E-sports drivers getting on track with the real deal
In an effort to attract younger fans, in 2017 F1 entered the digital spectrum by creating the FIA Formula One E-sports Series.
But China, one of the world's largest e-sports markets and host of an annual Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit, was not initially included in the F1 E-sports world.
That finally changed, just ahead of the weekend's Chinese Grand Prix-which was also F1's 1,000th race-when it was officially announced that F1's e-sports tournament is entering China.
Domestic qualification and regional competitions will start in the second half of this year and the final will be held this winter.
The top two Chinese players will earn wild cards to enter the Formula One E-sports Series that has attracted 130,000 participants and 5.5 million online spectators in the past two years.
"We are going to start at the grassroots level to build a passion for racing," said Julian Tan, head of growth for F1 E-sports.
"Gaming and e-sports are fantastic ways to reduce the barriers to entering racing. The core objective is to attract younger fans.
"It's no secret that F1 has an aging fanbase. E-sports forms one of the pillars of our digital transformation to reach a new audience.
"In China, it's about using e-sports to build excitement around e-racing, racing and ultimately around F1.
"There is so much going on in the world of F1, and telling the stories through gaming and e-sports is a compelling way to reach the younger generation."
Tan said China's joining the F1 e-sports world was delayed in order to find a suitable partner to effectively introduce the event in the home market.
That partner is Shanghai Juss Intellisports Co, Ltd, a subsidiary of the Shanghai Jiushi Group that owns the Shanghai International Circuit.
"As the company of our group that's in charge of finding promising programs that combine new technologies and sports, we noticed the F1 e-sports series in 2017 and believed in its potential in China," said Dong Liangliang, deputy general manager of Juss Intellisports.
"When we opened discussions with F1, the process was not easy. But we kept reminding them of the significance of the Chinese market and the potential of Chinese e-sports."
Compared with other titles, F1 E-sports is special because it's very close to the real racing experience. Top e-sports players can also be signed as e-racers for actual F1 teams.
"Compared with other e-sports games such as League of Legends and even other sports games, F1 e-sports is the closest game to the actual activity," said Dong.
"Players use a keyboard and mouse to play other games, but in the F1 game you need to use a steering wheel and pedals.
"There are already cases of top e-racers being selected as real F1 test drivers and retired F1 racers joining the e-sports teams."
Tan also cites "zero violence" as another advantage of F1 e-sports.
"Now is a very interesting time," he said. "I think the concern the Olympics has about the violence in some e-sports has shaken the e-sports world a little bit, but our game is racing, and very safe racing.
"There's no possibility that you will crash and injure yourself or cause hundreds of thousands dollars in damage. All of that adds up to a very compelling product.
"Also, e-sports cars are all equalized, which means it purely relies on the ability of the drivers."