Formula E driver Daniel Abt has been fined €10,000 and stripped of his points to date for cheating in a new an unusual manner in motorsports circles. He was caught with esports pro Lorenz Hoerzing racing in his place during this past weekend’s fifth round of the Formula E Race at Home Challenge.
The race series, a charity event run in partnership with Motorsport Games to raise money for the UNICEF coronavirus relief fund, finished with Abt classified on the podium in third place, but he was soon outed by second place finisher Stoffel Vandoorne.
Having started on Pole, Vandoorne had been overtaken by both Oliver Rowland and “Daniel Abt” into the first corner. In the post-race interviews, Vandoorne not-so-subtly queried, “To be honest, I’m questioning if it was really Daniel [Abt] in the car,” in the post-race interviews. Abt’s video feed was blank through this interview.
You can watch the full race here:
Once Abt’s actions were confirmed to be the case, Vandoorne followed his initial comments up on his personal Twitch stream saying, “Really not happy here because that was not Daniel driving the car himself, and he messed up everything. That was ridiculous.” Speaking in the Formula E broadcast, two-time champion Jean-Eric Vergne stated that Abt should ensure his video feed it turned on for subsequent events so they could be sure he was actually racing.
Formula E were quick to respond, disqualifying Abt from the event for sporting misconduct – with no points from the first four races, this puts him at the bottom of the table – and forcing him to make a compulsory €10,000 donation to a charity of his choice. Lorenz Hoerzing, who has been driving in the Challenge series for esports drivers, has also been banned from entering any future rounds.
Abt issued the following apology:
I would like to apologise to Formula E, all of my fans, my team and my fellow drivers for having called in outside help during the race on Saturday. I did not take it as seriously as I should have. I am especially sorry about this because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organisation.
I am aware that my offence has a bitter aftertaste, but it was never meant with any bad intention. Of course, I accept my disqualification from the race.
It’s another unfortunate case of professional race car drivers not taking esports series and events seriously, tarnishing the efforts of each sport to offer meaningful virtual substitutes for the championships postponed during the coronavirus pandemic. While some events, like the Formula One Virtual Grand Prix series, are less formal, inviting amateurs, esports and junior drivers to compete alongside F1 drivers, Formula E, NASCAR and IndyCar have taken a more serious simulation-oriented approach. That’s backfired, with partisan actions by IndyCar drivers crashing into F1 drivers in invitational events to stop them winning, or racist remarks from NASCAR drivers, with varying backlash and punishments doled out.
It’s clear that some drivers are going to engage with this more than others. Some love sim racing – Vandoorne is a noted esports racer, as are F1 stars Max Verstappen, Lando Norris and more – but it’s a very different discipline to real racing and older hands might not be as enthused by it as much. Jean-Eric Vergne admitted that he’s not putting too much time in practicing for the virtual events – he’s largely at the back of the grid, when in reality he’d be closer to the front – citing differences in how the game works compared to the real cars and that he doesn’t see it helping him when the real world racing returns. That’s fine, but even he is actually participating and recognised the need to call out Abt on his actions, albeit in a jokier fashion.
The next time Abt appears on the podium, hopefully he’s actually earnt it.
In the meantime, here’s some competitors taking the lockdown replacement races very seriously.