Change of the guard?

Formula 1 esports will enter its fifth full season this year, and there are indications that there could potentially be some new challengers to the throne, currently occupied by Dutchman Jarno Opmeer. F1 esports first began in 2017, in which over 60,000 gamers tried their best to qualify for the grid for the final races that were held at Yas Marina on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend. The title was won by Brendon Leigh, who went on to represent Mercedes in 2018 for the inaugural full season, culminating in the Pro series which was hosted in the Gfinity arena in London. Leigh defended his title that year, winning six of the 10 races, and securing the first constructor’s championship for Mercedes.

Each year, the F1 esports season begins with the launch of the latest game in the series by Codemasters, which is usually released in the summer, from late June to mid-July (except F1 2018 which was delayed until late August), so when F1 2019 came out, the greats of the F1 esports scene went to work, and by the time the Pro Series arrived, again at the Gfinity arena in London, suddenly the rule of the roost was not in Britons hands. Italian David Tonizza (nicknamed “Tonzilla” following a mispronunciation by one of the commentary team), representing Ferrari, took the title to Italy, ending Leigh’s reign at the top as the Brit came away with no wins, and only two podiums that year.

Due to the Covid pandemic, the 2020 Pro Series championship was held online, and a new power rose to prominence, in the form of Opmeer. In 2019, he finished fourth in the championship with Renault, and in 2020, he represented Alfa Romeo, fending off yet another strong challenge from Denmarks Frederik Rasmussen to take the title, which Opmeer would successfully defend in 2021 in Mercedes colours, and again it was Rasmussen who chased him the whole way to the finale.

Now F1 22 is here, and the leagues are running their usual schedule, the early indications are that there could be another change at the top, as Opmeer seems to be struggling to regain that race-winning pace that we have seen from the Dutchman for the last couple of years. Jarno is still godlike fast, but there are now new contenders to the throne that seems to be getting to grips with the new game, in particular, Scotlands Lucas Blakely and Iranian Bari Boroumand, both in McLarens colours, are taking quite a few wins in the likes of PSGL and WOR of late.

While league racing isn’t an entirely accurate comparison to use, as league racing is done “for fun, ” it still indicates the pecking order as we head towards the next Pro Series. Is Opmeer keeping the best in reserve for his next championship title defence, or will there be another change of the guard? Exciting times are ahead, as the greatest of the greats are set to do battle once more.

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Chris Buxton
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