Esports controversy at Spa | FOS Future Lab

31st August 2021
Andrew Evans

While the real-world F1 grid headed to Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for what was one of the most controversial ‘races’ ever, the sim-racing world also headed to the circuit and its own controversy.

The weekly Premier Sim Gaming Leagues (PSGL) F1 event took to Spa in ideal conditions, which saw defending champion Jarno Opmeer take pole position in the Mercedes with a 1m 39.4s lap that was just a hundredth quicker than Jake Benham’s Haas; with the cars equalised in performance terms, the field was as tight as ever with less than a second covering the pole lap from the slowest time in Q1.

After a relatively clean start, the front five were racing in the order they’d qualified, despite a tyre advantage for last week’s winner Frede Rasmussen in the Red Bull, but chaos is never far away in a race at Spa, and it unfolded at the Bus Stop chicane.

Lucas Blakeley appeared to be caught out by Nicholas Longuet’s braking point and tagged the French driver in the Alpine, who then spun between the corners. Rasmussen, who’d moved late to the inside, then couldn’t avoid the spinning car, collided with it and then hit the wall in the pitlane entry – ending his race prematurely.

That brought the safety car out, and several drivers – including race leader Opmeer – rolling the dice on strategy options. Benham then inherited the lead for the restart, though he was quickly passed by Blakeley along the Kemmel Straight.

With the safety car in, it was all about Opmeer. Using the advantage of the fresh soft tyres compared to the worn mediums of those ahead, the Mercedes driver moved back up from tenth onto Blakeley’s rear wing over the next ten laps, against the backdrop of a circuit getting damper and damper as the rain began to fall.

The lead ten then all stopped on lap 14 as Alessio di Capua’s crash at Paul Frere brought out the safety car again, but rather than picking intermediates as with most of the grid, Blakeley, Opmeer, and Benham all opted for softs as the rain had stopped and the track was beginning to dry. However, in a game selection error, Blakeley ended up on the hard tires, leaving him a sitting duck for the two soft runners behind.

Sure enough, it didn’t take long once the safety car peeled in before Blakeley was down into third. Opmeer wasted no time and made the pass into Les Combes, with Benham following at the Bus Stop at the end of the same lap.

Despite Benham picking up a late-race penalty for multiple warnings, the front two had built up enough of a gap so that the three seconds added to his time weren’t enough to move Blakeley up a step, with Opmeer taking his second win in three races to lead the championship. His Mercedes team-mate Dani Moreno came through a chaotic final lap to take fourth by under a hundredth of a second from the McLaren of Ruben Vallejo.

However, a detail emerged after the race that might threaten Opmeer’s championship ambitions, along with a number of other drivers who, like the Dutch driver, will be racing in the official F1 Esports championship later this year.

Codemasters issued a new “build” of the F1 2021 game to the drivers and teams who will be participating in the official championship this autumn, which addresses some issues with the game physics. While that assists the teams in preparing for the season, it also means they cannot participate in leagues that don’t use the version of the game, and as this version is not available to the public yet, that includes the PSGL F1 series.

PSGL will continue its weekly schedule, starting with round four at Circuit Zandvoort next week, but it’s likely that none of the drivers on official F1 Esports teams will be able to take part – which would account for a dozen of the current field – and it’s not clear when this situation will be resolved.

Lamborghini’s The Real Race competition saw its fifth round this weekend coming from Circuit Zandvoort, and Jordan Sherratt remained in imperious form.

Leading into the weekend across seven races and four rounds, Sherratt had only been denied a pole position once and a race win once, and the Zandvoort event proved no different. Taking pole by over 0.3s from Andrea Benedetti, the South African driver took a comfortable ten-second win in the 28-lap sprint race and converted that to a nearly 20-second win in the longer 38-lap feature.

Sherratt now leads the regional standings by a huge 73-point gap, with 230 points to Kevin Siclari’s 103, with half of the season concluded.

In Asia-Pacific the title fight is a good deal closer, with Egor Ogorodnikov eking out a slender five-point lead following the races at Zandvoort. It was in fact third-place man Andrew O’Hara who took maximum points this weekend, with the pole position and both race wins. However Ogorodnikov backed up a race one finish of fourth with a race two podium to just outscore his closest rival, Gary Huang.

Fidel Moreira took a solid chunk out of William Hendrickson’s championship lead in the Americas region by winning both races at Zandvoort. That came after Hendrickson had claimed pole position, but the American driver could only finish third in the sprint race and tumbled down to fifth for the endurance. Nonetheless he still holds a decent 19-point advantage over his nearest rival with half the season to go.

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