02. Experts Corner

Why F1 eSports is Transforming Athletic Potential

January 6, 2022

As a sports scientist and experienced coach with different types of athletes, the chance to work in eSports was a great opportunity. Luckily, I was recruited by the Alpine F1 eSports team to bring cutting-edge neurovision training into this truly exciting domain of human performance. In 2021 alone, we have made superb progress in transforming the team’s athletic abilities on the simulated track. Here I’ll share some insights on our unique approach, and reveal why the training methods of eSports athletes could change the way all athletic potential is developed.

Hyper Competitive Racing

In F1 eSports racing the goal is clear – to train the drivers (or ‘pilots’ as they are referred to in the sport), not only to perform at their best, but also to maintain their performance across the whole season. And in this domain the competition is extremely fierce. In the first Formula 1 eSports Series held in 2017, over 60,000 drivers competed through the qualifying stages. As the first traditional sport to have successfully transitioned onto a fully virtual platform, it provides both competitors and fans an unparalleled racing experience that is surprisingly close to real F1. To help get an idea, here is a clip of the Alpine Team in action.

The simulation side is also very sophisticated at the professional team level, with a pit wall crew communicating live telemetry data such as tire wear, along with very technical customization of each driver’s sim-station setup.

If you're interested to discover more, a series of great documentaries on the team’s development over the season can be watched here.

From Strength to Strength

Things have been growing rapidly ever since, particularly due to COVID-19, which led to real F1 drivers crossing into the virtual series when events were cancelled. This, along with the huge popularity of the Netflix Drive to Survive documentary, led to competitor and spectator numbers to rising dramatically. In 2021 close to half a million drivers competed to qualify in the F1 eSports Pro Series, with an estimated viewership of 26.8 million - making it one of the most popular events on online streaming platforms.

On top of this, real F1 stars continued to compete in virtual F1, bringing in an additional 2.7 million viewers from their live streams. The phenomenal growth of this eSports shows no signs of stopping.

The point is that F1 eSports is ultra-competitive. It's not just tenths of a second that count - it's literally thousandths of a second that make the difference at the checkered flag. The competition is so strong that it's all about the details!

Pushing the Boundaries of Human Performance Through eSports

Human performance development is of paramount importance to the strategic approach of the Alpine eSports F1 team.  For this reason, we work closely with the real Alpine F1 team, including sharing vanguard human performance approaches that we have developed on the eSports side.

One unique area we focus on is the neurovisual and physical conditioning of the drivers. Alpine brought me in as Manager of Performance, partly with the goal of bringing in the best tools currently available to improve drivers' visual, cognitive and motor performance.

Leveraging Cutting-Edge Science and Technology

What makes our approach particularly innovative is our driver training programs, which are built and developed on the basis of the latest scientific research and publications in cognitive neuroscience and sports psychology.

We use state-of-the-art technology such as NeuroTracker, to help drivers gain those few thousandths of seconds that make the difference between a podium finish and fourth place. As you can see here, the technology fits perfectly for the sim-racing setup, making it easy to use as pre-training or pre-competition warm-up to cognitively prime the brain on-demand.

As an up-and-coming team we’ve had phenomenal success in developing relatively low-ranked drivers into world class pilots, allowing us to battle for podium places with the very top teams like Mercedes. This is why Alpine F1 eSports management was asked to present to real race teams at Le Mans 2021, to share how leveraging technologies like NeuroTracker has allowed the team to punch well above their weight.

Custom Neurovisual Training Protocols

Within the team, we have put into place two specific training protocols in addition to the classic simulator training. The first is an evaluation and training protocol which targets the visual and cognitive functions of the drivers, which we call neurovisual training. The second is oriented around the development of the speed of motor responses and reaction times. These two training protocols combined allow us to put the pilots in the best possible position in terms of performance throughout the season.

In addition we use neurovisual assessments to test each driver’s performance readiness, and to recruit new talent. In a follow-up to this blog, I’ll share a case study demonstrating how these techniques helped us to statistically predict potential driver rankings and recruit diamonds in the ruff.

The Cognitive Advantage in Both Sports and eSports

Having worked with elite athletes across a wide range of sports, it was a surprisingly natural transition to move into sim-racing. This is because in traditional sports, the cognitive dimension of performance is a primary factor differentiating athletes at the top level.

In fact, many of the demands of traditional sports, real F1, and eSports F1 are very similar. This includes factors such as speed of processing and dynamic attention, but especially so for neurovisual abilities like peripheral vision and situational awareness.

Evolving Performance to the Next Level

As a truly innovative race team we are constantly striving to develop the next training technique or technology to achieve next-level athletic abilities. In particular we are keen to develop custom-training methods with NeuroTracker that give our pilots an extra cognitive edge. In fact, we are working directly with NeuroTracker’s scientific consultants, to merge neuroscience expertise with sports science, to evolve never-before-seen applications of the technology specifically geared for sim-racing.

That said, I can see how these evolutions in neurophysical training could lead to similar adaptations for real F1 racing, as well as traditional sports. Neuroscience and neurotechnologies have the potential to transform how elite athleticism is nurtured - with the brain in the center of attention. In this sense I can definitely see how the fiercely competitive eSports industry will be a catalyst for athlete development universally – exciting times!

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