Russell, Latifi Praise Competitive Racing in F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series
June 30, 2020
After months of waiting, it’s almost time to get back on-track. Formula 1 returns in Austria at the weekend, and one team who will be looking to hit the ground running are Williams, with their exciting driver pairing of 2018 Formula 2 champion George Russell, and 2019 vice-champion Nicholas Latifi.
TheÂ team in the unique position of having bothÂ their drivers participate in almost every Virtual Grand Prix race – keeping their skills sharp during the down-time, and helping entertain millions around the world. So how much of their virtual know-how can the drivers apply once tyres hit asphalt in Spielberg? In an exclusive interview with F1Esports.com, Russell pointed out the competitive aspect remains just the same.
“Even though itâ€™s a game, you still have to go out there and do qualifying with the pressure on. You have to nail your race starts and battle with other drivers. From that side of it, it was great. It surprised me how realistic it is.”
And while Russell didn’t get to fight at the very front of the F1 field in 2019, he relished the chance to do so with his lifelong friends in the digital sphere.
“Me, Alex and Charles had a lot of fun, both in and away from the official races.
“Alex getting very frustrated being on the same track as myself was a personal highlight! Racing against all the other F1 drivers and having that competitiveness was great fun.”
It’s hard to say the name ‘George’ in F1 now without conjuring audio of Alex Albon losing his patience after a series of hilarious collisions on F1 2019, which you can check out below.
THE CARS ARE VIRTUAL; THE RACING IS REAL
Aside from the humour and camaraderie, there was some high-level racing to be enjoyed.
“I put a lot of hard work and effort into this series,” said Russell of his experience.
“Qualifying in Canada was probably my highlight. Doing that race and seeing that I was on a level to be able to compete with the Pro Esports drivers was very satisfying!”
The feeling was certainly mutual on the other side of the Williams garage. New blood Nicholas Latifi echoed his Grove-based counterpart.
“I was surprised by how many drivers got into it, how serious we all took it and how many hours we put into it. Weâ€™re all competitive and all want to win.
“I also didnâ€™t expect how real the mental emotions and processes would feel. Obviously the driving isnâ€™t 100 per cent real, but in terms of when youâ€™re trying to put a qualifying lap together or strategise in the race, it felt very similar to reality.”
Latifi has the unusual distinction of being the first F1 driver to make his debut virtually, rather than physically. Nevertheless, jumping straight in was the way to go.
“[Bahrain] was one of the first esports races that Iâ€™d taken part in, so there was a lot of excitement for me experiencing something totally brand new.
“And for the second event in Australia, a lot of the F1 drivers started getting involved and immersing themselves, which sort of set the tone for the next few months. We all had some good times, not just in the races but in general practice, joking around and creating some good content.”
And where would we have been in this lockdown period without content to make us smile?
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM
Four wins and an unofficial championship marked a productive off-season for George Russell – but could there be more Esports escapades for the Williams ace in future?
“I would definitely like to continue streaming. Itâ€™s something I really enjoyed, and itâ€™s allowed me to get closer to the fans which has been great. But obviously itâ€™s going to be difficult as we return to racing for real.”
Latifi also streamed his races during lockdown, and said he’d love to continue doing so in future, too.
“I really did enjoy it, much more than I thought I would. It was a really great way to engage with the fans.
“It was really great fun, it obviously got serious and competitive at points. Looking back, itâ€™s something I enjoyed and it gave us an opportunity to bond closer.”
Driver streams accounted for more than 2.7 million views of the Virtual Grands Prix, allowing viewers a personalised perspective of how each driver’s race unfolded.
PRO SERIES BECKONS
The 2020 Formula 1 Season is just days away from roaring into life. And the F1 2020 Esports Pro Series is not too far off either, getting under way later in the year.
So as virtual F1 racing pivots from full-time drivers to the Pro Series stars, there will be new viewers checking out the series for the first time. What should they expect?
“F1 Esports is underrated,” asserted Russell.
“The drivers are the best in the world at the game. If youâ€™re not fully focused on the TV, you could be fooled into thinking that itâ€™s the real thing – thatâ€™s how good it is!
“If youâ€™re a racing fan, youâ€™re going to get great racing, intense battles, different strategy options and thatâ€™s why you should tune in.”
There are both tactical chess games, and out-and-out track battles in the F1 Esports series – things that are both anticipated and beloved by racing fans around the world. And there’s always that aspect of the unknown…
“F1 Esports is unpredictable,” said Latifi of the series.
“In a period when there wes no sport to watch, people turned to esports and it proved entertaining. Yes, we will have on-track F1 races back, but the Pro Series racers really create some good, clean, and unpredictable racing.”
So there you have it, a seal of approval from the Williams pair. Make sure you check out the 2020 F1 Esports Pro Series when it roars into life, later this year.
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