As the anticipation for the 2021 F1 eSports season heats up, Lucas Blakeley, the 20 year old Scottish driver for Aston Martin Cognizant E-Sports team, is entering his third season. ATRL’s Gaby Woodhouse sat down with Blakeley for an in-depth interview, covering his karting past, intense eSports preparations, and predictions for the future of sim racing.
How did you initially get into Formula One?
The earliest I can remember is around 2007ish, mainly when Lewis Hamilton came onto the scene and started racing. That’s when my massive excitement for it escalated very quickly. The minute he started racing was exciting because this young rookie — British of course as well — so naturally, you can be drawn to that as a kid. It was from that point onwards that I was obsessed with it. F1 is my entire life today, and it all stemmed back from back then. I remember watching the beautiful silver and red McLaren with Lewis’s iconic helmet. That’s really my first recollection, which to think about now, it’s been about 14 years? To think that’s nearly three-quarters of my life that I’ve been watching and revolving my life around this one passion, it’s quite interesting.
Everyone’s got to have that passion. So, Lewis Hamilton, it was the appeal of Lewis joining that really drew you into it?
Yes, that was when it really kicked off my interest. I already loved cars as well; I’ve loved cars from a young age (and I don’t just mean the Disney movie, don’t get me wrong, I love that movie as well!). But I really had a lot of passion for cars in general, for things with four wheels. So it all just clicked together, and I became madly obsessed with Lewis Hamilton and Formula One once he came along.
And with that passion and the interest in Lewis, I know he started off in his career with karting in the junior series. Did you decide to look into that as an option?
Before I even began sim racing, I used to race, and I started racing in karts in 2010. I drove a kart for the first time in 2009, but I first started doing it at a club level in 2010 in the Honda Cadets. It was a very quick learning curve; there’s nothing really like it; it’s such grassroots racing. You learn so much, and it’s awesome to have had that experience. From 2010 to 2015, I raced in Honda Cadets. I raced in EasyKart; it was the first time I sort of raced up and down the country as well, racing in England at a national level in the EasyKart Championship, and then I went into the junior category. In 2013, I did the Scottish championship, where I got second in the Mini Max category. To me, it’s such a blur now. It used to always be very fresh in my memory, but now it’s been six years since I stopped karting.
As many people know, it’s an incredibly expensive sport, so fundamentally, it became not viable for us to continue as much as it was what I loved. The one thing I always had in karting was self-belief, but that’s just the natural self-belief you need to have. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to succeed. I was lucky enough to have raced against a lot of people who have gone on to achieve good things. Maybe back when I was younger when I stopped karting, I would have been really angry, but today it’s more that you’re happy for these people. At the end of the day, they are doing the dream that one day I would like to achieve myself, and that is to race in bigger categories of real-life racing. I’ve been lucky to race against some really talented people, so it was good to know where you stood. It’s that self-belief that’s carried on into the sim racing side, but it’s a very different world.
Was it a natural progression then to move into eSports? What was it about the concept of eSports that made you want to investigate that as an option?
Initially, eSports never really was a thing I would have considered then. When I stopped karting back in 2015, sim racing and eSports really wasn’t at a huge level, and in my mind, that was it; that was the last time I would ever get the chance to achieve my dream. When eSports came along in 2017, when they went to Abu Dhabi, and they were doing their first event in the Gfinity Arena, that’s when I realized that “Wait, so this whole sim racing gaming thing can actually take you to these places.” And I’ve always played racing games from a very young age, and I’ve played every single F1 game since 2009. In 2018, that was the first Pro Draft. I thought, “Well, let’s give it a stab and see where this can go.” So I jumped on after my exams, and long story short, I managed to be put in the top 40 in the world to go to the Pro Draft in 2018. It was quite surreal at the time to think that I’d got into this group of elite drivers when I was just this kid in a bedroom, playing the F1 game after finishing his exams. The first Pro Draft is an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life; we went to the British Grand Prix as well with F1.
But ultimately, the goal of the Pro Draft is to get picked. The 10 F1 teams pick a set of drivers out of the 40 in the draft to then race them in the official championship later in the year. And I wasn’t picked. So that really, really hurt me in the sense that I wanted it so badly. Although I knew that because I wasn’t very known compared to some of the established racers at the time, there wasn’t much chance of me getting picked, I wanted it so badly that I didn’t really care. I remember going back to my hotel room that night, probably crying my eyes out. From that point onwards, I was like, never ever am I going to feel like this again. So I dedicated everything for an entire year. It was my last year of school; I dedicated every time I could after school to sim racing. Getting as good as I could, racing in the highest possible leagues I could, proving I had what it took, racing the best of the best. In 2019, I qualified for the Pro Draft again. I knew that if I wanted to get picked, I needed to win this race. I didn’t want second; I didn’t want third; I wanted to win the race. And that’s exactly what I went and did because I was hell-bent on doing that. The next day I got picked up by Racing Point, now Aston Martin, and then the rest is history.
You said you did racing in real life at karting level. So do you enjoy driving in real life as much as you do on the sim? Do you find one more enjoyable than the other?
Well, that’s an easy question, because real racing will always be more exciting as much as I enjoy sim racing. While it’s thoroughly enjoyable in certain moments, nothing will ever beat the real sensation of physically driving at speed and putting it on the limit with the real consequences. It’s a real thrill factor. I’ve only been lucky enough to do it in go-karts. There’s nothing that beats that sensation and having to have the guts to go for a move and pulling it off, the adrenaline, the speed. It doesn’t come close, unfortunately, to the real thing in my eyes. But sim racing is a very great alternative that I’m also lucky to do in the first place. Real racing will always have that just unrivaled thrill of speed that you get from racing, something you know at high speed it’s just you can’t get that on sim.
If you could change one thing in eSports, what would you look to change?
If you take the real F1, the team has always had the simulation data and the simulator, and they can do all sorts of things off track. But nothing beats on-track performance, and the teams have three hours of practice, and then they’re straight into qualifying. For us, we do probably six to eight hours a day of practice, every single day. In eSports, it’s all about perfection; it’s all about precision, tiny margins. It’s not a possible change, but if I could, I’d wish that one day you weren’t able to practice it until you arrived at an actual event. So if there was almost a cap on the amount of hours you could do, and that made it like you have to deliver the lap on the go and not through repetition. When you arrive in the eSports session, it’s really more about repeating a lap that you’ve already achieved and not pulling a lap out of the bag. This isn’t me trying to make it sound as if it’s too easy; it’s very easy to bottle under pressure with how perfect you need to have it. But it’s never going to be like that compared to real-life where you just don’t get on the track for certain time periods. It’s an unusual sort of thing that people would maybe not ask or think of, but I’m still a racing driver in my head, so I still like to think like that.
With being an Esports driver now and having that previous racing experience, do you think that as F1 progresses, eSports drivers will be playing more of a dominant role? Do you think there’s opportunities for what eSports drivers do in the sim as part of Esports to then be translated and used by Aston Martin as part of their plan for going to the track?
Never say never. Look how far eSports has come in the very short space of time. I do believe eSports is going to go very far, and the link between real-life and eSports is only going to get closer and closer. We’re already at a stage where it’s incredible to think about the opportunities we have, so to think what it would be like in five years…you can only imagine. Let’s see what happens.
If you hadn’t gone into eSports, what do you think you would be doing now as a career?
As a career, I have no idea, but I would have probably been in university. I admittedly pulled out of university to freely chase my dream of eSports. Whether some people view that as a good decision is up to them. But for me, I have zero regrets about doing it. At the end of the day, I get to do what I love every day, and I have not and do not see any need to regret that decision. I feel like it’s been the right decision. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I have at eSports had I not done these things. For all I know, I may not even have been here at all had I not decided to show how serious I was about it. I believe I would have been doing mechanical engineering with aeronautics at university at the moment, probably pulling my hair out. I think I’ll stick to eSports!
Everyone knows how hard F1 drivers train full year-round. Is it similar for the eSports side of things? What’s your lifestyle like in terms of training and preparing for the upcoming season?
Very intense. Today’s Sunday, thankfully I can now rest, but Monday to Saturday, I was flat out from the morning until very late at night, just pushing physically and mentally. It’s very intense as you’re preparing for every scenario, every condition, every strategy, testing every last thing you can to make sure you’re not leaving anything on top, and then making sure that everything is as perfect as it can be. If you ask my teammates, they would say I’m never happy unless a lap is perfect or our lap is very good. If I mess up one corner, I am like, “You’re such an idiot. Why did you do that? You need to prepare for it.” It sounds like I’m too hard on myself, and I am, but I know the limit and the balance of it. I’m very much a perfectionist because I want to make sure I am driving as good as I can, and that’s ultimately what’s driven me to push as hard as I have. It’s a never-ending thing, chasing perfection.
You’ve been with your team under both Racing Point and Aston Martin. How has the F1 eSports side of things changed in the years that you’ve been involved with it? Do you notice that there have been big changes throughout each of the years, or has it been quite a consistent level throughout?
Well, times have changed. COVID has very much changed the way everything works. In 2019 I moved to England to race full time, and I did that for a lot of 2020 during the pandemic, which was a mixed experience. 2021 has just been sort of focusing on building and what things you can improve on, and focusing on turning over as many details as you can, and making sure that you’re competitive. You’re always chasing lap time, really. You’ve just got to make sure you’re not leaving anything unturned, and you’ve just gotta keep pushing.
How has COVID-19 and the pandemic affected the F1 eSports community? Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the last two years in the official F1 calendar as a result of that. Have you noticed any impact on the eSports side of it since the pandemic started?
It’s very much a double-edged sword because we had what we call the sim racing boom, where it exploded because all of the real-life drivers were racing on the sim! I remember last year, we had the “Twitch Quartet” with Lando, Charles, George, Alex all on Twitch, doing the Virtual GP, they were doing all of these insane things, and that’s just on F1! I was racing on rFactor 2 last year, another game, and I was very, very fortunate to have raced Max Verstappen last year in one of the races. It’s crazy to think that these worlds can collide. I raced loads of drivers on rFactor 2, like Felix Rosenquist, from the real world. I also got to help the real drivers prepare for the Virtual Grand Prix. The pandemic created a lot of opportunities, but conversely, it made it very intense. It made it very difficult, at least for me anyway, going towards the end of the year. But I’d say the pandemic gave some sim racing a boom, and it gave a lot more recognition and respect. It also stopped F1 eSports from going into London to compete. So that’s a shame, it’s such an atmosphere, and I can’t wait to hopefully one day return to the Arena.
Speaking of Twitch, I believe congratulations are in order for recently making Twitch partner! With you gaining popularity, especially on platforms like Twitch, what’s it been like with creating that platform and building up the audience and fan base that you’ve gathered?
I was always like, “I’ll never stream, I’ll never make a YouTube channel, I’ll never do these things.” And here I am with, as you just said, I recently got Twitch Partner! I’ve put a lot of work into Twitch this year, and it’s been a good way for me to escape from reality at times. It’s become a huge part of my life, the Twitch side and the social side, which I’ve loved to develop. I want to keep growing it stronger because I really want to see where I can take it. Twitch has been crazy to see the growth. I started streaming sort of full-time around the first of this year. I started with roughly 340 followers and now as of today. I believe I’m around 8,800 followers, which is more than all of my other social platforms combined! It’s been awesome to grow in such a way, and to have Twitch Partner now is amazing. It feels like a big reward for 10 months of continuous work because I’ve put a lot of hours into Twitch this year. I’ve really enjoyed building a community and interacting with people on a daily basis. It’s a fundamental part of my life now and something I would not change. So I’m very grateful. And I can’t wait to keep it going because it’s something that I’m excited to see how far I can take.
Understandably, with Twitch, a lot of the focus, especially in the build-up to the start of the season, has been on the F1 game. However, are there any other games that you particularly enjoy playing in the down season that you might look to start streaming as well, or think you’ll keep that focus on F1?
I know F1 is the most popular thing that people want to watch me play. But what I’ve done is streamed what I want to. I could have streamed certain things, and it would have been purely just to gain on Twitch. But Twitch was a way for me to enjoy myself and have fun with people even if it was 10 to 40 viewers, which to me, for six months of this year was a lot of people, and considering now I stream to well over 100 people on a regular basis. I’m very grateful that I was able to enjoy it. I know F1 is what people want to see, and it’s something I’m not going to not stream. I’m going to continue streaming F1 forever and still enjoy it, but I’m not gonna force myself to play it if I don’t have to. But I love gaming in general, so I wouldn’t rule out me playing literally any game on Twitch if I feel like it. Obviously, F1 is the core component of the channel, but I want to keep some variety as well. I don’t want to just have one thing that people will watch and then disappear if I do other things. I want to have a nice balance. There’ll be more on the F1 side, most likely but for all I know, come January, I will be streaming everything but F1 and enjoying it just as much! I’m very open-minded when it comes to streaming because it’s something you can have a lot of fun with, no matter what.
Do you find you get a lot of support from your family and friends as well?
My family are my #1 fans. They have always been there for me, not just for eSports, but all the way back in go-karting when they had to make so many sacrifices just to even allow me to do racing for the five-year period that I did. A lot of sacrifices were made for me back then to allow me to chase what I wanted to do and to try and do well. And ultimately, they’re still the support that’s always there for me. It’s nice to know that after all the very sleepless nights and long car journeys down to England to race and to absolutely bend backward for me that we’ve got something out of it now. I have a full-time career in eSports. It’s nice to have that result. But the job’s not done because I want to continue to succeed.
Were they as into F1 as yourself as well?
Yeah, I mean, we’re all fans of racing. I’m the biggest fan, obviously, because I’m obsessed with it. Let’s put it this way, I was born on the day of the British Grand Prix, and I stopped my mum and dad from watching the race! It’s quite funny when I look back. I know Mika Hakkinen won, I’m very lucky. I’ve got the programme from that Grand Prix weekend as well. It’s very cool to have that piece of history. It’s all just one of those things where the stars aligned themselves. The family has been into F1 for quite a while. But I think I was the one that made it an obsession!
I believe you have a cute little cat that has been named after an F1 track as well!
Yeah, that’s true, Monaco. I didn’t name him. That was my brother. Everyone would assume I named Monaco Monaco, but it was actually my brother that gave him the name. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have had the guts to like, “I’m gonna call my cat Monaco.” But my brother Zak was like, “Yep. Monaco. That’s it.” He fits the name well. When he’s hyper, he just runs around the house. He’s a cute little guy, honestly.
Your little lucky charm during the races this year!
As long as he doesn’t walk in while I’m racing, then we have a problem!
How do you see F1 eSport developing in the future? What do you think it’s potentially going to look like in the next 5-10 years? Do you also think it’s going to keep growing, getting bigger and bigger?
I think eSports will only grow. Due to the fact that you can transfer the skill from sim racing to real racing, I fundamentally believe that eSports will only continue to grow in popularity, seriousness, and involvement. And it will only become a better platform. And I believe it will grow more in line with the real thing. Hopefully, one day, for example, you see F1 eSports competing on the same day of a Grand Prix weekend as a support, except you’re there in person racing on the rig! If that ever happens, I hope I’m still around. I do have a lot of belief that eSports will go a long way and will only create opportunities even to enter the real world, which is something that I hopefully one day will achieve, in the sense of getting into a real car. But yeah, let’s see what the future holds.
And where would you like your future to go from where we’re at just now? In 5-10 years, where would you like to see yourself progressing to?
These 5-10 years questions, I swear! I’m 20 years old; I don’t want to think about what I’m like when I’m 30! In the future, I see myself staying in eSports. eSports has given me a chance to do what I thought I would never get to do again. The sense of getting to do what I love as my life is something I’m grateful for. I see myself doing eSports for a while. But one of my goals is I want to do real racing in whatever form. I want to see what I’ve got in a real car, whether it’s a single-seater or with a roof over my head in a GT car or something! But these are big ambitions, and I mean, money talks in motorsports, so obviously that is a factor but, as my hero, Lewis Hamilton quite often says recently, “When there’s a will, there’s a way.” I’ve got to keep that belief that I can do it. And I hope to, in the near future, get my first taste of driving in real life because that’s really where my intense passion lies. So let’s see, I’m hopeful eSports continues to go well for me. And hopefully, I can get a go in a real-life car sometime. That’s really it for me.
Note: This article was edited for clarity and length.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I fell in love with motorsport watching the Formula 1 with my mum every Sunday and have fond memories of the early 90’s and Senna. I’ve supported and followed McLaren for as long as I can remember. I specialise in F1 and the feeder series. Outside of motorsport I work in change delivery and can be found most weekends at a karting track supporting my girls in the Honda Cadet Series.
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