With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of the opening 10 races of the 2020 season, a number of F1 drivers took up sim racing as a way to stay sharp and entertained during the break.
Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, George Russell and Alexander Albon were all regulars in F1’s Virtual GP Series, while Leclerc and Norris also took part in the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans that was supported by Motorsport Games.
The drivers also did their own independent streaming across a variety of games, allowing them to interact and chat with fans on a regular basis away from the regular pressures of F1.
Speaking in the latest part of the #thinkingforward series of interviews with motor racing’s leaders, F1 managing director of motorsports Brawn spoke warmly of how the sport’s younger generation of drivers had continued to engage with fans despite the lack of racing.
"It’s been a lifeline in this period to keep fans engaged, and with so many people in lockdown to be able to offer them this engagement, this entertainment, following it has been wonderful,” Brawn said in an interview at the FIA eConference.
“The thing I’ve seen that is very striking to me is how because the real drivers have become involved in these initiatives and these events, how well they’ve been able to engage with the fans.
“The message was constantly coming across from the fans that they wanted to know more about the drivers. They see them in the car with the helmet on, see them interviewed formally, but what are the drivers really like? What do they do? How do they live?
“Of course with Esports, you’ve got a much better insight into the drivers’ personalities and their characters and their nature. That’s been a real boom.
“Lando Norris, George Russell, and all those guys, you probably wouldn’t have seen as much of, but they’ve suddenly come to the forefront, and their personalities have come out.”
Brawn hoped that even with racing set to return in July that the lessons from Esports could prove long-lasting to improve F1’s engagement with fans.
“I think that has been a really useful element of Esports, and we always supported it,” Brawn said.
“We had our Esports championship with every team participating, but they would be with professional gamers most of the time. I think the real racing drivers taking part has been a massive boost to Esports.
“I’m sure that will have a lot more support and a lot more resource in the future. We’ve seen massive positives on that side, and we’re not going to want to let them go. Formula 1 is very committed to it.”