F1 Esports Pro Series – Brendon Leigh The Man To Catch
November 13, 2018
A lot has changed over the last 12 months, but in the world of F1 Esports one thing remains the same: Brendon Leigh is still the man to beat. The F1 New Balance Esports Pro Series 2018 has undergone a major upgrade since the inaugural Grand Final in Abu Dhabi in November 2017, and, after a significant transformation of his own, the 2017 champion has been in imperious form in the initial stages of his title defence.
Radical lifestyle changes, including punishing sessions in the gym with renowned fitness coach, Simon Fitchett, helped Leigh to shed around 20 kilos in the early months of 2018, in preparation for the searching challenges ahead. He knew his rivals would come back stronger in 2018 and that he’d have a target on his back. Everyone wants to beat the champ, after all. So how tough was it to make those changes? And how is he handling the pressure that comes with being the defending champion?
“The challenge of losing the weight and changing my lifestyle wasn’t that difficult,” he explains. “My trainer, Simon Fitchett, has worked with F1 drivers for many years. He has shown me what it takes to be an F1 driver from a fitness point of view – and if you want to be a successful F1 Esports driver you need to take a similar approach.
“I’ve never felt under too much pressure from the fact I’m returning this year as the defending champion. The way I see it is that I’m back having already won a championship and after achieving a massive goal of mine. For me, the pressure is on the other drivers to go out and get that championship and take it from me. I’ve been able to approach the Pro Series content with what I have already accomplished.”
Thanks to his performances in 2017, Leigh had the luxury of being able to bypass the qualifying phase of this year’s championship, leaving him plenty of time to develop his skills without distraction. His calm and calculating demeanour is one of his strengths, so it’s endearing to see his eyes light up when he talks about his recruitment by Mercedes AMG-Petronas Esports in the summer. It was a life-changing moment for a teenager who had been working as a kitchen porter just a few months earlier. Suddenly he was a driver for an official F1 Esports team, accepting the challenge of representing the on-track F1 world champions, joining an elite organisation that isn’t used to finishing second.
“The Pro Series has changed so much since last year and a huge added bonus is the involvement of the official F1 Esports teams, which is so exciting,” he says. “Signing for Mercedes was a dream come true for me as they are my favourite team on the F1 grid. It’s such an honour. The Esports facility that they have built at their factory in Brackley has really helped me and the other Mercedes Esports drivers raise their game.”
Leigh heads into the 2018 Grand Final on 16 and 17 November with a 43-point lead in the driver standings after winning four of the six Pro Series races so far. It’s a strong position to be in, but with four races still to come, and with double points on offer at Abu Dhabi in the final round, he knows he cannot afford to take his foot off the gas.
At the most recent Pro Series event, on Halloween, there was a scare for Leigh and his team, with a penalty from the stewards initially taking away his win at Circuit Paul Ricard. The victory was restored on appeal and was followed by another win for Leigh, at Silverstone, but in the last race before the forthcoming Grand Final – won by Leigh’s team mate Daniel Bereznay – he finished off the podium for the first time in the 2018 Pro Series. A timely warning against complacency?
“Overall, it was an awesome day for the team,” he reflects. “I took two wins from three races, and it was three out of three wins for Mercedes with my team mate getting his first win of the Pro Series. I was super-happy for him. He’s done an amazing job and has been really quick throughout, so I’m surprised a win for him didn’t come earlier. We’re all really pleased with how things have gone so far and we need to make sure that we carry the momentum forward to the Grand Final.
“I didn’t find it too stressful when the stewards were deliberating my penalty at Paul Ricard. If you’re confident in yourself and in your team, it’s not that difficult. I have a fantastic group of people around me who were able to fight the case on my behalf and this meant I was able to leave it in their hands and concentrate on my job, which was to focus on the next races. I’m very grateful for that.
“There are plenty of drivers with a mathematical chance of catching me in the standings and a lot can happen over four races. I just have to keep my head down and focus on what I’m doing instead of paying too much attention to anyone else. I’ve taken two wins from three races at both Pro Series events so far, so I’m looking forward the the Grand Final. It’s going to be practice, practice, practice until then!”
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