It’s 2017 and an 18-year-old German from the southwestern town of Karlsruhe has just qualified for an F1 Esports semi-final thanks to his rapid Xbox Time Trial results. Sadly, due to an on-track incident, he isn’t set to progress into the Grand Final this time around.
But, undeterred, he came back quicker, sharper, for the 2018 competition and has been part of the virtual Formula 1 pinnacle ever since.
“The biggest point for me is to keep on going. There is no big secret. It’s all about perfecting the craft and you don’t do that in any other way other than putting in the laps,” explains the Red Bull Racing Esports driver, Marcel Kiefer.
“Of course, you need to understand setups, but fortunately they aren’t the most complicated in the F1 games. You can definitely make it into F1 Esports even if you aren’t the most skilled in terms of setting up your car. Back then, in 2017/8, I didn’t know anything, but it still worked out.
“If something doesn’t work out, you just need to change something. Look at the areas you are lacking in and look to those elements for improvement.”
Keeping at the sharp end of such a competitive field is no mean feat. There are no guarantees that your F1 Esports Pro career will continue year after year, results count. As the rising esports star points out, dedication is the key.
“When the season is on, or the pre-season where we focus on setups, practice is all day long. As much time as I can put into the game, I will.
“If it’s a good day, that’s 12 hours. I try to break it up with sleep breaks, showers and going outside for fresh air and food. It’s a long grind, but if we want to be the best we must put in the hours. We are not naturally gifted, it’s all hard work with no shortcut.”
This year, the F1 Esports Pro series will see a change to proceedings. The F1 Esports Series China Championship, F1 Esports Women’s Wildcard and F1 Esports Challengers all culminate in the F1 Pro Exhibition on the 27th May 2021, replacing the now-defunct F1 Esports Pro Draft. Nevertheless, Marcel remains as focused as ever.
“The goals [for 2021] are the same as last year – to win both titles. The Drivers’ Championship, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out in 2020, but the Teams’ Championship is the main priority anyway. Of course, I still target for both titles and if everything goes to plan I aim to win it.”
“It was a great feeling when we won the Teams’ title last year, and a relief that everything worked out because everyone is putting in so much work behind the scenes.”
Last season, Marcel and teammate Frede Rasmussen were at the front of the field more often than not. The duo finished second and third in the Drivers’ Championship standing, with Red Bull taking the prestigious Teams’ Championship.
Appropriately enough, Marcel lead home a Red Bull 1-2 at the Red Bull Ring during Round 6 and he managed six further podium placings across the season. It was his most successful season to date, following fifth in 2018 and sixth in 2019. After which, Red Bull came knocking.
“[Working with Red Bull] is probably the greatest honour I’ve ever had. I was driving for a different team before and I thought that was great, but as soon as I joined Red Bull, I knew what it meant to be part of a family and feel that energy.
“It’s really a huge honour to be involved in the esports element and I hope someday to be involved in the real racing side of things also.”
This leads us on to later today, where the Race To Reveal event will be taking place on Marcel’s Twitch channel. A special launch video featuring Red Bull athletes from across Europe will help kick start the event, premiering the first-ever Red Bull Racing Esports team merchandise range, including a uniquely designed hummel team jersey.
This will then be followed by online racing and high jinks in F1 2020, Wreckfest and Rocket League – the first time all nine Red Bull Racing Esports drivers will be on the same track at the same time.
They will be joined by Red Bull Driftbrothers member Joe Hountondji, Red Bull Junior Drivers Liam Lawson and Juri Vips, Hashtag United’s Spencer Owen and Twitch streamer Pieface amongst others.
“Every day in this company is a pinch-me moment, often surreal. It’s really exciting working with great athletes, creators and personalities,” Marcel enthuses.
“They are all really down to earth and awesome to speak to them. On the stream, we can show that everyone is just a normal human. We’re just doing some crazy stuff sometimes, but in the end, we are all equal.
“I’m really excited to show the public what we have in store, the merchandise and the whole production will be awesome. I think everyone will love it and the whole evening will be fun.
“When we are driving and we have our jerseys or hoodies on, it makes you realise that you’re part of something bigger and it’s the same for the fans. They can truly connect with us and represent Red Bull Racing Esports for the first time ever.”
Elevating drivers to lead launch events such as this just highlights Red Bull’s commitment to esports and virtual racing. With F1 Esports Pro increasing in prominence and teams taking it more seriously than ever, we’ll no doubt see virtual drivers taking bigger roles outside of the simulation too.
Marcel Keifer is not only one to watch in F1 esports, but thanks to his outgoing personality and switched-on approach, he’s set for future stardom.
The Red Bull Racing Esports Race To Reveal event is later today, Thursday 13th May 2021, from 19:00 BST / 20:00 CET. Watch along on Marcel Kiefer’s Twitch channel.