How virtual racing is filling the real-world gap left by the coronavirus
With the debut of the 2020 Formula 1 season moved from March to June (and possibly beyond) due to Covid-19 concerns, the FIA has teamed up with its official video game partner to launch a sequence of virtual Grand Prix.
Using the PC edition of Codemasters' F1 2019 (also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), a grid's worth of professional drivers lined up for a virtual Bahrain Grand Prix in lieu of the real thing.
The 90-minute race, set at half the length of a standard Grand Prix, was broadcast live through Formula 1's Twitch, YouTube and Facebook accounts.
As well as McLaren's Lando Norris, Williams' Nicholas Latifi and Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou, there were ex-FIA pros Nico Hülkenberg, Johnny Herbert, Esteban Gutiérrez and Philipp Eng among the drivers, with space for golfer Ian Poulter, cyclist Chris Hoy and even pop star Liam Payne.
In future weeks, the format will dovetail with exhibition races, allowing fans to compete against F1 drivers.
The first virtual grand prix saw a host of drivers and race fans compete against each other, including Lando Norris, Liam Payne, Ian Poulter, Nico Hulkenberg and Nicholas Latifi.
The FIA wasn't the only high-profile motor racing event transferring to a video game equivalent.
Having earlier filled a gap left by the postponed Australian GP, F1 veterans Max Verstappen and Juan Pablo Montoya were among those participating in The Race All-Star Esports Battle, which took place within the more simulation-heavy computer game rFactor 2, repeating the feat for Bahrain.
Nascar, meanwhile, turned to another well-established sim, iRacing, for a virtual substitute of the season's Homestead-Miami contest.
Fox carried the simulated Nascar race on March 22, while some of FIA's F1 broadcast partners took the F1 2019 event.
Of course, all this pales in comparison to YouTube channel Jelle's Marble Runs (JMR), which gained an enthusiastic following in 2016 thanks to its spin on the Summer Olympic Games.
Set up by Dutch brothers Jelle and Dion Bakker, with commentary from motorsports fan Greg Woods, JMR has since expanded from the MarbleLympics to cover the Marble League, Marble Rally and, debuting in February 2020, its very own Marbula One.
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