Ferrari logo

On the virtual straight

30 giugno 2020

Davide Marchi

Formula One racing will finally be back on July 5th. But while the circuits were temporarily closed our piloti found a valid alternative. We show you how our ‘team’ – from Charles Leclerc, to the young talents of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and professional sim drivers – have kept their skills up to speed by training on simulators. Without losing the taste for winning

The pandemic which exploded in China at the end of 2019 and reached Europe at the end of this past winter has upended this year’s F-1 Gand Prix calendar. With the entire Circus on hold formula one drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel – and all the Ferrari Driving Academy piloti competing in the feeder categories - had to stay home. That doesn’t mean that the Scuderia’s various talents have been sitting on their hands, however; each ended up on a simulator, at the wheel of a virtual car. The thrill of speed is simply too strong for those who are used to having a cockpit for an office’.

Even those – like Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel – who don’t have simulators at home hurriedly arranged to procure them. The machines they got hold of don’t even remotely resemble the ‘spider’ at Maranello, as the FDA simulator is called by the cadets. But it beats nothing: it helps the piloti make sure they don’t lose their feel for the wheel, it keeps the reflexes trained, and – above all else – it allows the drivers to ‘meet’ with their paddock friends and challenge them in the widest variety of races.

Seeing an explosion in the popularity of online racing and sensing an opportunity, F1 organisers decided to give web racing a shot and ‘We Race On’ was born. This new programme substituted virtual Grand Prix races for the real ones that were postponed due to Covid-19. F1 invited all the teams to participate and Ferrari answered the call, fielding its FDA Hublot Esports Team, created just over one year ago for the specific purpose of participating in Esports championships. Two separate competition categories were created: Pro Exhibition Race, reserved for professional sim drivers, like David Tonizza and recent FDA recruit Enzo Bonito; and Virtual GP, where real F1 drivers, ‘old glories’ from motor racing and celebrities from other sports and the ‘star system’ challenge each other.

Leclerc quickly got himself up and running on his own simulator and trained with Tonizza and Bonito. Never before have the two e-champions been in such demand with the Scuderia piloti, who wanted to learn all the secrets to going faster in the virtual races. “I was put in contact with Charles and other professional drivers from the FDA so that I could explain to them the driving techniques that would allow them to get the most from the simulators,” Tonizza, the current Formula 1 Esports champion, explains. “I was immediately impressed with their professional approach. No ‘good enough’ attitude, no underestimating the difficulties of the task.” After some preparation, the Monégasque driver joined the rest of the Virtual F1 group for the season’s second appointment. At Leclerc’s side, in the Virtual Vietnam GP (which used a simulated Melbourne track, since there was no Hanoi circuit in the last edition of the F1, in 2019), was none other than his brother, Arthur. Charles, who in the meantime had become an expert user of Twitch (Amazon’s online, multiplayer service that is the preferred platform of sim drivers), won both his debut race as well as the Virtual Grand Prix of China.

Charles has already won two (real) Grand Prix races. But he is, after all, a 22-year-old ‘kid’ and he immediately understood that the world of video games is a good way to remain in touch with people. In addition to his time on the simulator, Leclerc alternates between training and social initiatives, like when he delivered meals to a group of elderly Monégasques. “What happened in the world is terrible,” says the young racer. “I believe us drivers, like other athletes, have to contribute to making these dark weeks a bit lighter. I noticed that people had fun watching me play, that they liked how I interacted with them between one race and another, so I decided to be as active as possible and try and transfer a minimum of peacefulness and lightheartedness.” To humour his followers, he even once appeared in an online race wearing a banana costume.

Many other FDA drivers have joined Leclerc in the ‘We Race On’ Virtual GP programme: from Callum Ilott to Enzo Fittipaldi, from Charles’ brother Arthur to Antonio Fuoco, his ex-teammate from the Prema Formula 2 scuderia, currently an FDA coach. Even Sebastian Vettel has got into the game, participating in a re-enactment of a historical race, at the wheel of a virtual Brabham. As the world waits for the real F 1 Circus to restart its engines Eracing has given the fans some of the thrills that they were missing. Now is time to get back to (not virtual) reality.