On Wednesday morning, Formula E became the latest real-world racing series to announce an online move into esports as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make public gatherings impossible. Starting this Saturday, the electric racing series kicks off with a nine-race esports competition using rFactor 2 like the stage. And since the series has always been a little more socially conscious than the more traditional forms of fossil fuel racing, it has partnered with UNICEF, raising donations from viewers to pay for projects such as buying protective gear for health professionals and setting up home education programs .
The first race – scheduled for April 18 – will be the equivalent of a pre-season test, with no points for the winners. But for the next eight weekends, the championship will be scored in the usual Formula E fashion, including points for fastest lap and qualifying on pole position, plus double points for the final race. In fact, two races will be held in parallel every Saturday.
One is for the real Formula E drivers, with 14 off the grid confirmed for next weekend’s race. The second is for professional esports racers and influencers, with entries going to the 18 fastest qualifiers from events held the week leading up to each race. There’s a pretty good prize for the influencers – the winner of that championship gets a test in a real Formula E car, putting them in good company alongside several colleagues from other publications who have been lucky enough to actually drive the electric race car instead of in a sim.
In addition to the parallel races, Formula E does something else with the race format. Everyone will be given a single qualifying lap to determine their starting position, and then the race will take place in a “battle royale” format, with the last-placed driver eliminated at the end of each lap. There will only be 10 left for the final lap, which will be a sprint to the finish, with points and glory to offer.
The races will be broadcast on Formula E’s website, as well as on social media channels and YouTube, alongside broadcast partners such as Fox Sports (starting April 25). Luckily for race fans (and the real and sim racers, plus commentator Jack Nicholls who plans to do double duty) the series has coordinated with other esports leagues like The Race’s All Star Esports battles to ensure there are no schedule clashes .
Although the graphics of rFactor 2 can’t compare to other racing sims, it’s a natural choice for Formula E. The series used the sim platform for its million dollar esports race in 2017, and the game has already modeled the current cars and liveries as well as some of the the real street circuits of the series.
As for resuming real-world racing, the series — which was one of the first to put races on hold when SARS-CoV-2 began threatening the world — still has rounds scheduled for New York and London in July. . Although at this point it seems highly unlikely that we will be lucky enough to see that happen.