The Formula E Race Off, or how Motorsport.com beat Senna and Prost

Formula E broke new ground for the motor racing world with its ‘Race Off’ between Bruno Senna and Nicolas Prost. Jamie Klein shares his experiences of an event that offered a possible glimpse of the future.

The Formula E Race Off, or how Motorsport.com beat Senna and Prost
Formula E Race Off
Bruno Senna
Race Off participant
Jann Mardenborough
Karun Chandhok
Bruno Senna
Nicolas Prost, Bruno Senna, Karun Chandhok, Jann Mardenborough
Jann Mardenborough
Race Off participant
Race Off participant
Nicolas Prost
Race Off participants
Race Off participants
Race Off participant
Bruno Senna with a winner
Listen to this article

What do you get when you combine a disused cinema screen, eight Xbox consoles, a bunch of avid gamers and two Formula E drivers? The answer is the inaugural Formula E ‘Race Off’.

The unassuming Gfinity Arena (or Screen 2 of Vue Cinema at Fulham Broadway, as it used to be known) played host to an event symbolic of the increasingly blurred distinction between sim racing and professional motorsport, as Senna and Prost swapped the cockpit for the controller.

Up to now, the realm of ‘eSports’ has been largely a preserve of first-person shooters and real-time strategy games, but from the evidence on display on Saturday, it may not be too long before racing games really start to muscle in on the act.

The races themselves – with commentary provided by regular eSports talker Alan Brice and ex-Formula E pilot Karun Chandhok – were strangely compelling affairs, despite the fact that the only footage visible was that taken from the players’ screens.

But, Motorsport.com didn’t just get to watch – I was granted a chance to get in on the action and have a crack at the racing myself. And, as it happened, it didn’t go too badly.

Semi-final carnage

The day began with ‘open time trials’, allowing all-comers to have a crack at the Long Beach circuit on Forza Motorsport 6 in the season one Spark-McLaren Formula E car.

I managed to hustle my way round the iconic US street venue in a time of 57.0s, which – much to my surprise – was enough to qualify for the semi-final, an eight car race around the same track.

The opposition, however, was stiff, featuring players who had managed to lap some two seconds faster than me, as well as Nissan GT Academy maestro and sportscar ace Jann Mardenborough.

Being randomly allocated the eighth and final position on the starting grid turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I was able to pick my way through the carnage that unfolded at Turn 1 to grab an unlikely lead.

I was quickly demoted to third after a prang of my own later on the lap, but settled into a rhythm for the remainder before being gifted second at the final corner as the leader bizarrely ground to a halt.

Racing the pros

The top three progressed to the grand final – Mardenborough claiming his spot behind me – along with the top three from the second semi and Senna and Prost themselves.

But the organisers threw a curveball at all of us for the final – instead of racing at Long Beach, with which we were all familiar, we would be racing at the fantasy Rio street track: a long, technical circuit with massive undulation and nightmare blind turns.

I miraculously held my starting position of second through the first-corner melee, but my unfamiliarity with the track cost me dear, my descent through the order hastened by several crashes – one of which occurred during a futile attempt to hold off Mardenborough for fourth.

Still, I finished sixth out of eight, comfortably ahead of both Prost and Senna – who would both, as it turns out, be well advised to stick to the day job.

Senna v Prost

The duo then had the chance to engage in their own private battle, and it was Senna who proved conclusively the better gamer.

Barring a moment of madness during the opening heat around the fantasy Prague street track, when the Brazilian seemingly forgot where the road went, Senna was too quick for Prost, who suffered an ignominious 2-0 defeat.

Then again, the Frenchman did at least have the excuse that the Xbox he was sent beforehand to practice had UK plugs incompatible with the sockets at his Switzerland home…

It was an entertaining end to a day that offered a potential glimpse into the future. For example, it’s not hard to picture Forza 6 players being able to pit themselves against the Formula E racers as they do battle on track in real life.

Along with initiatives like Roborace, it’s a sign of the fresh thinking the all-electric championship has embraced in order to appeal to audiences outside the usual core of motorsport fans.

It’s an approach that the powers that be in other forms of racing, not least of all Formula 1, would certainly do well to emulate.

shares
comments
Senna claims first Formula E Race Off title
Previous article

Senna claims first Formula E Race Off title

Next article

Berthon exits Aguri Formula E team

Berthon exits Aguri Formula E team
Load comments
Eight things to watch in Formula E's 2022 season Prime

Eight things to watch in Formula E's 2022 season

In the final season of Formula E's outgoing Gen-2 car and reigning champion team Mercedes, famous and infamous rookies, a dose of qualifying meritocracy, new cities and under-pressure Porsche will be sure to keep things interesting as the 2022 season kicks off in Saudi Arabia this weekend

Formula E
Jan 27, 2022
Why Vandoorne is poised to deliver Mercedes a perfect FE sign-off Prime

Why Vandoorne is poised to deliver Mercedes a perfect FE sign-off

As Mercedes embarks on its last Formula E season this weekend, Stoffel Vandoorne is targeting a title that has so far proved elusive in his time with the team he joined for its soft launch as HWA in 2018. After teammate Nyck de Vries won last year, the Belgian is confident of writing the perfect final chapter to his electric story with the manufacturer

Formula E
Jan 27, 2022
Why Maserati's shift to Formula E is a win for both sides Prime

Why Maserati's shift to Formula E is a win for both sides

Maserati will make a full-factory return to racing, joining the Formula E grid in 2023 with a view to electrifying its road car portfolio. In that regard it makes sense for Maserati - but it's also a win for the series as it seeks to rebound from losing three of its heavyweight German giants in the space of a few months

Formula E
Jan 11, 2022
The fundamental questions facing a Formula E junior series Prime

The fundamental questions facing a Formula E junior series

As Formula E prepares to enter its new Gen3 era, many have pondered the prospect of its existing machines continuing in a feeder category. But before such a programme could be embarked on, there are several important questions that must be satisfactorily answered.

Formula E
Jan 4, 2022
De Vries: Why Formula E title success felt so different to F2 Prime

De Vries: Why Formula E title success felt so different to F2

OPINION: The 2021 Formula E campaign was wide open until the final race after its most unpredictable season yet. Eventual champion Nyck de Vries explains why this made his title-winning experience such a different experience to conquering F2 in 2019

Formula E
Dec 7, 2021
Formula E's new toys ahead of its second-generation swansong Prime

Formula E's new toys ahead of its second-generation swansong

Formula E welcomes a mix of past, present and future for the 2021-22 season. The old guard facing off against a sprinkling of newcomers, a fresh qualifying format amid a sporting rules shake-up and a range of minor tweaks to the existing all-electric machines are all subplots to the final campaign before the next generation arrives

Formula E
Dec 3, 2021
The sharing mentality that transformed the fortunes of two FE teams Prime

The sharing mentality that transformed the fortunes of two FE teams

Electing not to share data with its competitive customer team would have been a straightforward means of gaining an edge on at least one of Mercedes' Formula E rivals last season. But by reciprocating the relationship forged under its initial HWA guise, when it was a customer to Venturi, both teams have reaped the rewards

Formula E
Nov 30, 2021
How Mercedes's Formula E squad replicated the F1 team's best trait Prime

How Mercedes's Formula E squad replicated the F1 team's best trait

With its ultra-successful sister team in Formula 1 and a support network providing some of the best minds and resources in the business, Mercedes Formula E team principal Ian James knew his squad had all the winning ingredients. But mixing it together was no easy feat and required key attributes to be grown from within

Formula E
Nov 29, 2021