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Max Verstappen on esports: “What else can you do at this moment?” – FOS Future Lab

06th April 2020
Ian Parkes

It is fair to suggest that for your average petrolhead the prospect of sitting in front of a television screen and watching a virtual race must feel anathema. Without the sense of real sporting drama, compared to something fake and otherworldly; of a crunching collision leading to irreparable damage and retirement, rather than being able to continue unscathed from a shunt; of motor-racing technology at its peak instead of a home simulator, it just isn't motorsport.

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But these are highly unusual times in which millions of people across the country have become 'confined' to their homes, and in which such terms as 'social distancing' and 'lockdown' have become de rigueur, as we attempt to sit and wait out the passing of an invisible enemy.

It is no wonder that we are trying to get our 'entertainment' fix wherever we can, and if racing, of sorts, can be thrown into that then it can't be all bad, can it?

I must admit, I have never been bitten by the esports bug. Sure, I've played racing games on my various additions of the PlayStation over the years. I even splashed out on a wheel in a bid to make it even more authentic. But when esports came along, the thought of sitting and watching professional gamers do what I had enjoyed from the comfort of my own sofa, it simply never appealed.

There can be no doubt that if esports had not quite caught the attention of a wider audience before the coronavirus pandemic swept around the globe, and with it bringing fear and panic, then it likely has now.

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Certainly, in the past couple of years, the likes of Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have expressed their love of gaming, and that helped spread the word.

Norris, in particular, has previously suggested how much it has helped his driving.

“It (sim racing) is just something I love to do,” said Norris, in an interview with this writer. “It was like getting into karting, as soon as I had one go, I just loved it.

“So now when I'm home, all I do is spend my time on my sim. A lot of people say it's just for fun and whatever, but when I'm driving on the simulator, I'm learning about different things, setups and stuff.

“I spend more time involved in racing, not just driving, but involved in racing. I'm learning about how to drive, about how to become a better driver, trying to make myself a better driver than a lot of people.”

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It is the same for Verstappen as he concedes the sim racing at present is keeping him “sharp”. He added: “What else can you do at this moment? You have to stay inside.

“And it’s fun. I really enjoy sim racing anyway. Over the winter I did it a lot. I try to practice my skills and make them even better. That’s why I love doing it.”

Verstappen is right. What else are drivers like him supposed to do?

With the numerous racing platforms available at present, we are now learning of drivers past and present taking part, mixing it with their professional gaming counterparts and putting on a show.

Some of the real-life F1 racers are still keeping their powder dry, evident by the two Virtual F1 Grands Prix to date that have been staged.

For the first of those, staged on the Sunday of what should have been the Bahrain GP last month, just two current F1 drivers took part in Norris and Williams rookie Nicolas Latifi, joined not only by gamers but also celebrities such as Sir Chris Hoy, Ian Poulter and Liam Payne.

For the second race, held on the day when the inaugural Vietnamese GP should have taken place, a further four drivers signed up. Alongside Norris and Latifi, there was the latter's team-mate George Russell, Red Bull's Alex Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi from Alfa Romeo and, notably, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, while England cricket's World Cup star Ben Stokes provided some entertainment, and Jenson Button returned to McLaren for a guest appearance.

Leclerc and Norris stole the show, for different reasons – the former for winning at a canter on his esports debut (a touch of real-life given the nature of many F1 races over the years), and the latter for suffering a system glitch that meant he was unable to compete.

Norris ultimately turned to his Twitch stream and engaged in a phone call with Verstappen, who told him to 'bin' the game, one the Red Bull star has chosen not to perform on as it is not his kind of platform.

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The ultimate ambition for Virtual Grand Prix would likely be for just one event to have all 20 current F1 stars on the grid, one that is almost certainly unlikely to come to fruition, albeit one which IndyCar and NASCAR – to their credit – have managed to achieve.

Generally, there is something to be said, though, for the novelty factor of Virtual GP in adding the celebrity element. Entertainment is, at the end of the day, the name of the game.

And in these thumb-twiddling times when we are trying to fill our days and cope with the horrors unfolding in the real world, the virtual one is at least offering some light relief.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

Welcome to FOS Future Lab where we report on the latest visions of future technology. We'll be boldly covering flying cars, hoverboards, jetpacks and spaceships with plenty of down to earth topics in between.

  • esports

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2020

  • Lando Norris

  • Max Verstappen

  • Charles Leclerc

  • George Russell

  • Nicolas Latifi

  • Antonio Giovinazzi

  • FOS Future Lab

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