Renault’s Formula One just became the first to commit itself to supporting an official esports squad. On Feb. 12, the team announced it will join forces with French esports outfit Team Vitality to create the Renault Sport Team Vitality.
The team comprises a trio of gamers: Philip Paschmeyer, Sandro Holzwarth, and Victor Locquet. It will compete in esports contests with a motorsport theme, starting with this year’s Rocket League Championship Series Europe.
However, discussions have been held with F1 representatives about entering the team into the official F1 eSports Series, which would be a logical step. That series debuted last year and has proven a success thus far.
Speaking to Autosport, Renault’s F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul noted that “the ties that exist between motorsport and gaming are obvious.”
He added, “Both call for mental strength and physical fitness in a highly competitive environment.”
Esports and the role of the simulator
F1 and esports are a particularly good fit for a number of reasons. These go beyond the sheer number of different racing games available on PC and console. The F1 eSports Series may be the first esport event in name in the F1, but in truth, the teams have been using software and hardware similar to esports for many years now.
Most teams have their own F1 Simulator, which is very similar to the simulators used to train airline pilots. These are multi-million dollar installations, often built on rails or hydraulic platforms. With realistic 3D graphics and surround sound, their aim is to replicate the conditions drivers face on real race tracks across the F1 season.
While teams will jealously guard the details of their driver training aids, there is no doubt these setups are comparable to hyper-advanced console games.
Aside from current pros, the simulators also help train the next generation of F1 drivers. Perhaps it’s here that Renault spied an opportunity for esports to work in harmony with its development team.
“Our drivers, and especially those who form part of the Renault Sports Academy programme, and Vitality’s own champions will be able to trade best practices,” Abiteboul told Autosport. “In this area, as in F1, our objective is to build a team for the long term that is both respected and feared by its opponents.”
To that end, Team Vitality will receive access to Renault’s F1 factory in Enstone, which is used to help train F1 drivers and technical staff.
Fernando Alonso’s esports team
Renault’s expansion into esports is just the latest in a string of such moves. Late last year, McLaren driver and former World Champion Fernando Alonso set up his own esports racing team. It goes under the name FA Racing G2 Logitech.
Like Renault’s newly formed team, Alonso’s team will also compete in F1-themed esports tournaments, as well as other racing categories online.
Speaking to Autosport back in November, Alonso stated, “I think esports in other formats has been very successful but in racing, it is at the very beginning and huge potential will come.”
World’s Fastest Gamer
Also last year, McLaren announced an online competition with a stunning prize: becoming one of its official simulator drivers. The World’s Fastest Gamer allowed thousands of competitors on the iRacing game to compete for the prize.
In the end, Rudy van Buren, 25, came out on top of over 30,000 gamers. Van Buren has since competed in the recent Race of Champions event in Dubai against a number of motor sports legends.
It is also worth noting that since F1 rules have strictly limited the amount of time teams are allowed to test their cars physically on the track, the role of a simulator driver for an F1 team bears increased importance. There is no doubt van Buren’s skills in the esports arena will serve him well in his new role.
The first step for F1 esports?
All these moves into esports by F1 teams and individuals represent a tentative first step into the industry for F1 at large.
Certainly, the audience figures for games such as iRacing, Forza, or Gran Turismo do not match the popularity of more familiar esports titles right now. However, there was a time when Rocket League, for example, was a minority esport.
If Renault’s team starts to make waves in esports, it is likely other teams will follow suit. That happened in other esports where big sports teams — such as Schalke 04, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, PSV Eindhoven, and Paris Saint-Germain — adopted teams to represent them in competition.