The first half of the F1 Esports 2021 season flew by, with six races in two weeks really stressing the drivers and their ability to prepare.
Following a four-week gap, the series returns with a trio of races and everything still to play for. However, there is a very familiar and ominous name at the top of the standings.
Is Jarno Opmeer unbeatable?
Even Lewis Hamilton's momentous victory in Brazil didn't feel as inevitable as Jarno Opmeer being at the top of the F1 Esports standings.
The Mercedes driver holds a 14-point lead over his nearest rival at the halfway stage and seems happier with his setup than he ever has been.
Racing from the Mercedes HQ in Brackley, Opmeer has far more support around him this year than he did when winning the title last season with Alfa Romeo. That has been a deadly combination that has seen him win from the front in Austria and make a remarkable strategy play in a wet China for an unlikely victory.
Behind Opmeer, the ultra-competitive Lucas Blakeley has been at his best, winning the opening round in Bahrain and taking points from the Red Bull duo that were usually theirs last year.
Many consider Frede Rasmussen to be Opmeer's most likely title rival. The Dane claimed two wins for Red Bull last time out, but is 23 points adrift from Jarno and will need a miracle to avoid being the nearly man of F1 Esports one again.
Consistency is king
Lucas Blakeley should not be counted out though. The young Scot has been lightning-fast and ultra-consistent all season. With such fine margins up and down the grid it only takes one slip up to have a non-scoring race.
Opmeer's one weakness has been qualifying. While he is capable of putting the car on pole at any track, he's missed out on even a top 10 start in multiple races this season.
This is where Blakeley's consistency has shined through. Multiple front-row starts and consistently making Q3 have helped him haul in the points.
With several hotlap specialists in F1 Esports qualifying is incredibly tight. Opmeer's racecraft and strategic wizardry helps him move up through the field, but every overtake comes with risk in F1 Esports.
Starting at the front is crucial for being assured of some points, which may be the one place other drivers can work an advantage against Opmeer.
The upcoming tracks should provide plenty of action for the whole grid.
The first race will be at a brand new track, Portimao. The glorious, undulating, Portuguese circuit has been a huge hit with esports drivers and F1 2021 players since it landed in the game in September. However, it will be the least familiar to everyone and the potential for wildly different strategies and performances here are huge.
The second race is at Zandvoort. We saw a thrilling battle between Rasmussen & Opmeer here last time, will it be the same story again? The Formula 1 race there this season saw plenty of overtaking chances and wheel-to-wheel action, but the virtual track is less forgiving to different lines, so expect turn 1 to be the only major action area.
The final race sees drivers head to COTA. The American track is a fan favourite and should see plenty of action and diverging strategies. It can be tough on tyres with the long esses section at the start and a lot of load going through the front-left tyre later in the lap.
How to watch
Event 3 starts on Wednesday, 24 November with the first two races.
Qualifying begins at 3:30pm GMT with the racing starting at 7:30pm GMT.
On Thursday, 25 November the action resumes with the third race.
Again, qualifying begins at 3:30pm GMT with the racing starting at 7:30pm GMT.
|Jarno Opmeer||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports Team||101|
|Lucas Blakeley||Aston Martin Cognizant Esports Team||87|
|Frederik Rasmussen||Red Bull Racing Esports||78|
|Marcel Kiefer||Red Bull Racing Esports||62|
|Bardia Boroumand||McLaren Shadow||55|
|Nicolas Longuet||Alpine Esports Team||42|
|Dani Moreno||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports Team||39|
|Fabrizio Donoso||Alpine Esports Team||31|
|David Tonizza||FDA Esports Team||28|
|Alvaro Carreton||Williams Esports||24|
|Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports Team||140|
|Red Bull Racing Esports||140|
|Aston Martin Cognizant Esports Team||96|
|Alpine Esports Team||73|
|FDA Esports Team||48|
|Scuderia AlphaTauri Esports Team||20|
|Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Esports||9|
|Uralkali Haas F1 Team Esports||0|