We are very happy to welcome Joni Törmålå, Graham Carroll, Cem Bolukbasi, Patrick Holzmann and Frederik Rasmussen to the Red Bull family.
Joni and Graham were our picks in yesterday’s first ever F1 Esports Series Pro Draft, held at the Gfinity Esports Arena in Fulham, London. While Cem, Patrick and Frederick were picked by Scuderia Toro Rosso. They were welcomed into the fold by our official draft representatives Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly.
The beauty of Esports racing is that geography and numbers simply don’t matter. The qualifying tournament for this year’s Pro Series saw 66,000 unique players take part, completing over 1.1million laps and 400,000 qualifying attempts. That field was culled down to just 40 drivers invited to take part in the draft process, with nine of the F1 teams waiting patiently in the wings.
The qualifying campaign was only the first stage of the process, however, with more demanded than lap times alone. Prospective racers were put through a three-day assessment camp last week, involving a series of sim races, followed by a quiz, a pitstop challenge, reaction tests, fitness assessments and go-karting. They were also interviewed by the teams. The collective goal was to identify drivers that would be a good fit with the ethos of each team: quick, of course, but also exhibiting a wider skillset suitable to representing the organisations in international competition. “Obviously, we want fast drivers but also drivers with skills outside of racing – good in front of the camera, for example,” explained Max.
Most sports featuring a draft do so on a reverse-grid basis, ensuring the lowliest get first pick, with a view to evening-out the competition. With the Pro Series a new concept for 2018, F1 required a more random approach, and thus fell back on a lottery, conducted by Formula One Chairman and CEO Chase Carey, and Managing Director, Commercial Operations Sean Bratches. Out of nine teams in the draw we were picked… ninth. On the upside, that means in the second round of the draft we had first choice. Each team in the series needs at least one driver from the draft process – we opted to take two – and were lucky enough to get the drivers we were after.
Our first draft pick was Joni Törmälä. The 21 year-old Finn is an iRacing World Championship driver and race winner. In last year’s F1 Esports Series he took tenth place in the Abu Dhabi final, and following the assessment phase he was ranked fourth overall in the draft. Interestingly, Joni chooses to drive the Red Bull Racing car when racing in the sim: “he obviously wanted this,” said Max.
When asked if he was on Cloud Nine, after his selection, Joni gently corrected: “Cloud 11”, he said.
Our second pick, 28 year-old Scotsman Graham Carroll, has a rather different racing background. A talented and ferociously competitive junior racer, Graham migrated into Esports when opportunities and sponsors dried-up on track.
Graham first came to prominence as Scottish Karting Champion, progressing into single seaters, he won the Scottish Formula Ford Championship in both 2007 and 2008. He’s taken a range of other club titles and, in 2015, won the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone, having progressed through his heat, won his semi-final and started the final from second place. He was a semi-finalist in last year’s F1 Esports Series and represented Virgin Racing at last year’s Formula E-affiliated Vegas eRace.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Graham after receiving his cap from Max. “There was some relief to get that callout! It’s going to be absolutely awesome and I can’t wait to get started.”