George Russell admits he’s enjoying “thrilling” F1 esports over real races

Isaac McIntyre
ROKiT Williams Media Pool / Codemasters Software

ROKiT Williams Racing driver George Russell has admitted he’s preferred the shift to Formula 1 esports races over the real thing so far, after the young British star notched another Virtual Grand Prix last weekend.

Russell had no equal out on the virtual streets of Monaco last weekend, as he soared to his second consecutive race win over fellow Formula 1 stars like Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, and esports debutant Valtteri Bottas.

The first-place finish is a far cry from where the 22-year-old British driver found himself for all but a handful of races in the F1 season last year. Despite being the Formula 2 champion before his shift to the top league, Russell has yet to earn a top-ten finish on race day in the sport’s premier competition.

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Not so in the competitive ⁠— and perhaps a little more balanced car-wise ⁠— world of racing sim esports, which George Russell has taken to with ease. It’s no small wonder then, that the young F1 star admits he prefers it to the real thing.

Russell said he’s more than happy to keep battling away on the F1 2019 game alongside an ever-growing number of his real-world peers. In some ways, the Brit driver told Sky Sports, the ‘fake’ gaming world has been more fun.

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Russell added he’s already got “more publicity from winning an esports race than [from] any single F1 race last year… at the back of the grid.” He’s using the new opportunity to “show the people what I can do,” he explained.

It wasn’t always that way though, Russell added. He “struggled” to adapt to the strange new world of gaming when he first accepted an invite ⁠— similar to how Leclerc admitted it was “unbelievably hard” to make the switch.

“I first started off doing it for a bit of fun, trying to provide a little bit of entertainment for the hardcore Formula 1 fans who are missing the racing and don’t have anything to support at the moment,” he said.

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“I soon learned that the competition was high and I didn’t want to just compete to make up the numbers, I wanted to come in to try and win. When I struggled in [my] first race [at Albert Park], I thought ‘I need to turn this around’.

“It felt great [to win], to be honest, I forgot how much of a buzz it is, winning, and even though it’s virtually, the competitive nature of myself and going up against my pals – winning is nice. It’s quite thrilling, to be honest.”

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Russell may have started ticking up better results as he set his mind to it, but it seems like he achieved his other goal too: the F1 fanbase has certainly embraced the motorsport’s shift in the wake of the 2020 season delay.

Big names joining the grid have helped F1 esports’ popularity too. F1 stars Alex Albon, Esteban Ocon, and Nicholas Latifi have also competed in virtual events. Other sports stars like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thibaut Courtois, and more have had stints in a Grand Prix or two too.

According to stats site Esports Charts, fans watched more than 265k combined hours of the Monaco stint of the virtual series on Twitch, and concurrent viewers peaked at 217k. Another 50,000 tuned in on the YouTube simulcast.