Motor Racing in the Midst of ‘Virtual’ Broadcast Boom

Motor racing fans are hugely passionate about the sport and the recent suspension of live action has done little to dampen their enthusiasm.

With the 2020 Formula 1 season delayed until July 5, petrol heads could have been forgiven for turning their attentions to other activities.

However, that hasn’t been the case, with Formula 1’s recently concluded Virtual Grand Prix (VGP) series attracting massive interest across television and digital platforms.

The series garnered an impressive 35 million views, with 21.8m of those coming on digital platforms such as YouTube, Twitch and Facebook.

VGP content also proved to be hugely popular on social media, with posts about the series racking up around 700m views during the series.

The action kicked-off with the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on March 22, with the event attracting a peak live audience of 395,000 on the main digital channels.

Lando Norris joined numerous F1 eSports professionals on the grid for the race, while former driver Johnny Herbert also returned to the virtual track.

The race was eventually won by F2 driver Guanyu Zhou, although he was ultimately outshone by one of his F1 counterparts as the season progressed.

Williams driver George Russell turned out to be the star of the show, securing a quartet of consecutive victories in Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan and Canada.

The success of the VGP series led to a 1,000 per cent month-on-month growth in streaming hours for the official Codemasters F1 2019 video game.

Elsewhere, viewership for the FIA World Rally Championship has also produced some impressive numbers, both for real-life and virtual events.

The opening three rounds of the current campaign in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico enjoyed a 15 percent increase on the figures reported for the same races in 2019.

The top five audience markets for the events were Finland, France, Spain, Belgium and Sweden, highlighting the enduring popularity of the series on mainland Europe.

A new free-to-air deal in Japan should help to boost future audience figures even further, particularly with the country due to host a WRC event this season.

The suspension of the season saw the WRC follow Formula 1’s lead in staging eSports events, both of which were extremely successful.

The Vodafone Rally de Portugal and the eSports WRC Shootout contests were broadcast via WRC’s official channels and received a combined two million views.

Formula 1 and the WRC were not alone in enjoying virtual success, with the 24 Hours of Le Mans virtual race attracting a massive audience.

The event brought together 200 drivers from 37 different countries, racing on 170 simulators worldwide on the iconic Le Mans circuit.

A massive cumulative audience of more than 14.2m people in 57 different countries watched the event via broadcasters such as Eurosport, ESPN, Sky Sports and J-Sports.

The race gathered over 8.6m views across Facebook, YouTube and Twitch, while social media impressions of #LeMans24Virtual totalled almost 49m.

The event, which was a joint venture between the ACO, FIA WEC and Motorsport Games, was won by Rebellion Williams eSport with the Porsche eSports Team taking victory in the GTE category.

Dmitry Kozko, CEO of Motorsport Games, said: “The 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual illustrated just what is possible when the worlds of motorsport and eSports meet in perfect synergy.

“The cooperation, dedication and partnership of everyone involved in the project enabled us to take racing esports to the next level.

“The biggest teams and drivers in racing and in eSports were quick to see the potential of the event and that is reflected in these stunning results.”