First sighter of 2021 talent to inform teams of driver choices
Could we have just unearthed a future champion – or even multiple champions? We certainly hope so. The F1 Esports Series Pro Exhibition on Thursday evening gave us our first glimpse of what the 2021 Pro Championship might bring, with 29 drivers tested to the limit in a series of tests. From this, we have a picture of who will be in demand when the Pro Championship Driver Signing Window opens in July
As ever, Tom Deacon hosted the show alongside Matt Gallagher, with Nic Hamilton on board to provide expert analysis from the racing world. The trio were also joined in the studio by W Series racer Naomi Schiff, who added an extra layer of a racer’s perspective to the chatter.
An assortment of special guests dialled in to the show, offering their thoughts on how a driver can become successful in virtual racing, and what it takes to stay at the top when you get there. Cem Bolukbasi joined remotely from Circuit Paul Ricard, where he is currently continuing his journey with European GT4. The Turkish ace has been a long-time affiliate of F1 Esports, and while he may not race in the series, he’s living proof that F1 Esports can lead to great things.
Former F1 driver Romain Grosjean also joined in, sharing experiences of his recent podium in IndyCar, as well as chatting about how he’s preparing for his role as acting team manager of Uralkali Haas F1 Esports Team in 2021. His R8G Esports organisation will run all of Haas’ operations in F1 Esports this year, so look out for more appearances from The Phoenix later this year!
Formula 2’s Guanyu Zhou also dropped in for a chat, giving a unique perspective on the F1 Esports Series China Championship and its qualifying drivers Tang Tianyu and Yuan Yifan. Both drivers were part of the Pro Exhibition, and fared well in the driver assessments. Speaking of which…
TOP RATED DRIVERS
Our 30 drivers were all scored on four metrics: Pace, experience, consistency and adaptability. Scores out of 100 were awarded, with a total score applied to determine that racer’s place in the pecking order. Out of the 29 drivers, there were several stand-out scores.
ALESSIO DI CAPUA (93)
You don’t win the Challengers at a canter for no reason. He won four times on his way to qualifying for the Pro Exhibition, and di Capua was the cream of the crop in the trials. After making the Pro Draft in 2019 but missing out on selection, the smiley Italian has persevered to show that he’s here to win. He scored the highest points total in the first assessment, just a few points off Dani Moreno’s benchmark time. With a highest total of 93 Di Capua would make a fine addition to any Pro Championship roster, so expect him to be at the top of shopping lists once the driver signing window opens in July.
SEBASTIAN JOB (91.5)
Job done. He’s broken world records in the past and taken on the world in sim racing in the GT realm. Now, he’s finally in a position to put his skills on show in front of the F1 crowd as well. His bulked-up driver rating is a testament to his lethal speed and superb race-craft. He scored well in all of his assessments, taking third in the wet race around Shanghai, and second in the qualifying knock-outs. Part of the Red Bull Racing Esports stable for a long time now, Job could well be on his way to a Pro Championship seat with them.
JOSH IDOWU (91.5)
Another 91.5-rated driver, Welshman Idowu was awarded the highest score in the pace department, a telling sign of his relentless qualifying speed and raw performance within the car. Though he was slightly bettered on factors such as adaptability and experience, the inherent talent Idowu possesses makes him an enviable racer. Idowu shone through in the knockout phase of the PC assessments, triumphing as the winner of the head-to-head bracket.
GABRIEL MENEGHETTI (88.5)
While the top three highest-rated drivers were all PC aficionados, Meneghetti was the top driver to herald from the Xbox One assessments. Much like Idowu, his pace shone through above all other hallmarks, with the Brazilian placing top in both ghost races in dry and wet conditions, in Bahrain and China respectively.
DOMENICO LOVECE (88)
Another console racer, Lovece impressed during the challengers on PS4 and carried the momentum into his assessments in the Pro Ex. He came out on top in the qualifying head-to-heads, and was runner-up in the wet race around Shanghai. Carrying a little more experience than some of his contemporaries, 19-year-old Lovece could be on the radar for many teams come the summer.
Other stand-out racers included F1 Esports Series China Championship racers Tang Tianyu and Yuan Yifan, who raced remotely from China, demonstrating the skills that have earned them one championship win apiece in the China Championship thus far. Women’s Wildcard winner Rebecca Morrell showed her hand, racing alongside the PS4 cohort in assessments.
Fellow PS4 competitors Valentin Bruffer and Thijmen Schutte were almost inseparable during Challengers, and the trend continued, with both drivers receiving an 84.5 rating and very similar assessment scores. DHL Time Trial alumnus Liam Parnell fared well in both ghost races too, winning in the wet of Shanghai and taking P3 in Sakhir.
And now we play the waiting game. The jigsaw pieces of the 2021 Pro Championship will begin to fall into place later this year, as the Pro Championship Driver Signing Window swings open in July. For the whole month, all 10 teams will make their selections and choose the drivers they think will help propel them to glory. Once all the choices have been made, we’ll reveal all at the Preview Show, coming to a screen near you this September. Who would you sign? Get involved in the conversation on socials, using #F1Esports!
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