By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – British teenager Brendon Leigh won the Formula One esports championship for the second year in a row on Saturday as Mercedes added a virtual double to the five successive constructors’ and drivers’ titles won on the real racetrack.
“The first year was special, this is sensational,” declared the 19-year-old former kitchen porter who secured the crown with a race to spare at London’s Gfinity arena.
Mercedes won eight of the 10 virtual races to clinch the inaugural team title in a championship involving all the sport’s actual outfits with the exception of Ferrari, who have stayed away.
Leigh won six races and his Hungarian team mate Daniel Bereznay two, including the final one on the virtual Abu Dhabi layout that offered double points and went double the distance.
The Briton ended up with 216 points, with Bereznay runner-up on 166, according to provisional results. Mercedes scored 382, with Toro Rosso second on 210 and Sauber third on 119.
“Mercedes just seems to be dominant this year, not only in the real world but the virtual one as well,” said Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director for commercial matters, who handed over the team trophy.
Mercedes clinched a fifth successive Formula One title double in Brazil last weekend, adding the constructors’ crown to the drivers’ won by now five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Leigh won the inaugural esports championship in Abu Dhabi last year, a success that led to him shedding more than 20kg as he transformed from a chubby teen to a lean, professional gamer.
He suggested that work in the gym, with a Formula One trainer, had made all the difference in a virtual world where, unlike the real one, the drivers start with a level playing field.
“We’ve worked super-hard behind the scenes and clearly it shows that Mercedes know what they’re doing,” Leigh told Reuters.
“People probably don’t realise how much fitness I’ve done and how good my fitness is right now. It’s really paid dividends, especially in the longer races like Singapore which is super-intense and you don’t get a break.
“To be able to have such good fitness you don’t even have to think about is mentally a big advantage.”
Leigh was also helped by Toro Rosso rival Frederik Rasmussen, an early race winner who sat out two races on Friday because he felt his team mates would have a better shot at the constructors’ title.
The winning team gets $50,000, with the runners-up $40,000 and third placed outfit $34,000. The total prize pot is $200,000.
“In real F1, you’re not going to get a racing driver stepping aside to be a good sport. It doesn’t happen,” commented former F1 racer Jolyon Palmer, who was with McLaren’s 2019 driver Lando Norris on a panel of pundits.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ian Ransom)