On Wednesday morning, Formula E became the latest real-world racing series to announce a move online to esports as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make public gatherings impossible. Starting this coming Saturday, the electric racing series will start a nine-race esports competition using rFactor 2 as the platform. And since the series has always been a little more socially conscious than more traditional forms of fossil fuel-powered racing, it’s partnering with UNICEF, collecting donations from viewers to pay for projects like buying protective equipment for healthcare workers and setting up home-schooling programs.
The first race—scheduled for April 18—is going to be the equivalent of a pre-season test, with no points on offer for the winners. But for the following eight weekends, the championship will be scored in the usual Formula E fashion, including points for fastest lap and qualifying in pole position, plus double points for the final race. In fact, each Saturday will see two races held in parallel.
One will be for the real-world Formula E drivers, with 14 of the grid confirmed for this coming weekend’s race. The second is for professional esports racers and influencers, with entries going to the fastest 18 qualifiers of events held during the week leading up to each race. There’s a pretty good prize for the influencers—the winner of that championship will get a test in an actual Formula E car, which puts them in good company alongside several colleagues from other publications who have been lucky enough to drive the electric race car for real rather than in a sim.
In addition to the parallel races, Formula E is doing something else a bit different with the race format. Everyone gets a single qualifying lap to determine their grid position, and then the race will operate in a “battle royale” format, where at the end of each lap the last-placed driver is knocked out. Just 10 will remain for the final lap, which will be a dash to the finish, with points and glory on offer.
The races will be broadcast on Formula E’s website, as well as its social media channels and YouTube, in addition to broadcast partners like Fox Sports (from April 25). Happily for racing fans (and the real-world and sim racers, plus commentator Jack Nicholls who plans on doing double-duty) the series has coordinated with other esports competitions like The Race’s All Star Esports battles to make sure there aren’t any schedule clashes.
Although the graphics of rFactor 2 can’t compare to other racing sims, it’s a logical choice for Formula E. The series used the sim platform for its million-dollar esports race back in 2017, and the game has the current cars and liveries already modeled, as well as some of the series’s real-world street circuits.
As for resuming real-world racing, the series—which was one of the first to put races on hold as SARS-CoV-2 started to menace the world—still has rounds scheduled for New York and London in July. Although right now, it seems highly unlikely we’ll get lucky enough to see those happen.