We are just days away from F1 Esports finally getting underway.
The fifth season of F1 Esports is set to be the most competitive ever, with familiar faces, new names, and some new tracks creating a championship that is guaranteed to produce fireworks.
With no car advantage in this championship, it truly is down to driver talent, determination, and teamwork. Any of the competitors could walk away with the title, but to do so they will have to take down Jarno Opmeer.
The 2020 champion put in one of the most dominating seasons of F1 Esports we've ever seen last year, racking up podiums, pole positions, and wins seemingly with ease.
A new game means new handling and physics to get to grips with though. It can catch a driver out or play into their hands. So, who are Jarno's biggest title rivals this year?
The nearly-man of F1 Esports, Frede Rasmussen has finished second in the Drivers' Championship the last two years. Sure, he came away with the Teams' Championship for Red Bull in both those years, and while that is where the money is it's not where the glory lies.
Rasmussen took home the Formula E Accelerate title earlier this year in a competitive grid that also included Opmeer and is a remarkably consistent driver with huge talent.
Frede's downfall was a slow start in 2020, allowing Opmeer to build an enormous lead in the first even that he could just maintain through the rest of the season. If he is to finally claim a Drivers' Championship Rasmussen will have to get off to a strong start, especially given his well-documented dislike for Interlagos, which once again features in the final round.
Aston Martin's main man had a poor 2020 F1 Esports season, but has been flying on F1 2021. From world record laps in Time Trial to pushing Opmeer in PSGL, he's looked in fine form on the new title.
Blakeley's mentality has always been strong. With a positive mindset and undoubted #1 status in the Aston Martin team, he looks ready to put in a serious title challenge this season. He is yet to claim victory in an F1 Esports race, but has the one-lap pace to qualify at the front and stay there.
The 2019 champion had a torrid time in 2020. Bad luck and technical issues prevented Tonizza from mounting a title challenge, but he was still able to win two races, showing off that raw pace that propelled him to the championship in his first year of competition.
With double-champ Brendon Leigh now his teammate in Maranello, the FDA team could well mount a double-title challenge. How the dynamic of two previous champions works in practice and on the track could well determine how Tonizza's title chances develop though. It is incredibly hard to win the Drivers' Championship when a team has both drivers vying for the title...
The other half of Red Bull's dynamic duo should not be overlooked. Marcel Kiefer amassed seven podium finishes last season, his first with the Red Bull Racing team, and looked right at home in the heart of a title fight.
Kiefer is a tenacious driver but also a consummate team player. He and Rasmussen forged a tight partnership last season that very much put the team first. Should one get the call to let the other through they will do it, so a hot start for Kiefer could see him take the reins of Red Bull's title fight for himself.
Can they beat Opmeer?
F1 Esports is very much a championship that rewards hard work, long hours of practice, but also a relaxed and steady mindset. With only 12 races there is very little margin for error.
The entire grid is the most competitive it has ever been. The likes of Joni Tormala, Nicholas Longuet, Dani Moreno, Daniel Bereznay, and Bardia Boroumand are all capable of not just taking points away from title contenders but winning races in their own right.
One poor qualifying session, one mistimed overtake attempt, or poorly planned pitstop can ruin a race and put a driver on the backfoot.
Opmeer is racing with Mercedes this year, his third team in three seasons, and is partnering with reigning Rookie of the Year Dani Moreno. They have already come together in PSGL, another clash like that and Opmeer could end up cut adrift from the title race all together.
While Jarno is certainly going to be the odds on favourite when qualifying starts in Bahrain next week, there are plenty of drivers that could claim the crown for themselves. You won't want to miss a moment this season!
How to watch F1 Esports
This season gets underway on Wednesday, 13 October.
Split into four events, each running across two days, viewers can catch two races on Wednesday and one on Thursday, 14 October.
Though not officially given a time, the first show should start at 7:30pm BST on Wednsday, 13 October and will be available on Formula 1's official Facebook, Twitch, & YouTube channels. Keep an eye out for the scheduled start!