By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One bosses are hoping to convince Ferrari to enter future esports world championships after the Italians stood out as sole absentees from this year's inaugural team series.
Mercedes, winners of both the Formula One constructors' and drivers' titles for the past five years on the real racetrack, took both of the virtual titles at the finals in London on Saturday.
This year was the first time Formula One teams were involved, with a $200,000 prize pot paid out on the constructors' standings and nine of the current 10 taking part.
British teenager Brendon Leigh, who last year became the first F1 esports champion, now competes for Mercedes and retained his title by winning six of 10 races.
"I'm an optimist by nature and I'm somewhat confident that we're going to have a full stack and a full grid next year," Formula One's managing director for commercial Sean Bratches told Reuters when asked about Ferrari.
Unlike Formula One, where top teams have far bigger budgets than some of their rivals as well as historic benefits that work in their favour, the esports series has a level playing field.
Ferrari are Formula One's most successful team and the oldest, the only ones to have taken part in every championship since 1950, as well as one of the most popular.
A Ferrari spokesman said everything remained open regarding esports.
Garry Cook, the chief executive of esports company Gfinity whose London venue was used by Formula One for the finals, felt Ferrari needed to be there.
"If you think about connecting with your audience of tomorrow, you have no choice but to be in esports," he told reporters recently.
The 2018 series had no female gamers in the team lineups, something also reflected on the racetrack, and Bratches said organisers wanted to address that too.
"This is an open championship, the second year in a row where we've had well over 60,000 competitors compete in millions of laps to be here. It is a meritocracy and the fastest times ended up in the draft," he said.
"We've stated clearly from Formula One's perspective, not only in the real world but the virtual world, that we'd love to have as diverse a grid as possible not only from a gender standpoint but an ethnicity standpoint.
"It just makes our sport better."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)