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Formula 1 is the next motor racing sport broadcasting from inside a game

Starting Sunday March 22 the official Formula 1 website will broadcast the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix, to fill the space left vacant by the real Bahrain, cancelled due to Covid-19.

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Users of Codemasters Formula 1 2019 racing simulation have asked for real broadcast graphics back in 2019, and now it all makes sense, as the Formula 1 drivers start their computers for the next race.

The coronavirus outbreak is taking down the barriers between real and virtual worlds,  as ProVideo Coalition showed with the  NASCAR virtual races, which will be broadcast from inside an online racing simulation, iRacing. Following suite, Formula 1 organizers announced the launch of a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers. The series has been created to enable fans to continue watching Formula 1 races virtually, despite the ongoing COVID-19 situation that has affected this season’s opening race calendar.

It’s not a one race experience, as the organizers note that “The virtual races will run in place of every postponed Grand Prix, starting this weekend with the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday March 22. Every subsequent race weekend will see the postponed real-world Formula 1 race replaced with a Virtual Grand Prix, with the initiative currently scheduled to run until May.”

It should be noted that the series is strictly for entertainment purposes, to bring racing action to fans in this unprecedented scenario the world has been affected by, with no official World Championship points up for grabs for the drivers. Still, the first race of the series will see current F1 drivers line up on the grid alongside a host of stars to be announced in due course. In order to guarantee the participants safety at this time, each driver will join the race remotely, with a host broadcast live from the Gfinity Esports Arena (or remotely if required) from 8:00pm (GMT) on Sunday March 22.

Formula 1 is the next sport broadcasting from inside a game

Formula 1 drivers will race against fans

The experience of Virtual Formula 1 races will be extended, according to the organizers, and “during non-race weekends, Formula 1 will also be hosting online exhibition races, where fans from around the world will be given the chance to go head-to-head with F1 drivers. More details of these events will be available across the official Formula 1 social media channels in the coming weeks.”

Formula 1 is the next sport broadcasting from inside a game The series will use the official F1 2019 PC video game, developed by Codemasters, and the first virtual GP on the Sakhir track will be a 50% length race with 28 laps. The broadcast, which will be available on the official Formula 1 YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels, as well as F1.com, is expected to run for 1 hour 30 minutes, with a qualifying period where grid positions will be determined based on the drivers’ fastest lap time.

Due to the wide variety of gaming skill levels amongst the drivers, game settings will be configured in such a way to encourage competitive and entertaining racing. This includes running equal car performance with fixed setups, reduced vehicle damage, and optional anti-lock brakes and traction control for those less familiar with the game. F1 2019 does not use VR, so a Virtual Reality headset is not needed, although fans continue to ask for the technology to be implemented.

Formula 1 is the next sport broadcasting from inside a game

Controlling the TV cameras in a simulation

The initiative represents a good way to keep people anchored at home during this difficult time, and can also motivate many to follow the example from the professional drivers, and try their hand at car racing… using a simulator. Apparently, the enthusiasm for this races is high, as attendance to these broadcasts is growing.

The official videogame of the 2019 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, F1 2019 is the most ambitious F1 game in Codemasters’ history. F1 2019 features all the official teams, drivers and all 21 circuits from the 2019 season. With greater emphasis on graphical fidelity, the environments have been significantly enhanced, and the tracks come to life like never before. Night races have been completely overhauled creating vastly improved levels of realism.

Because users like to review their races and share them with others, the broadcast aspects of this type of simulation is always very important, and the upgraded F1 broadcast sound and visuals add further realism to all aspects of the race weekend. The set of cameras controllable by the user allows for a type of coverage that real TV teams would like to be able to replicate in the real world. The replay option of F1 2019 has also been improved with the new automated race highlights feature. All this will make the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix a joy to watch.

Formula 1 is the next sport broadcasting from inside a game

Entertaining fans with a virtual race

Julian Tan, Head of Digital Business Initiatives and Esports at Formula 1 said: “We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action. With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of esports and the incredible skill that’s on show.”

As with NASCAR and the racing simulation iRacing, there is a vast team of people behind these projects, and broadcast is an important part of the whole process. Gfinity, the company responsible for making the connection between the drivers is a leading international esports business that uses its expertise to provide both advisory services and to design, develop and deliver unparalleled experiences and winning strategies for game publishers, sports rights holders, commercial partners and media companies.

Formula 1 is the next sport broadcasting from inside a game

All the thrills and spills of racing with F1 drivers

Gfinity connects directly with competitive gaming consumers through its owned competition platform, the “Gfinity Elite Series”. The Series enables esport teams and professionals to compete across a number of different game titles, using innovative formats.The series is broadcast through linear and digital channels and enjoyed by tens of millions of esports fans around the world.

John Clarke, Gfinity Chief Executive Officer said: “Gfinity is proud to be playing its part in the design and delivery of the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, which will bring exciting virtual racing to a legion of Formula 1 and Esports fans around the globe. The virtual Bahrain GP will feature all the thrills and spills of racing with F1 drivers and special guest celebrities going head-to-head, which promises to put a smile back on the faces of millions of sports fans.”

Formula 1 is the next sport broadcasting from inside a game

Broadcasting as serious business

If you think broacasting from inside a videogame is child’s play and not a real market, the numbers may surprise you. According to Gfinity, “a record 5.8 million online viewers watched the third season of the 2019 F1 Esports Series, an incredible 76% increase on last year. The series also generated 169 million social media impressions.”

The series was streamed online via Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Huya, as well as broadcast on global television by broadcast partners such as ESPN (USA), Sky (UK), Ziggo (Netherlands), MTV (Finland) and Fox (Australia), reaching both Formula 1 and esports fans across the globe. Now, that was with drivers that are not participating in the real world Formula 1 races. The audience numbers that the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix will reach will be an important test and attract even more audiences to the eSports universe.


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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…
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