In January 2019, a car racing competition called Race of Champions was held at the Foro Sol stadium, Mexico. Running since 1988, Race of Champions (ROC) is a head-to-head competition that gathers top drivers from all car racing disciplines to compete with each other. No matter whether they are from the world of Formula 1, NASCAR, or Rally, all drivers are given the same car, and only skills determine their success.
There is something special in this year’s ROC. Unexpectedly, an esports athlete named Enzo Bonito defeated other senior riders, including Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Formula E champion Lucas at Grassi. In the end Enzo Bonito did not succeed in becoming the ROC champion, but a head-to-head victory over the names above cannot be underestimated.
Previously winning the eROC champion, Enzo Bonito is currently a member of the McLaren esports team, but that could change in the future. Having proven expertise in real circuits, it is possible for esports athletes like Bonito to switch careers to real-world racers. This opinion was expressed by Ellie Norman, Formula 1 Head of Marketing.
“I would definitely say, ‘be careful with (the world of esports)’, especially after the Race of Champions. The program showed clearly the difference between esports as a profession and only as a game. I think in 10 years, the speed of technological development is phenomenal. So that (esports athletes become F1 drivers) can occur within that time frame, “Eliie Norman said in an interview with Autosport.
Norman believes that it is only a matter of time until the world of esports and Formula 1 truly merges and overlaps. In the future, the way your audience enjoys Formula 1 will change.
“There is physical racing on the circuit, for some people maybe they just want to watch this, whether on TV or directly on the field. But there is a new audience who wants to watch the race while simultaneously racing virtually. That will be their F1 experience. Both are not wrong, it’s just the way they choose to enjoy this sport, “Norman said.
A similar opinion was expressed by Ben Payne, Director of Esports at McLaren. In January, McLaren also just finished their esports program called the McLaren Shadow Project. This program aims to find talent to be recruited into the McLaren esports team. However, at McLaren, the esports team and the real world racing team have a relationship of mutual influence.
Rudy van Buren, for example, champion of a similar competition in 2017, has now been recruited as an Official Simulator Driver for the McLaren Formula 1 team. This year’s winner, Igor Fraga, has now entered the McLaren esports team, and will work with the McLaren Formula 1 team as well.
The transfer of abilities from esports to Formula 1 is possible, according to McLaren, because car racing esports athletes have excellent physical conditions. Different from other esports branches. “All finalists (McLaren Shadow Project) have good physical condition. When you go to FIFA tournaments, they don’t look like athletes. “Our finalists look like athletes,” Ben Payne told Gamesindustry.biz.
“They sit on chairs and race aggressively, and if they do it six hours per day, the force feedback from the steering wheel (controller) is very strong and keeping it on track is also difficult. They certainly will not break a finger when a collision, but this is still a test of endurance.
If you and I play FIFA for a few hours, we can stop, have a drink, then continue playing. But our athletes are more like real athletes than many other branches of esports. I know the big esports teams have nutritionists and so on, but I think simulation racing is indeed different, “explained Ben Payne.
Interestingly, Igor Fraga himself before becoming an esports athlete was actually a real racer. He has a career as a karts driver and Formula 3. This further shows that the skillset of a motorsport and esports racer has a strong closeness.