When the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 as a pandemic last March, the cancellations of all kinds of events followed suit. Concerts, conventions, and other high-density social events were abruptly cancelled or postponed, with even the Tokyo 2020 Olympics being rescheduled to 2021.
Sporting events are almost always mass gatherings, and there’s a long, long list of sporting events that were cancelled or postponed due to the onset of the current pandemic. You can’t have a game without hoards of fans by the bleachers, and you especially can’t allow events for contact sports like basketball and football to push through if the players would be put at risk. When you take into account the long distances that many professional athletes have to travel (especially those whose events take place in multiple countries) in order to participate in their sport, allowing sporting events to continue during a pandemic is just not a good idea.
There is one sport, however, that despite its events and athletes being based in multiple countries, managed to gracefully navigate cancellations and delays in order to continue providing some sports entertainment for the fans: Formula 1 racing.
With the Australian GP cancelled and almost every other GP postponed, it was a clever move for Formula 1 to launch the Virtual Grand Prix. The Virtual GP is meant to provide fans with some entertaining races while postponed races are rescheduled, so each Virtual GP race takes place during race weekends whose dates were originally allotted for the real Grand Prix races, up until the month of May.
While not all current F1 drivers are participating, there are a number of young drivers such as Charles Leclerc of Scuderia Ferrari, Lando Norris of McLaren, and Alex Albon of Red Bull Racing, who are familiar with the F1 video games. For some extra entertainment, some GP races also have guest drivers, like the Virtual Spanish GP which featured football players from FC Barcelona and Manchester City.
Due to the varying skill level of both the official F1 drivers and guest drivers when it comes to the video game, the races and controls are adjusted to allow everyone an equal opportunity to win, and it also makes the races more exciting to watch.
The official game being used for the Virtual Grand Prix is the PC version of F1 2019, which was developed by Codemasters, who are known for their racing games. It might seem like a big leap for professional F1 drivers to transition to driving in a video game, but most of them actually make use of racing simulators that are very similar to Codemasters’ F1 games, and if you’ve ever played a Codemasters Formula 1 game, you’d quickly realize how it might take a pro to figure out all the controls when playing on manual mode.
As for the actual GP races, there is still some rescheduling work to be done on Formula 1’s side, as many venues are still hesitant to host races even later in the year. Whether or not we’ll get to see any of the races push through this year, no one can tell for now. At the very least, all the Virtual GP races are available on F1’s official YouTube channel as full races and highlight videos, and if you ever run out of F1 content to watch on YouTube, there’s always the stellar Netflix docu-series, Drive to Survive.
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