Formula One is one of the most popular sports in the world with an audience hooked on watching daredevil drivers duelling around famous racetracks.

The home hordes watched Lewis Hamilton fight through the field in his Mercedes to finish a dramatic second to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the British Grand Prix at the weekend – but the Silverstone drama did not stop there.

The circuit then played host to F1’s first ever eSports draft pick, with nine teams – the whole grid minus Ferrari – selecting 16 of the best drivers on Codemasters’ official F1 video game across the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC platforms.

Whittled down from an original pool of 66,000, they will now compete in team colours at three events in October and November to determine the winners of the drivers’ and constructors’ titles at the inaugural Pro Series Championship – and a share of a £150,000 prize pool.

“Sporting institutions are keen to get on board because eSports are getting a lot, lot bigger – and will only get bigger still,” Codemasters’ eSports and brand partnerships manager Andy Gray told BusinessCloud.

“Traditional sport is embracing eSports and starting to learn more about them.”

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eSports Series

Gray says that its F1 and rally eSports series - which it runs with organisers Gfinity - is a marketing exercise for Codemasters, driving deep engagement with players and encouraging them to buy updates to its official licensed F1 and DiRT rally games.

“The audience and the engagement with eSports is only going to go one way. It was a natural progression for Codemasters – more and more people are playing online and looking to play at a high level," he said.

“It's not all about trying to win millions of pounds – people just want to compete for the prestige of it and to show they are one of the best drivers in the world.” 

However the benefits are mutual. “eSports becoming more mainstream is a good thing for our industry and for sport as well: they can co-exist and push each other.

“eSports and traditional sports are completely complimentary. It's not a case of 'I've watched someone playing FIFA therefore I'll never go and watch a real football match'.

The F1 game is bringing a younger audience into the sport. Hopefully eSports can do a similar thing.”

The two-hour draft was live-streamed to more than 850,000 people around the world while Gray says a quarter of a million people watched the semi-final contest on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Mix – the largest for an eSports event in the UK to date.

The event also had 20m impressions over social media within 24 hours.

F1 eSports

“F1 eSports works really well because it's like F1 but much shorter,” he said. “Because there isn’t that peril of driving a car that's worth millions of pounds and trying not to stack it into a tyre wall, the wheel-to-wheel action is unprecedented.”

Following a series of assessment challenges at Silverstone over the weekend – including karting, reflex testing, teamwork tests and simulated races – Finn Tino Naukkarinen was picked first in the draft, with Williams opting for the 18-year-old gamer.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was in attendance alongside F1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey.

Verstappen said: “I’ve recently got back into gaming and I know some of these guys and know how talented they are.

“It’s very exciting and you can see lots of sports embracing eSports, so it’s great that F1 are doing it as well.”

The draft picks

  • Tino Naukkarinen, Finland, Williams Esports
  • Fabrizio Donoso Delgado, Chile, Hype Energy eForce India F1 Esports Team
  • Martin Stefanko, Czech Republic, Haas F1 Esports Team
  • Daniel Bereznay, Hungary, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport
  • Sven Zurner, Germany, Renault Sport Team Vitality
  • Salih Saltunc, United Kingdom, Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 eSports Team
  • Cem Bolukbasi, Turkey, Toro Rosso Esports Team
  • Olli Pahkala, Finland, McLaren Shadow
  • Joni Tormala, Finland, Red Bull Racing
  • Graham Carroll, United Kingdom, Red Bull Racing
  • Patrick Holzmann, Germany, Toro Rosso Esports Team
  • Allert van der Wal, Netherlands, Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 eSports Team
  • Kimmy Larsson, Sweden, Renault Sport Team Vitality
  • Michal Smidl, Czech Republic, Haas F1 Esports Team
  • James Doherty, United Kingdom, Renault Sport Team Vitality
  • Sonuc Saltunc, United Kingdom, Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 eSports Team