Formula 1 has announced the launch of a new Esports Virtual Grand Prix series that will feature a number of current F1 drivers in competition. The new series was conceptualized to allow fans to continue watching Formula 1 races even as the current COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect global events - including the 2020 Formula 1 Grand Prix.

“We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action. With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of esports and the incredible skill that’s on show,” said Julian Tan, Head of Digital Business Initiatives and Esports.

Virtual events will take the pace of each postponed Grand Prix starting with this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, initially scheduled to go on without spectators on March 22. Scheduled until May, each subsequent postponed race weekend will be replaced with a virtual Grand Prix. The series will utilize the official F1 2019 PC video game, developed by Codemasters. Events that do not have tracks in the 2019 F1 game will be replaced with an alternative track.

“We’re excited to be a part of the new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series. With sporting events currently on hold around the world, it’s great that the official F1 video game can help fill the void by bringing together an exciting line-up of talent to race online during the postponed race weekends. It’s going to be competitive, action-packed, and a lot of fun for everyone involved,” said Frank Sagnier, Chief Executive Officer, Codemasters.

The first virtual race will see current F1 drivers line up on the grid alongside a host of stars that will be announced soon. Drivers will join the race remotely, with a host broadcast live from the Gfinity Esports Arena (or remotely if required) from 8:00pm (GMT) on Sunday March 22.

“Gfinity is proud to be playing its part in the design and delivery of the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, which will bring exciting virtual racing to a legion of Formula 1 and Esports fans around the globe. The virtual Bahrain GP will feature all the thrills and spills of racing with F1 drivers and special guest celebrities going head-to-head, which promises to put a smile back on the faces of millions of sports fans,” according to John Clarke, Gfinity Chief Executive Officer.

The first virtual GP on the Sakhir track will be a 50% length race with 28 laps. Broadcast will be streamed on the official Formula 1 YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels, and is expected to run for 1 hour 30 minutes, with a qualifying period where grid positions will be determined based on the drivers’ fastest lap time.

As this is merely an exhibition race that pits drivers of different gaming skills, game settings will be configured in such a way to encourage competitive and entertaining racing. Car performance will be equalized with fixed setups, reduced vehicle damage, and optional anti-lock brakes and traction control for those less familiar with the game.

Formula 1 clarified that the series is strictly for entertainment purposes, to bring racing action to fans in this unprecedented scenario the world has been affected by, with no official World Championship points up for grabs for the drivers.