Known as one of the best in the industry, F1 Esports driver Marcel Kiefer sat down with ATRL’s Immy Cousins to talk all things Oracle Red Bull Racing Esports, his own success, and the future of Sim Racing.
Let’s start with some quick rapid fire questions!
Youtube or Tiktok?
GT or DTM?
Verstappen or Schumacher?
Schumacher! Wait, is it Michael? Definitely Michael.
Favorite game to stream on Twitch?
LEGO Star Wars
At the moment, broccoli! I know that sounds awful.
Best Year of F1?
Oh, God. Oh, that’s a tough one. That cannot be a rapid-fire one! Oh my god, this is actually hard. I don’t know. I’ll say 2020 F1 Esports. That’s a kind of correct answer because I enjoyed that a lot.
25% races or 100% races?
Baby Yoda or Shiny Pokemon?
Who’s better to stream with: Alex Albon or Liam Lawson?
Liam because he’s more reliable! Alex calls me like 20 times and then out of nowhere he’s there, but Alex is also great.
So that’s all the rapid fire questions, how did you initially get into F1?
Initially, I got into F1 due to my dad since he was always watching it. And, of course, as a young German kid, seeing Michael while I was growing up. Everyone knew Formula 1 because of Michael, that was just the time period.
How did that passion for F1 translate into your career with F1 Esports?
I’ve always loved winning, no matter what. Even if it’s about getting good grades in school, or something else, I just always want to be the best. I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I’ve wanted to be a racing driver my whole life. When I was doing my A levels, F1 Esports was just right around the corner. I finished school and then in the summer F1 Esports’ first year was announced and I was like, “Damn, I need to get into that.” Literally, I need to get into that so I could maybe still have a chance, even though I was already 18. I might still have a chance to make it into real Formula 1 in some way. That is still my passion and why this whole kind of network with the real life racing and simulators and everything is so interesting to me.
Definitely still working towards racing?
Yeah, always, always the final goal.
Having raced in F1 Esports for a few years now, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In real F1. That’s the answer: real F1. I see myself in real F1 driving for Oracle Red Bull Racing. Hopefully achieving some trophies, victories and championships. But let’s first get into racing and then F1.
So with Cem Bölükbaşı coming up to F2, and your fellow F1 Esports drivers, Jarno and Lucas, both competing in Race of Champions against Team Germany, do you think sim racing will become more and more of a talent pool for racing opportunities?
I think actually, the future of racing is sim racing. Not that it will replace it, but I just think karting and all of these backgrounds, they are good to prepare yourself for fear and adrenaline and the physical aspect, but it’s just so expensive. A normal karting engine is like 2.5k, a set of tyres is 200 euros, who can afford that?
With sim racing, you might have also like my sim rig probably costs around 5k, everything total with monitoring. But this is like the highest of the highest stuff that you can get. And nothing has broken yet. I didn’t damage it or anything, it still works totally fine. And I think that’s the biggest thing, like you don’t have to do anything, you can just have it then. And there’s also usually a warranty on it. So if something breaks, you will just get it replaced or repaired. So the entry is just so much lower. And you can test unlimited hours, like there’s no restriction, you don’t have to think, “okay, I have tyres for maybe two hours, and then I have to get new ones on” or these kind of things, you cannot do that in real life.
So I think with also Cem and Lucas and multiple others proving that F1 Esports or sim racing is a background where you can step up and transition to real life is great to see and also proves again that it just helps to prepare, and then you just need to get used to fear and the physical aspect. Lucas is now also doing Formula Ford, which is really cool. No idea how he’s doing that. I mean, that must be quite expensive. But I’m happy for him, good to see that he’s able to go racing.
Do you think it would help get more people into Esports as well, showing that it is a route that they can take to get into real life racing?
Yeah, I think so. I cannot tell how big the transition and translation would be from these events to making people fans. But they would see the simulators and that alone will make them be like “hey, that looks really cool.” As soon as someone that has never driven a sim or wasn’t into gaming see this F1 seat with the pedals, everyone loves it. No matter if they are a gamer or not, they love it. Because they know this is what an F1 driver drives usually, they want to have a go. I think that would actually make a lot of people interested in maybe even F1. Maybe even F1 would benefit from that.
If the opportunity came up for you to leave home again with Oracle Red Bull Racing Esports, like you did with your previous team, would it be something that you’d consider?
I would do it. With Oracle Red Bull Racing Esports, I’ve always felt at home. If it helps us get better, if it helps us improve as a team and helps me achieve goals like my real racing ambitions, then I would 100% move away from home. Even though that would mean my mom would be lonely, but she will be alright, she will be fine.
That kind of leads us nicely to the next question: what is your support system like? Do you get a lot of support from your family and friends for your career aspirations?
Yeah, definitely. At the beginning, they didn’t really understand it. But of course, explaining to people you’re just driving video games and you’re making a living off of it? It’s quite strange to show them. And then they see it, and they’re like, “This actually looks like the real thing,” but I’m just playing a game. They understood it still, right away. They were just kind of trying to learn, “Okay, how is this working? When is it on and what is actually your future goal?” But they knew I wanted to get into real racing so they think it’s really cool. They support me and they want to see me do well.
Have your friends and family ever tried to have a go on the game, see if they are any good at it?
My sister tried once. I sent her through Eau Rouge on iRacing with my Direct Drive. Didn’t end well. And Hockenheim, her first lap time was like two minutes something. But afterwards, she improved, and she actually had fun. You could even see in her eyes. You could see that she was slowly learning, but she enjoyed it. My dad usually always thought he’s a good racer, but I already beat him at karting when I was younger, and he was pissed. So I don’t know. Maybe he would do all right. He’s a boomer though, so maybe not.
I guess that’s also part of like, the whole Oracle Red Bull Racing mindset…It’s all a team game. We are in as a team and we go out as a team.
You’re [Oracle Red Bull Racing] known in the Esports community as the best team players in the sport. Do you believe that the way you function as a team is what helps you succeed when competing?
Yeah, but I think it’s also not just the team. It’s literally just Frede and I on track. We’re just something else. That sounds so cocky, but I mean, it just worked for some reason. We never practice these things. It’s just like, during the race, we communicate in a way, it’s just like instinct. I guess that’s also part of like, the whole Oracle Red Bull Racing mindset like that. It’s all a team game. We are in as a team and we go out as a team.
So what is one thing you would change about F1 Esports as it is today, and why?
The game. Codemasters are doing a great job, but the game has a lot of flaws, especially F1 2021. I would wish for more sensible handling. Laser scanning tracks would be great, because then they would literally just be like in real life, then the handling would also make more sense because the kerbs would work. Aside from that, the whole organization is fine. It’s just a bit of a hustle to drive three races in one or two days.
From Event One to Event Two last year, we had one and a half weeks to practice for three tracks. That was insane. They were our best events, so maybe it’s good for us if there’s less time and more pressure, but it was still pretty exhausting. I think mentally, you also have to look out for the drivers, maybe spread out the whole season a bit more, maybe don’t just use online, but also at racetracks or somewhere where the public gets access to it. Then it can also grow in a different way. I think those small steps will be a great way to improve it.
You mentioned involving the public a lot more and the laser scan tracks. Do you think that would help a lot with sort of the upcoming transference we’re seeing between sim racing and real life racing?
Yeah, 100% first of all, if the tracks are accurate, then you could potentially sit a sim racer into a car and he would know exactly where which bump is and how which curb feels. That’s the pro of laser scanning. Because if they’re just created by having a track map it will never be exactly how it is in real life. So that would help a lot. And also if people were a bit more in touch with F1 Esports, they might realize, hey, these guys are actually more talented than what most people think they’re not just playing a video game like Mario Kart.
We see what kind of training F1 drivers go through to stay in top shape. What does fitness and training look like for an Esports driver? Is it similar or different?
To be honest, it’s very different. I mean, we just have to make sure our backs are not turning into, I don’t know, some kind of shrimp or whatever! No, we are in there during the Esports season for 8 to 12 hours, depending on how much we drive in the day. We’re doing a lot of mobility, flexibility, endurance training, which is similar to real F1. But, for example, we don’t have to train our necks because we don’t have G-forces. Overall, I feel like most Esports drivers probably don’t even try to stay in shape. There are some, but it’s more of a personal preference. I think you can still be quick without being super fit, but it definitely helps to keep your heart rate cool and keep a cool head when it’s getting a bit messy.
With Oracle Red Bull Racing, is your fitness a team thing?
Yeah, we have a team fitness session online, because we are from multiple different countries, like Frede’s [Frederik Rasmussen] from Denmark. And I mean, the Oracle Red Bull Racing Esports family is bigger than just us. It’s also Joni, Sebi, Graham and multiple others from other games. And we have the opportunity with Lewis Paris, our fitness coach, to get some sessions in at least once a week. And if we are at the factory we can also work out with him there because he’s close by. It’s more like a team session, which is cool, every now and then you see each other on the screen at least. Because aside from that, we just drive.
Team bonding as well then! So you’ve built up quite a community on Twitch and Discord in the last year. What are the greatest and hardest parts about managing an impressive global community like this?
The greatest? Just the community itself. It’s just fun. I’m just trying to be myself and the people come along, so it’s not really my part in managing anything. It’s more about if people like what they see and feel happy around me and whatever I’m doing then, yeah, it’s growing. And fortunately, it seems like a lot of people do like me so that’s good! It’s good to be liked. It’s more like the community’s doing the work, and I’m just sitting in front of a camera and doing whatever Esports and streaming. I’m just grateful to have people that actually enjoy what I’m doing.
It’s nice to think it’ll keep growing as well.
Yeah, it’s competitive. No matter what I’m doing, it can be breakfast, making it quicker than the day before, it can have more viewers or something else. In the end if I stream for five people, it’s nice. But if it’s for 1 million people, it’s even nicer. Because then you know, hey, I’m a big fish. I’m a shark, I’m not just a little goldfish.
Note: This article was edited for clarity and length.
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