Jarno Opmeer aims for third title with Mercedes Esports at the 2022 Grand Final

We spoke to two-time Formula One Esports Series champion Jarno Opmeer at the IWC’s iRacing Esports Sim Challenge, ahead of the 2022 Season Grand Final this month.

“I reckon the other drivers are under pressure because we gained so many points in such a short amount of time”

Despite currently trailing in fifth place in the Driver’s Championship, the Mercedes man’s confidence hasn’t wavered and his expectations are simple; “to come out winning.” This comes after back-to-back victories in the Dutchman’s last two races, significantly closing the gap on the leading pack.

Jarno Opmeer Interview

“We are on the back foot of course because we’re 22 points behind, which is almost one complete race win, but after Monza we were 56 points behind and closed it to 22 in the space of two races. So it’s definitely not impossible, and I do think we have a good chance because I reckon the other drivers are under pressure because we gained so many points in such a short amount of time.”

On potentially becoming a three-time World Champion

Opmeer would become the first three-time champion if he does win a third title, placing him clear as the undisputed best F1 Esports driver, however he insists there’ll still be motivation to continue competing at the highest level even after achieving such a feat.

“I’ve already won it twice, so for me it doesn’t really matter as much if I come first or third, I feel a lot less pressure. And we’re the ones hunting them down and not the other way around.”

On staying motivated..

“I don’t think I really need to get motivated very much, I’ve been racing all my life. Every single time you do a competition or get into a car, you have to prove yourself. And that’s the exciting bit of racing in general, because you’re only as good as your last race, of course, and that keeps me going – at least for the next few years. I just really love competition and that’s why I’m going to keep doing it, for sure.”

“If I want to start it, I have to start it now”

The Formula 1 Esports Series saw increased viewership over both of its last two seasons, in part down to a “growing passion for virtual racing and the appeal of all things Formula 1 amongst young gamers” according to Gfinity CEO John Clarke.

This has conveniently coincided with Opmeer’s emergence as a content creator, boasting 390k YouTube subscribers alongside his professional racing career, something that he claims was “never my plan because I was very awkward on camera.” However, that changed after winning his first F1 Esports title; “when I became world champion I was like, ‘if I want to start it, I have to start it now’ because there was so much media attention.”

“The advantage I had was that the previous two esports champions did nothing content-creation-wise, so I was like ‘if I want to pull it off, I have to start right now’ – which I did, and that started the ball rolling.”

The former Dutch karting champion made headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic by beating Formula One drivers such as Max Verstappen and Lando Norris in F1 sim racing events while the IRL season was put on hold. Such events highlighted a unique feature of sim racing esports; in that the required skillset is very similar to that of the real thing.

When asked whether this could help to validate Formula One Esports amongst traditional fans, Opmeer highlights that ‘real’ drivers also using the simulators “can help it [the esport] very, very much” as it “makes it more interesting for normal viewers to get into sim racing as well.”

However, he goes on to explain how “in some ways, it’s also very much against it, because people are always going to be comparing it to the real thing, of course, which is very much not a thing with FIFA or Call of Duty, for example, because that’s just so specific and you can’t compare it all. Whereas here, people compare it all the time.”

Opmeer argues that “the biggest difference is, of course, that you can just roll out of bed and climb into your simulator and I think that real F1 drivers have noticed that as well during the pandemic, that they can just drive in their pyjamas.”

“If you want to race in real life then you have to travel there by plane, you have to be connected with a team and pay a lot of money – here you can even pick up a controller and drive.

The iRacing Esports Sim Challenge

The driver was interviewed while captaining Team Jarno at IWC’s iRacing Esports Sim Challenge. This saw a number of fans enter online qualifiers for the chance to be coached either by Opmeer or Mercedes F1 driver George Russell. They then attended an offline event in which the teams competed virtually on the Silverstone racetrack.

iRacing Esports Sim Racing Challenge

LionHeart, Jarno Opmeer, Emma Walsh and Harry Pinero

The winning team earned a tour of Mercedes’ factory, as well as a chance to try out their simulators. Additionally, the driver with the fastest lap went home with a trophy by way of an IWC watch.

On key the topic of which Mercedes F1 driver would be better suited to help Opmeer survive on a desert island with a watch as their only tool, the Dutchman made his choice decisively.

“I think I would rather have Lewis [Hamilton] there with me, to be honest. He’s older, more experienced, so he would know how to get through it better than George probably. I would go with Lewis. I’ve seen him do a lot of water activities in Monaco as well, so I reckon he’ll be much better with that.”

Interview conducted by Lee Jones / @LeeJonesEsports