Charles Leclerc reveals how F1 esports racing compares to the real thing

Isaac McIntyre
Codemasters / Scuderia Ferrari Press & Marketing

Two-time Formula 1 race winner Charles Leclerc may be one of the best racing drivers in the world, but the Monégasque may have found his match in esports, after he dubbed sim racing on F1 2019 “unbelievably hard.”

Last year, Leclerc well and truly announced himself in Formula 1. Ferrari may have struggled to match eventual champions Mercedes, but the 22-year-old rode out his first year in the seat of the Prancing Horse in style.

2019 saw him notch his first seven F1 pole positions. He also won twice. First, he opened his account in Spa, then he went back-to-back at Monza. Now, he’s facing a completely different kind of challenge in the world of esports.

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With events canceled or delayed across the world, the racing scene has turned to sim racing and esports to fill the void. Guanyu Zhou won the Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix. Now even more top-level drivers are joining the events.

One of these was Leclerc, who won his first virtual GP ahead of Renault’s F2 driver Christian Lundgaard. It wasn’t easy though, the Monégasque admitted. In fact, it may have been even harder than usual F1 racing.

Charles Leclerc made it one from one in his F1 Virtual Grand Prix debut.Formula 1
Charles Leclerc made it one from one in his F1 Virtual Grand Prix debut.

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When Leclerc crossed the finish line in Belgium to claim his first F1 victory, he dedicated it to late friend Anthoine Hubert. This time, as he notched his first virtual win, he could only laugh after the commentators said it was “easy.”

“Easy you said?” he replied, laughing at the suggestion. “No! That was unbelievably hard! So there is no g-force like we have in the real car, yeah, but it’s actually… I’m sweating like crazy. It was a great race, really fun.”

The 22-year-old explained his muscles didn’t hurt like in a real race, but the “concentration still had to be so high.” He’s no stranger to sweat ⁠either — F1 cars are heat boxes ⁠— but he was shocked the same happened after his virtual race too.

“I have been sweating quite a lot! [The victory] probably would have been harder if everyone didn’t fall off the track, but they shouldn’t have made the mistakes!” he added with a laugh. “It was so tough though, everyone was very quick.”

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After his post-win interview with the Virtual GP organizers, Leclerc joined a Discord channel with drivers Lando Norris ⁠— who previously shattered F1 Twitch records ⁠— George Russell, Alex Albon, and 2020 debutant Nicholas Latifi.

Once there, the young Formula 1 drivers continued to discuss just how difficult the esports version of their sport really is. Leclerc admitted he didn’t see much of a difference in the “big mental battle” that comes on both sides.

“I even think maybe it’s tougher than real life?” he stated. After years with the ever-present “feelings of the car,” not having them was “ strange” and made it “very tricky,” he said. He added it was a “much more mental battle in esports.”

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That doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying himself immensely in the gaming world so far. The F1 superstar revealed he had downloaded Codemaster’s 2019 game last Sunday. Since then, he had already played “more than five hours a day.”

That’s good news for Charles Leclerc fans. Every time he plays, he returns to streaming on Twitch, meaning during the F1 suspension we’ll still see plenty of Ferrari’s rising superstar. Whether we’ll see others join is another question though.

Red Bull prodigy Max Verstappen refuses to play F1 2019— “I’ll never join that!” he exclaimed in a call with Norris live on Twitch while others like Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen likely have little interest. We’ll see who debuts next.