There are few names that are synonymous with F1 Esports. Jarno Opmeer, Brendon Leigh, David Tonizza, and Frede Rasmussen have taken turns dominating the championship, and while new contenders have entered the fray they have struggled to break into the front of the grid quickly. Even Lucas Blakeley, winner of the first two races this season, took a long time to challenge at the very top.
That has not been the case with Thomas Ronhaar. Haas’ star rookie has burst into the F1 Esports world this year. He’s qualified in the top three in every race so far and converted that into one podium finish and third place in the standings.
After such a spectacular start to his F1 Esports career we simply had to sit down and talk to the latest Dutch sensation to hit esports!
Road to glory
The path to F1 Esports can sometimes feel incredibly closed off. Elite drivers all seem to have some sort of real-life experience be it karting, or even junior formula racing, or just preternaturally talented.
The thought of someone picking up a wheel and reaching a point where they can earn a spot in F1 Esports and immediately compete at the front is outlandish. But that's exactly what Thomas Ronhaar did.
"It all started two and a half years ago when covid hit." Ronhaar explained to us.
"I joined a team that picked me up from a time trial leaderboard, after we worked together for a month they knew I was a guy with a lot of potential."
From there Ronhaar has worked his way up through league racing, competing with WOR and PSGL before getting a chance to truly shine in the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition during the summer.
The LAN event at Silverstone was dominated by Ronhaar and fellow F1 Esports rookie Jake Benham, with Ronhaar eventually coming away as champion.
"After the Pro Exhibition, I knew I was in with a good chance of getting a seat." Says Ronhaar. "I was quite confident I would be able to compete in the [F1 Esports] Series."
At 17, Ronhaar has to balance the elite competition and extreme grind of F1 Esports with school.
"It's really, really difficult." Says Ronhaar. "It's not something people do, being at college and doing esports at the same time. But college knows, they are willing to help me out. If there is a week of F1 Esports I need to take off three days, and they are willing to help me."
Switching between being a student and an elite esports competitor is no easy thing, and Ronhaar was quick to emphasize the part his parents have played in supporting him.
"It's amazing. It's really motivating me with what I'm doing now. Whatever situation I'm in they are willing to help me as much as they can. It's pretty much perfect."
Thomas' journey from bedroom racer to Esports break-through star is one he feels can be achieved by many others.
"If you set a goal for yourself you can definitely achieve it if you have the right presence, the right structure. If you want to be an F1 Esports driver you can definitely do it. It just takes time, effort, and hard work!"
Ronhaar is the latest in a new generation of Dutch racers that is surging forward in the wake of Max Verstappen's success.
"When [Max] won the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016 that made my day." Says Ronhaar.
"After that I wanted to do the same, but in the sim racing world like Jarno has been doing."
It's fair to say that Opmeer's success has been a huge influence on the growth of sim racing and the continued interest in the sport from a Dutch audience. But Ronhaar isn't just eyeing up esports victories.
"I don't want to do sim racing for the rest of my life. You can't do esports when you are 50! After I'm finished with esports my goal is to continue into the real world, doing single-seaters or DTM."
It's a goal that Ronhaar shares with many of his new colleagues. With James Baldwin consistently bouncing between the real and virtual worlds and performing exceptionally at both, sim racing really is becoming a viable pathway into traditional motorsport.
Is a title challenge on the cards?
With 25% of the season done, Ronhaar sits in third place, 35 points behind Lucas Blakeley.
"Wheel-to-wheel racing with Jarno & Frede is a dream. To battle with those guys instantly in my first event was really cool." Says Ronhaar.
"Obviously consistency is the key in esports. [...] For me right now [a title challenge] sounds possible."
That would normally come off as a bit arrogant from a rookie, but Ronhaar has proven his pace both in qualifying and race trim.
"I knew going into this year it was going to be an extremely hard task to be able to fight at the very, very front. But reflecting on Event 1 [...] it's looking very, very possible. If Lucas makes one mistake we are back in it. I just have to keep my head cool, do my job, and who knows!"
F1 Esports returns
Ronhaar and the rest of the F1 grid will be battling once again from Wednesday 12 October for another trio of races.
|Wednesday 12 October||Red Bull Ring||Q: 3:30pm BST R: 7:30pm BST|
|Thursday 13 October||Spa-Francorchamps||Q: 3:30pm BST R: 7:30pm BST|
|Friday 14 October||Zandvoort||Q: 3:30pm BST R: 7:30pm BST|
You can watch every minute of the action on Formula 1's official YouTube and Twitch channels!