeley and Alvaro Carreton, who was on for a strong haul of points to move Williams off the bottom of the standings.
The trio pitted on the 16th lap, with fresh tyres seeming to have a stronger impact around Abu Dhabi than previous circuits on the calendar: leaving a Mercedes one-two at the front of the field with Jarno Opmeer and Jake Benham attempting their usual aggressive overcut.
Blakeley filtered out behind Sipos but ahead of his teammate Luke Smith, who impressed once again in his debut season.
Rasmussen was slowly closing on Ronhaar, who had built over a five-second advantage after pitting early, but as results stood, they would not be claiming their maiden F1 Esports title.
Sadly, for Haas and Red Bull, their teammates who stayed out incurred issues that prevented them from holding up Blakeley and backing him up into the several cars behind.
Kiefer, who got the call to ‘execute the plan’, suffered a heart-breaking game crash as Blakeley approached the Red Bull, and Stachulec got picked off at Turn 5 after making a slight error.
It left Blakeley with free air to the cars ahead and behind to cruise home. Ronhaar was overtaken by Rasmussen and could not stay with the Red Bull on the harder tyres earning the Dane a record-breaking 12th F1 Esports Series Pro win.
Ronhaar finished second and third in the 2022 F1 Esports Pro Championship in his debut season, with Idowu claiming a podium in a strong season for the Welshman.
There was further drama behind as Alpine went from fifth and sixth to ninth and a DNF. Sipos crashed at Turn 3 on the final lap, costing them eighth in the constructors. To add further pain, Smith was hit by Carreton, costing Williams ninth and gifting Aston Martin eighth after another poor race from its drivers.
There was no drama for Blakeley as he crossed the line in fourth place to claim the title, and the tears flew from the Scotsman, who had suffered many downs in his early F1 Esports career but had fought back in the last two years to become the king of F1 22.
2022 F1 ESPORTS SERIES PRO CHAMPIONSHIP: ROUND 12 RESULTS
- Frederik Rasmussen – Oracle Red Bull Racing F1 Esports – 29 laps
- Thomas Ronhaar – Haas F1 Team Esports
- Josh Idowu – Scuderia AlphaTauri Esports
- Lucas Blakeley – McLaren Shadow
- David Tonizza – Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports
- Jarno Opmeer – Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Esports
- Bardia Boroumand – McLaren Shadow
- Brendon Leigh – Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports
- Luke Smith – Alpine F1 Esports
- Nicolas Longuet – Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN Esports
Images: Formula 1