By now, some of you might have heard about Daniel Abt’s scandal where he was caught using a “ringer” in the recent Formula E Race at Home challenge, and was then imposed a fine of €10,000 for the misdemeanour. We thought the drama would just stop there but unfortunately, we were wrong as it did not take long for the team Abt was racing for in real life to take matters to their own hands and dropped him from the drivers’ lineup.
So, what actually happened here?
To further understand this situation, let us look into the race that Abt was participating in the past weekend. Formula E launched their own eSports series called the Race at Home to fill in the gap left by the pandemic and it featured not only sim drivers, but also real life drivers like Abt himself.
But in this particular race which took place at the virtual Flughafen Tempelhof circuit in Berlin, Abt managed to qualify second and finishing the race in third, behind Oliver Rowland and former F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne. To the untrained eye, it all might seem normal but Abt had not been able to score a single point in the first four rounds of the series and Vandoorne was superbly suspicious of the race outcome.
Vandoorne was not the only one feeling suspicious as two-time FE champion Jean-Eric Vergne was in the same boat as well, up to the point where he was suggesting Abt to be on Zoom on his next drive just to prove that it was actually him driving. With all the commotion going on around this, Formula E launched their own investigation and found out that the suspicion was spot on.
By checking the IP address, they found out that it was pro gamer 18-year-old Lorenz Hoerzing who was driving in Abt’s place. From there, Abt was disqualified from the race, fined €10,000, and stripped of all his points. Obviously from that point on, Abt apologized and even admitted that he did not take the challenge as seriously as he should have, adding that it was meant to be a joke where he intends to publicize it after the race.
Forgive and forget from this point on? Not exactly.
Unfortunately for him, Audi had failed to see the joke in this move and had removed him from the FE drivers’ roster “with immediate effect”. Considering that Abt had been driving in FE since the inception of the sport in 2014, the decision sent waves of shock in the motorsport community.
And this brings us to the question of did Audi overreacted towards the situation, and is the line between virtual and reality getting harder to distinguish?
To try and understand Audi’s stand, we look into the eSports series that was being held, the Race at Home Challenge. In order to make the race happen, numerous resources had to be pulled to make sure that the race runs as smooth as possible. Yes, it is a game, and also yes, it had numerous bugs and glitches that one can barely call it a race in some occasions.
Nevertheless, the organizers and competitors tried their best to make the show happen to entertain the fans during this pandemic period and they do take the racing to a certain level of seriousness. Even if it was for entertainment purposes, they were not going to fool around in the race and will try what they can to win it.
So with Abt putting such an elaborate scheme to have someone else drive in his place, regardless of his intentions of to cheat or as a prank, could be viewed as a move of disrespect towards everyone that participated. eSports is the next best thing to motorsports now, and it takes the efforts of many to make each round as smooth as possible. If the race is between friends, such move is generally accepted. But not on a platform like Race at Home.
From here, we could somehow see that Audi had a zero-tolerance policy on such behaviour and was quick to react to disassociate themselves from such drivers, regardless of their connection or their history with the team.
And to make matters worse, there were already real-world warnings that the effects of the virtual world can spill into reality. Examples being Bubba Wallace who lost his sponsorship after rage quitting a NASCAR iRacing event, and Kyle Larson who was suspended after using a racial slur in an eSports race.
With the line that separates virtual from reality becoming harder to distinguish, race drivers should be fully aware by now that what might seemed trivial to them could be perceived in a totally different manner by team owners or sponsors. We do not know what teams and sponsors see as acceptable and what is not, so the safest way to run these races is to maintain the highest level of professionalism and sportsmanship along the way.
We truly sympathize on Abt’s situation and probably Audi could have handed a heavy penalty rather than dropping him altogether. But what’s done is done. We wish the best for Abt on his future endeavour, and hoping that no other race drivers should lose their race seat over an avoidable situation like this.