This week bought us the news that the Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix will be returning this year.
The F1 Virtual GPs were a revelation last year, entertaining fans before the much-delayed start to the 2020 F1 season.
With real F1 drivers, streamers, gamers, and stars of other sports all competed to come out on top.
With a change in format and the introduction of a charity prize pool to the tournament, there's plenty to be optimistic about for the 2021 season.
Last year, the format was a simple one. Drivers qualified, then raced a 50% distance GP. Their points were determined using the same scoring system that F1 does, but strictly for bragging rights.
This year, though, things are changing. Instead of traditional qualifying, a short five-lap sprint race featuring pro gamers will decide the grid.
This is something that many Formula 1 fans have pondered about and we'll find out how entertaining they are at the end of this month.
Outside of the racing, there's been a change in how the points will translate into prizes and where they'll go. Each team has a nominated charity, and at the end of the three races the prize fund will be parceled out based on team standings.
The addition of charitable causes is a great one, and something that shows a real community spirit from F1 as a difficult 2020 spills into 2021.
Even if you aren't a fan of the on-track action, the fact this is now supporting multiple great causes is something anybody can get behind.
Growth of esports
As you would expect, we are thrilled that the Virtual GPs are returning, as they are a clear signal that F1 and racing fans are taking the virtual side of the sport more seriously.
2020 saw an amazing F1 Esports series that went right down to the wire, providing the kind of championship battle F1 fans only dream of.
With the ability to control variables and create entirely level playing fields, esports has become a pure driver-first competition, and doesn't suffer the same back-and-forth debate of car vs driver that motorsport does.
With potential for further postponements to the start of the 2021 Formula 1 season, F1 knows it has a reliable and entertaining alternative in the virtual world.
The F1 Virtual Grands Prix have now become an event in their own right. They're hugely entertaining, as you won't see this variety of celebrities and athletes competing together anywhere else.
How to watch
The Virtual GPs will air on three consecutive Sundays. Starting on 31 January and running on 7 & 14 February.
While the start times and channels have not yet been announced, we are pretty certain they will take place in the evenings, and that you will be able to watch on Formula 1's official YouTube channel at the very least.
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