The 12-round 2022 Pro Championship got underway last week, comprising four, three-day events, each with three races (one per day), over four months from September to December.
Álvaro Carretón’s return with Williams Esports this season makes him the only driver ever to represent the same team for five seasons of F1 Esports.
He is joined this year by series veteran Daniele Haddad, and Shanaka Clay who raced in the 2020 and ’21 Pro Series, after winning an F1 Esports Pro Exhibition round on a one-off appearance for Williams back in the 2020 lockdown.
All drivers have had just over two months to prepare for the series, following the launch of F1 22 in July. Each year brings a new game, with each edition suiting slightly different driving styles and characteristics, giving a fresh opportunity for new talent to emerge – similar to if there was a regulation change in real world F1 each season.
In 2022, the biggest format change is the increased race length, from 25% to 50% of the real-world race distance. This gives an increased opportunity for drivers to make up positions and to provide more entertaining racing for the audience.
Each team enters a three-driver roster, with the freedom to choose any two drivers for any race. Some choose to have the same two drivers contest every race, while others rotate line-ups race-by-race.
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Race 1: Bahrain (Álvaro Carretón and Shanaka Clay)
Confidence was high following the team’s best pre-season preparation to date, and going into the season opener where Álvaro had finished on the podium last year.
Despite several drivers participating for the first time, Bahrain was one of the most closely-contested qualifying sessions in F1 Esports history. Álvaro missed out on reaching Q3 by 0.001 and just 0.003s slower than eventual race runner-up, reigning champion Jarno Opmeer.
With the field so tightly contested, missing your optimum lap by half a tenth can drop a driver half a dozen places. Clay qualified P17 after being knocked out in Q1.
Both Williams drivers made strong starts to the race and were moving forward, but unfortunately a technical glitch in the game cost both Álvaro and Shanaka 3-4 extra seconds during their pitstops.
With the field so tightly packed, the track position loss was huge. What should have been a P6 finish for Álvaro became P12, with Shanaka 15th.
Race 2: Imola (Álvaro Carretón and Daniele Haddad)
Daniele stepped in for his first race of the season and posted excellent laps in all qualifying sessions, eventually lining up seventh on the grid, whilst Álvaro narrowly missed out on Q2 in P16.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois joined the party, sending a video message to wish Haddad – his friend and sim racing coach – luck for his ‘home’ race.
It wasn’t enough luck for Daniele, who was forced wide at Turn 1 and dropped to P13. Despite the disappointment at losing what could have been a strong points finish, he remained positive with his Q3 pace.
Álvaro, meanwhile, drove an excellent race with a shrewd strategy to climb to P10 and score the team’s first point of the season.
Race 3: Silverstone (Álvaro Carretón and Shanaka Clay)
The team was motivated to get a strong result on the board to end the first event, and with good form at the track – Álvaro having finished P4 at Silverstone in the past.
It was another intense qualifying session and once again the Spaniard narrowly missed Q3 and started P11, this time by just 0.009s. Shanaka made a mistake on his final lap and couldn’t make Q2, starting P17.
Nicholas Latifi offered his motivational support, sharing a video message for the drivers ahead of the race.
Knowing the likelihood of incidents at Silverstone, the team was confident Álvaro could turn P11 into good points. Unfortunately, he was the helpless victim in one of those incidents, as he was torpedoed from four cars back at Vale on Lap 1.
Shanaka fought well and moved up to P12, though short of a points finish, while Álvaro could only limp to P15 with a damaged car.
Reflecting on Event 1, Williams Esports Team Manager, Seb Hawkins, shared: “We didn’t get the results that matched our pace or expectations.
“While that was often out of our control, we still need to evaluate ourselves, identify the areas we can improve, and put ourselves in the best position to come back in force at event two.
“I cannot thank the team enough for their extensive efforts, from our Pro Championship roster to our supporting drivers and engineering team.”
Álvaro, our sole points scorer so far this campaign, shared his views on the opening races of the season, saying: “I can only thank everyone for all the support I have received after these first three rounds.
“It has been very tough, especially after being affected by a game bug at Bahrain which directly impacted our final positions.
“Now, nothing else than full focus and hard work will push us to get the results we feel we should earn.”
Shanaka was optimistic ahead of the next set of races, stating: “We have only just started the season, let’s come back stronger!
“I’ve had the opportunity to represent the team in two rounds and been able to fight for the points in both. Let’s make sure now to shine and get the results for the team.”
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Finally, Daniele, who only competed in the second race, was similarly positive following the foundations laid by the team, reacting: “We know we can be fighting for points and we have done well so far in the midfield battle; we just need to keep working and giving everything to get the results to show it.
“All three of us drivers are working together, flat out for this, so now let’s do our best and score points for the team.”
The next event of the Pro Championship takes place on October 12-14, with races at Austria, Spa and Zandvoort.
The team is confident of a strong bounce back to form, starting at Austria where Álvaro took pole position, led and battled race-long for the win in 2020.