German driver Daniel Abt parted company with the Audi Formula E team on Tuesday after letting a professional gamer impersonate him in an official esports race.
- Formula E’s ‘Race at home’ series features drivers competing online from their simulators at home
- German Daniel Abt finished third in round five, but he used pro gamer, Lorenz Hoerzing, to compete for him
- He was disqualified and paid more than $16,000 to charity — but now he has been fired by his Audi team
The incident has angered several leading drivers in Formula E, who have joined colleagues in other competitions to signal they are less inclined to interact online.
With almost every motor sports competition in the world sidelined due to restrictions on movement and public gatherings due to coronavirus, organisers have turned to online racing to give fans something to watch.
Drivers sit in simulators at home and take part, streaming their own view of the race on platforms like Twitch and gathering a social media following.
However, for Abt, his actions in Saturday’s ‘Race at Home Challenge had direct repercussions for his career.
“Today I was informed in a conversation with Audi that our ways will split from now on, we won’t be racing together in Formula E any more and the cooperation has ended,” he said in a 15-minute video on YouTube.
The 27-year-old denied seeking any sporting gain in Saturday’s fifth round of the all-electric series’ virtual ‘Race at Home Challenge’, and said he had simply wanted “to create a funny story for the fans”.
He said what happened had been openly discussed beforehand on his Twitch live stream in front of 1,000 followers and no money had changed hands.
“Looking back, we did not think enough about the seriousness and the consequences of the situation. We made a huge mistake there,” Abt said.
“It was never my intention to let another driver drive for me to get a result and keep quiet about it later on just to make me look better.”
The German driver had been ordered to pay 10,000 euros ($16,680) to charity.
Audi said in an earlier statement that “integrity, transparency and consistent compliance with applicable rules” were top priorities.
“This applies to all activities the brand is involved in without exception,” the carmaker said.
Punishment seen as an over-reaction
Abt’s punishment, for something that happened in an online event, was seen as an over-reaction by some of his rivals.
Formula E’s championship leader Antonio Felix da Costa feared the sport was losing sight of what mattered.
The Portuguese driver’s tweet was later deleted.
DS Techeetah teammate and double Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne also weighed in: “After all this (is) a game that should be taken seriously, but it’s a GAME.”
The Frenchman’s tweet was also later deleted.
As public criticism of Abt’s actions mounted on social media, Dutch driver Nicky Catsburg — who competes in a range of events for Corvette Racing, BMW and Hyundai teams — said in an interview that what had happened “has almost made me afraid of sim (simulated) racing”.
In response, da Costa posted his support for Catsburg’s comments, saying: “I guess streaming is done for me too.”
He then tweeted: “Good bye Twitch, good bye streams… I’m out. See you never.”
British driver James Calado, who won the 2017 GT World Endurance Championship, and now is part of Jaguar Racing in Formula E, joined in with a simple message: “No more streaming, sorry guys.”
Questions quickly raised over Abt’s placing
Abt, Audi’s first Formula E race winner, apparently finished third in Saturday’s race on the virtual Berlin Tempelhof layout, but rivals expressed doubts at the time about who was racing.
Mercedes driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who finished second, felt something was amiss and afterwards tried to call Abt on his mobile, without success.
The esports series features all of the regular Formula E drivers competing from home and visible in their simulators online, but Abt’s face was hidden during the race.
Organisers can check the IP addresses of competitors to ensure they are who they purport to be, with pro gamer Lorenz Hoerzing later revealed to be Abt’s ‘ringer’ and barred from future involvement.
“I feel like I couldn’t fall any deeper,” Abt said, apologising again.