Sim racers… Real racers?
Esports (aka electronic sports) have emerged as something of a social phenomenon and sim racing – the branch devoted to motorsport games – is enjoying exceptional growth. Alpine in actively involved in this sport which is far less ‘virtual’ than some may imagine. With the 2021 F1 Esports Series Pro-Championship due to get under way shortly, Alpine Esports Team’s Team Principal Richard Arnaud talks about how his squad has been preparing for the season with a programme that is not unlike that followed by actual single-seater drivers all the way up to Formula 1.
The cliché that gamers shut themselves in their room with a computer or console and feed on crisps and cola couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of esport’s professionals and semi-pros who take part in a staggering array of competitions and championships.
Their numbers include sim racers who compete at the wheel of virtual cars around virtual circuits, an exacting world that calls for uncompromising training courses of the sort Alpine Esports Team has tailored for its drivers.
Sim racing requires a level of preparation that is very similar to that demanded of Formula 1 drivers
Richard Arnaud, Team Principal Alpine Esports Team
Sim racing’s elite
Without going quite so far as the extensive fitness training programme that Alpine F1 Team’s Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso follow on a near-daily basis, Alpine Esports Team’s approach has left no stone unturned. “The necks of sim racers may not be subjected to the g-forces that F1 drivers have to cope with, but the level of focus required at world championship rounds can be every bit as stressful and stimulating as it is in real racing,” points out Richard Arnaud.
For an Esport pilot like Nicolas Longuet, working on concentration is as essential as working on physical coordination.
Which is precisely why Alpine has joined up with Race Clutch to create a bespoke entity to optimise the preparation of its sim racers for the 2021 F1 Esports Series Pro-Championship which kicks off on the weekend of October 13-14.
Organised by the promoter of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the series has attracted sim racing’s elite and is naturally based on the latest edition of the official Formula 1 game which, like previous versions, is likely to rack up sales of several million worldwide.
“F1 2021 was released in July,” says Richard Arnaud, “so we gathered our three drivers at our base in Limoges [western France] to begin their training in June.”
Chile’s Fabrizio Donoso (21), French teenager Nicolas Longuet (19) and Hungarian youngster Patrick Sipos (18) today live out of the same home and travel daily to Alpine Esports headquarters for a “training programme based on the experience acquired by Alpine F1 Team”.
More than 300 hours behind the wheel!
Much of the time is spent optimising the car’s performance. “In the virtual world, unlike in Formula 1, all the championship’s participants compete with the same basic car,” explains Richard Arnaud. “It’s therefore down to us to find the set-up that best suits our drivers from all the different possible permutations.”
The search for the best settings to optimise the car is also part of the preparation of the Alpine Esports Team's sim racers.
Fabrizio, Nicolas and Patrick spend hours ‘playing’ F1 2021 every day. “Since July, they have clocked up more than 300 hours’ track time. One of our rivals can claim more but I believe there is little to be gained past a certain threshold. It may even be counter-productive.”
A comprehensive programme
In addition to the time they spend in the simulator, Alpine Esports Team’s sim racers follow a busy training programme. “You have to realise that the entire field can be blanketed by just two-tenths of a second in qualifying, so we work with sports psychologist Julien Southon, a neuro-visual specialist who has developed a protocol that focuses on information processing and physical coordination,” observes Richard Arnaud. “We also train hard fitness-wise. Like real drivers, our trio do exercises that strengthen the upper body and improve the suppleness and steadiness of not only their wrists but also their ankles which operate the pedals.”
The difference in qualifications can be made through specific neuro-visual work.
The 2021 F1 Esports Series Pro-Championship’s calendar features four three-race meetings. The first is scheduled for October 13-14, but Alpine Esports Team’s three drivers have already had a chance to size up their opponents. “Over the summer, they took part in several League-level races, the equivalent of friendlies in soccer,” reports Richard Arnaud. “They won two of them!”
With Alpine Esports Team’s sights set on the top step of the podium, it could hardly have dreamt of a more encouraging build-up to the upcoming campaign!