“Your emotions go for one hell of a ride!” – Lucas Blakeley’s Pro Draft Memories
August 25, 2020
Lucas Blakeley’s story is one of a phoenix from the ashes. One of despair. Of the bitter sting of rejection. But also redemption. Resurgence. Reinvention.
The BWT Racing Point charger was selected at the 2019 Pro Draft, just 12 months on from the 2018 show, where he was overlooked by the teams. So what made the difference in that year? How do you dust yourself off? And what is it that teams look for when making their selections?
Cast your mind back to 2018. A simpler time, where the outside world wasn’t as scary, Charles Leclerc had not yet put on his banana costume, and for us, uncharted territory, as we hurtled towards the inaugural Pro Draft.
Many familiar, indeed household names, were part of that evening, and it would set up dozens of storylines for the next few years. In amongst it all was a young lad from Scotland, plonked in one of the seats on the stage, and taking in the sights and sounds of the Gfinity Arena. He had no idea what was about to happen to him…
“The 2018 Draft was one of the most important points in my life – it led to where I am now,” said Blakeley.
“Iâ€™ve always played F1 games and I thought I was quite good at them, but I never really knew how good. I jumped on to the qualifying after my National 5 exams, did the best I could, and eventually managed to get through to the Draft.
“Getting to the arena was an amazing experience. You have all the big names that are well-known; the Saltunc brothers, James Doherty, Fabrizio Donoso from the 2017 final… and youâ€™re in amongst all these guys. I felt mis-placed, because Iâ€™d never done league racing in my life! I jumped on after my exams, and now Iâ€™m in the top 40 in the world.”
And so Blakeley’s first Draft experience was in the grand scheme of things, the product of a whim. â€˜Why shouldn’t I try?â€™
Once the realisation of being in the arena surrounded by sim racing royalty set in, it was an evening of extremes for Blakeley.
“You try not to hype yourself too far up. You’re sat in the seats on the stage, and your emotions go for one hell of a ride! Youâ€™re live in front of thousands of people thinking ‘Am I about to be picked?!’
“You try to be level-headed about it, but I let my emotions get up thinking ‘Could I be picked? Does someone think Iâ€™m something?’, and then you don’t get picked, and youâ€™re completely crushed. I knew I could do it, and it hurt like hell. I went back to my hotel room and cried my eyes out, but that night was a defining moment in my life.”
It’s very easy to get excited about such a promising spectacle. Who wouldn’t jump at a half-chance to be signed by an official F1 team?! Managing your expectations is one of the toughest things to do when a stunning prize is on offer. The higher the emotions, the larger the fall, should things not go your way. But as Blakeley explains, that stinging rejection fuelled him to do better at the next attempt.
“It acted as a catalyst for the next 12 months, to come back and get picked. It gave me determination, because I never wanted to feel like that again. Thatâ€™s what led me to start league racing, play the game religiously, make a name for myself, and become known. I came back, I won my race, I got picked, and it was at the end of a whole year spent waiting for another chance.”
The 2019 Pro Draft saw 10 drivers selected, including Blakeley. Of those selected, his tears of joy stood out; a reaction even he wasn’t expecting.
“My reaction was very visual and explosive, but internally you donâ€™t even know the half of it! I couldâ€™ve jumped and hit the ceiling. The amount of emotion I had inside me that I couldâ€™ve unleashed, I thought ‘Maybe hold half of it back?!’, because you donâ€™t want to look too silly. There’s the whole year of build-up to get to that point, then it comes to one moment where you let it all out.”
Of the 10 selections made in 2019, Blakely was sixth in line (based on his team’s previous finishing position in the standings), meaning half of the selected drivers went before him. As the seats around him emptied and those on the grid filled, the nervousness and self-doubt crept in.
“I can honestly tell you, sitting in those seats on stage, waiting, is one of the worst feelings Iâ€™ve ever had! Iâ€™m not an anxious person, but my god that was crazy levels of anxiousness. The picks keep going by, and your heart rate is unrelenting. All this build-up and you hear Tom Deacon say ‘Number nine, Lucas Blakeley!’ and so much leads to that moment. It’s all released in that burst of emotion, and it meant so much because I worked hard to get to that point.
“It was an intense experience and even today I still canâ€™t believe Iâ€™m an Esports driver. Not many people in the world get this opportunity so Iâ€™m very grateful.”
With most teams having already pre-signed one or two of their drivers already, there will be a good majority of the 2020 Pro Draft pool who end up disappointed on Thursday night. It’s a position Blakeley has been in before, though – and now he’s flying high with an F1 team. How do you put it behind you?
“Use this.” says the Scot.
“You’ve got no idea how powerful this could be to motivate you, to get back and prove why you deserve a seat. So, use it. If you’re good enough, and you believe in yourself? You’ll go all the way.Â Youâ€™ve got this far out of the thousands of people that tried, so use this moment to change your life.
“The limelight is rightfully on the ones that get picked. But there are still plenty of people who donâ€™t. No matter the results, if you work your arse off and give it every last percent and you don’t get picked, you just have to hold our head high. If you’ve given it every ounce of your being, you can be proud of that.”
Many of the drivers in the Draft for 2020 are getting their second, or perhaps event third chance at selection. It worked for Blakeley, and indeed reigning champion David Tonizza, so who knows what the future could hold? Speaking of which…
AN EYE ON 2020
Our 45 finalists will have their names up in lights for the 2020 Draft, where at least 10 will be selected by the teams. All F1 Esports teams must select at least one driver from the Pro Draft pool, joining any returning or pre-signed drivers in the rosters. So who’s on the radar?
“Itâ€™s gonna be weird for me, not being in the draft for once! Looking at the Pro Exhibition performances, I’d say Michael Romanidis for one. Bari Boroumand is also in the Draft and definitely made an explosive impact, so you think thatâ€™d be something to watch out for.
“And then youâ€™ve got another draftee, Shanaka Clay, who won his second race in the Pro Exhibition! You donâ€™t have to look too far back for talent. Theyâ€™re the sort of people I think the teams will be looking at for the Draft. I canâ€™t wait for the show!”
We can’t wait either, and we’ll be watching along with Lucas and the rest of the F1 Esports community as the show gets under way on Thursday, August 27. Tune in live on Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and also with select broadcast partners on TV. The show gets going at 19:30 BST, so set your alarms now!
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