Opmeer puts one hand on 2021 F1 Esports trophy with Imola podium and Mexico victory
Jarno Opmeer is within touching distance of defending his F1 Esports crown, going into the final day of racing in 2021 with a 21-point lead.
Just three days after fellow Dutchman Max Verstappen wrapped up the F1 crown in Abu Dhabi, Opmeer is on the verge of taking a second successive title after taking second place in Imola and victory in Mexico.
The only man who can now stop him is Red Bull’s Frede Rasmussen, who trails by 21 points. To do this though, he would need to win, with Opmeer finishing ninth or lower. Opmeer’s Mercedes squad did clinch the teams’ trophy, bringing silverware to Brackley for the first time since 2018.
Here’s what went down in races 10-11 in the enthralling 2021 F1 Esports Series Pro Championship, presented by Aramco.
Heartbreak for Idowu in Imola
The inclusion of Imola in the 2021 F1 season, and indeed in the F1 2021 game, was met with universal praise. The much-loved circuit offers tight and twisty racing, with only one real racing line. Overtakes must be timed to perfection.
Josh Idowu was the man who found perfection early on in the day, taking a shock pole position for McLaren Shadow in only his fourth race this year. He and 2019 champion David Tonizza took the front row, with the pair starting on the soft tyres, contrary to those around them.
They maintained positions at the start, but Tonizza took the lead on Lap 6, only to be re-passed three laps later on Lap 9.
When pit stops ensued on Lap 10 of the 22-lap race, things got dicey. The midfield melee saw Idowu in the net lead of the race, with Brendon Leigh making incredible gains in the pits. Championship leader Opmeer meanwhile found himself in traffic, and began overtaking the field, starting with Bari Boroumand on Lap 13.
Two laps later, Opmeer passed championship rival Lucas Blakeley, moments after the Scot made contact with the back of Tonizza. With a damaged wing, Blakeley began to plummet down the order, ruining his chances of a strong score.
Tonizza soon usurped team mate Leigh on Lap 19, who held second place for much of the race. But as Opmeer tried to get past as well, Leigh put him on the grass, for which he received a warning. Opmeer got him on the following lap to take third, and it looked like that would be the end of it – Idowu controlling the pace, with champions Tonizza and Opmeer behind.
This is F1 Esports though, and absolutely anything can happen. Tonizza made a lunge at Turn 2, and stole the lead from Idowu on the final lap. As he rejoined the track, Idowu hit another car and spun, reducing a near-flawless race to a point-less one.
Tonizza came home for his first win since 2020, ahead of Opmeer and Rasmussen, who made incredible but quiet progress from his lowly P15 qualifying slot. The points were completed by Joni Tormala, Leigh, Michael Romanidis, Dani Moreno, Patrik Sipos, Simon Weigang, and the unfortunate Blakeley.
Opmeer wins in Mexico
With Blakeley now a long shot for the title, the duel between Rasmussen and Opmeer moved into the spotlight. The Dane did himself all kinds of favours when he stuck it on pole, but things didn’t go his way when lights went out. Boroumand, who started second, got a better getaway, and led the charge down to Turn 1. Then, as if from nowhere Opmeer snatched the lead, passing both of them in one fluid movement.
The trio were the only ones to start on the soft tyres, and eked out their advantage, quickly pulling away from Nicolas Longuet in P4. By the end of Lap 3, the gap was up to 2.5s and increasing. Meanwhile, Lucas Blakeley had ground to make up from P7 if he was to salvage his title hopes.
Boroumand struck the first blow. He got past Opmeer into Turn 1 on Lap 5, but the inverse move came just three laps later, and status quo was re-established. At the same time, Blakeley took a position from Idowu to move up to P6.
Laps 11-13 saw the top three pit on consecutive laps, but the order remained identical, with Opmeer, Boroumand and Rasmussen holding formation.
As the race entered its final laps, Boroumand once again overtook Opmeer on Lap 20, but yet again, Opmeer was straight back past him a lap later. This time though, Boroumand dropped a further position, as Rasmussen moved into second.
On the penultimate lap, coming into Foro Sol Stadium, Opmeer played ‘DRS chicken’, braking at the perfect moment to let Rasmussen past and gain DRS for himself for the super-long straight. However in doing so, Rasmussen went off-track.
Opmeer re-passed down the straight with his speed advantage, and led home Rasmussen and Boroumand. The lower steps of the podium were swapped however. Rasmussen’s off-track excursion cost him a 0.6s penalty after the race.
Behind the top three, Dani Moreno came home fourth to confirm Mercedes as team champions, creating a 50-point gap with just 44 to play for in the final race. Leigh took fifth, then came Blakeley, Nicolas Longuet, Marcel Kiefer, Tonizza, and Tormala.
What happens now?
With Mercedes crowned champions, Red Bull could still bring home silverware in the drivers’ championship, but it will be a tall order. Opmeer has a 21-point gap over Rasmussen, with a maximum of 26 available at the final round in Brazil. Blakeley is eliminated from the running, with 39 points between him and Opmeer, but is guaranteed third place, an incredible improvement over his P14 placing in 2020.
The final round of the season gets going with qualifying live on Twitch and YouTube from 1530 UTC, and the race from 1930 on Twitch, YouTube and Facebook, where we’ll crown our champion.