Blog March 22, 2021

F1 Virtual Grand Prix Retrospective: 2020 vs. 2021

Last year, to stay in touch with the fans, F1 tried out not totally new, but rarely used on such a scale format — organizing a Virtual Grand Prix series with the participation of the current pilots of the championship and famous drivers. This format pleased fans — in total more than 30 million people watched the virtual races.

F1 Virtual Grand Prix Retrospective

Throughout the series, more than half of the F1 grid entered the track, with 11 riders participating in at least one race in the series. Back then, the F1 drivers (Antonio Giovinazzi, Alex Albon, George Russell, Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi) also also joined some stars from other sports and celebrities:

  • AC Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli;
  • England cricketers Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes; 
  • Norwegian rally champion Petter Solberg;
  • Surfer Kai Lenny;
  • «Arsenal» striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang;
  • Singer Luis Fonsi.
The Virtual Grand Prix races received 21.8 million views on digital platforms alone, including the official F1 channels on YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook, as well as Weibo and Huya channels in China. According to TV viewers, the virtual F1 Virtual Grand Prix garnered an additional 5 million views through broadcast partners in over 100 countries.

Around the same time, the Virtual Vietnam Grand Prix was taking place at Albert Park and became the most-watched YouTube video in the UK. Further success was evident on YouTube: from March 15 to April 28, F1 had three of the top five sports videos on the platform in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, with №2 and №5 being the virtual Grand Prix.

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Another of the undisputed benefits of the Virtual Grand Prix is that several F1 drivers have been able to communicate with fans on a more personal level. For example pilots, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Lando Norris, and Alex Albon have regularly interacted with fans through their personal Twitch accounts, which TwitchTracker has received an additional 2.7 million viewers. Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, and the F1 gaming community have also contributed to the growth by broadcasting events from their homes.

Thanks to the success of the Virtual Grands Prix, the official F1 2019 video game developed by Codemasters has seen 1000% monthly growth in streaming hours on the popular gaming platform.

F1 continues to lead its social product, which has been further enhanced with content from the Virtual Grands Prix, garnering 695 million views across multiple platforms and over 85 million views of video content throughout the series.

In addition to the main events of the Virtual Grand Prix, the #Challenge events featuring Lando Norris, George Russell, Nico Rosberg, and David Coulthard received 1.9 million views on digital platforms. Plus, Pro Exhibition races featuring Pro F1 Esports drivers received over 2.5 million digital views.

F1 Virtual Grand Prix Series 2021 

This year F1 Virtual Grand Prix events were based on the F1 2020 simulator and took place before the start of the real F1 season.

There were three virtual stages, in which as the current pilots, so veterans of previous years, celebrities and F1 esports players, took part. The first virtual race took place on January 31, with the other two virtual Grand Prix events on February 7 at Silverstone Circuit and February 14 at Autodromo Interlagos. 

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Virtual Grand Prix 2021 has slightly changed its format. The distance of the main race was reduced to 50% (approximately 1 hour of the race), and the starting grid was determined by the results of the sprint race.

What to expect from virtual racing in 2021

Of course, compared to the scale of esports matches, the path of racing tournaments is just beginning, but at an unreal pace. Simracing has a great future ahead of it — confirmed by F1 stars and views ratings.

From the very latest news: the second season of the Ferrari Esports Series starts in April, and the main prize will remain a place in the Ferrari Driver Academy Esports Team.

Last year, 21-year-old Italian Giovanni de Salvo won the Ferrari Esports Series and now joins previous F1 Esports champions David Tonizza and Brandon Lee in the Ferrari esports roster.

The series will again take place in the Assetto Corsa with four different Ferrari vehicles used in the competition, including the Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo and the all-new Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo, which will be exclusively available to those competing.

Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo

Every month from April to July, there will be an online competition hot on the heels, in which 24 of the fastest riders from each will advance to one of four qualifying races. The top 12 in each of these races will advance to the main competition.

The 48 riders who qualify for the final will be split into two groups of 24, and the top 12 in each group's standings will compete in the grand final, in which the winner will receive a seat on the Ferrari esports team.

Currently, the grand final is scheduled for mid-December and will include three-point races just like in the first season.

Hotlap Qualifying

The qualification stages include 4 hotlap sessions that will allow you to join the subsequent races:

  1. Brands Hatch – Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo – 5th April (09:00 CEST) until 18th April (18:00 CEST).
  2. Laguna Seca – Ferrari 599XX Evo – 3rd May (09:00 CEST) until 16th May (18:00 CEST).
  3. Vallelunga – Ferrari FXX K – 7th June (09:00 CEST) until 20th June (18:00 CEST).
  4. Zandvoort – Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 – 5th July (09:00 CEST) until 18th July (18:00 CEST).

The top 24 drivers in each hotlap session will be invited to the appropriate Qualification Race.

Qualification Races 

Correlating with the hotlap sessions, there are 4 races where the top 12 drivers will be selected to join the «Series». These races are due to be broadcast on Ferrari’s Twitch channel but there is a few days gap between when drivers are available to race and the broadcast in the rulebook so it looks like the races are pre-recorded.

The races format:

  • 30 minute practice session;
  • 15 minute qualifying;
  • 30 minute race. 

The schedule:

  • Qualification Race 1: 24th April (14:00 CEST) – Streaming: 27th April;
  • Qualification Race 2: 22nd May (14:00 CEST) – Streaming: 25th May;
  • Qualification Race 3: 26th June (14:00 CEST) – Streaming: 29th June;
  • Qualification Race 4: 24th July (14:00 CEST) – Streaming: 27th July.


There’ll be 48 drivers in the series and Ferrari state that it’ll be splitting that grid into two «brackets» for the series. The race format follows the same 30/15/30 split as the qualification races but the points are calculated over all four races to determine the top 12 in each bracket that moves on to the «Grand Final».

The schedule:

  1. Round 1: 28th August (14:00 CEST) – Streaming: 31st August.
  2. Round 2: 25th September (14:00 CEST) – Streaming: 28th September.
  3. Round 3: 23rd October (14:00 CEST) – Streaming: 26th October.
  4. Round 4: 27th November (14:00 CET) – Streaming: 30th November.

Grand Final 

The 24 drivers that qualify for the final will compete. There are three races that make up the Grand Final and each race is 30 minutes long yet again. 

The schedule:

  1. Grand Final Round 1 – Imola – Car TBD.
  2. Grand Final Round 2 – Barcelona – Car TBD.
  3. Grand Final Round 3 – Mugello – Car TBD.

The final is filmed on 11th December 2021 but will be broadcast on the 14th December.

Once again, only European residents aged 18 and over will be able to take part, and in the future, this event will be open to participants from all over the world.

In addition to a place on the Ferrari team for the overall winner, registered players will be able to win various prizes throughout the season.

There is also a livery design competition where anyone can design and submit their liveries before a public vote determines which livery will be used on cars in mainstream racing. Registration is already open on the Ferrari Esports Series website.

In 2021 there are some interesting upcoming esport racing events that we will highlight In our heading dedicated to sim-racing. In our blog, we will cover the most interesting and relevant news from the world of esports racing and sim racing on an ongoing basis.