F1’s inaugural virtual Grand Prix draws 3.2m online viewers

Global series’ esports racing event peaked at 396k concurrent streams.

F1’s inaugural virtual Grand Prix draws 3.2m online viewers

Formula One / Codemasters

Formula One's debut Esports Virtual Grand Prix pulled in 3.2 million online viewers, the global motorsport series’ head of digital growth and esports, Julian Tan, has told SportsPro.

The event, held on 22nd March, was launched with the on track 2020 Formula One season severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, with all the campaign’s opening races either postponed or cancelled so far.

Featuring current Formula One drivers, celebrities and other sports starts racing around Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit, the virtual Grand Prix was shown on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook. Major traditional broadcasters, including the UK’s pay-TV Sky Sports, also aired the virtual race.

The Esports Charts analytics agency reported that viewership for the opening race averaged 289,000 concurrent streams and peaked at 359,000. That included 199,000 on YouTube, 180,000 on Twitch, and 18,000 on Facebook.

Speaking to SportsPro, Tan has said that concurrent streams actually reached “395,000 or 396,000”, while also shedding further light on the virtual Grand Prix’s performance.

“We had 3.2 million viewers online and on TV we’re estimating 1.2 million, which are very strong figures all around,” Tan said. “It’s a testament to the deep desire from a general audience to be able to consume some racing entertainment and looking to esports as form of escapism during this difficult time.

“Certainly, our first virtual Grand Prix performed really, really well and was our strongest esports showing since we entered that space.”

Formula One made its first entrance into competitive gaming back in 2017 when it launched its Pro Series. A reported 109,000 gamers from 156 countries entering last year’s global qualifying competition, competing for a US$500,000 prize pool. The series also expanded into China in 2019, where it ran an all-new regional competition.

With no fresh start date for the 2020 Formula One season confirmed, the series will continue with its virtual Grand Prix events, with the second instalment being held this weekend on the Albert Park track, home of the Australian Grand Prix.

Current Formula One drivers Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, George Russell, Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi will all take part. The quintet will be joined by former driver Johnny Herbert, as well as England’s Cricket World Cup winner Ben Stokes, with more names set to be announced.